Audio Reveals Tense Moments as Tennessee EMS Crew Pulls Trooper from Crash

Working against the clock and desperately struggling to stay calm.


MATT LAKIN, News Sentinel | | Thursday, March 22, 2012

The officer's voice blares through the static - measured, tense and deathly serious.

"Is the officer out of the car?" a dispatcher asks.

"No, he's not," comes the answer. "We need the Fire Department here now!"

Tenn. Paramedics Honored for Aid to Trooper after Crash

Audio: Radio communication after Sgt. Lowell Russell's cruiser was hit on I-40

Tapes of the E-911 radio traffic after the crash that nearly killed a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper last week tell a story of rescuers quietly working against the clock and desperately struggling to stay calm. Officials made the tapes public Wednesday, a week and a day after Knoxville police officers, a pair of McMinn County emergency medical workers and the trucker whose rig hit him pulled THP Sgt. Lowell Russell from his burning cruiser on Interstate 40. Russell, 39, continues to recover at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where doctors upgraded his condition to serious Wednesday. He suffered a brain injury, second-degree burns, smoke inhalation, and a fractured neck, spine and rib cage in the March 13 wreck.

Family members say Russell's still suffering from a fever but appears to be improving. He uses a keyboard to communicate and has begun physical therapy for his arms and legs, according to updates on a family Facebook page. The E-911 tapes show Russell's rescuers mostly kept their cool as they raced to free him from the cruiser. Russell, a midnight shift supervisor, had turned on his emergency lights and pulled over to the westbound shoulder of I-40 near the Walker Springs Road exit around 2:50 a.m. to finish paperwork when authorities say an out-of-control flatbed tractor-trailer smashed into his cruiser and rammed it across all three lanes into the concrete median wall.

Freddie Leslie, a paramedic for McMinn County's American Medical Response, and partner Kristi Graham drove up on the wreck and began fighting the flames as Russell's cruiser caught fire.

Knoxville Police Department officer Andrew Keith drove up as Leslie emptied a fire extinguisher on the blaze. Keith called for a fire engine and jumped into action.

"This car's going up pretty quick," he says on the tape.

Keith and Eric Dewayne Lewis, the tractor-trailer driver, cut Russell's seat belt and pulled him from the cruiser. The rescue lasted about two minutes from the time Keith arrived to the time he reported Russell being out of the car. About that time, the ammunition in the trooper's trunk began to explode.

"Where's my firetruck?" Keith shouts. "He's got rounds in the car, and they're popping."

"They're en route," a dispatcher says.

Four calls came into E-911 around the same time to report the crash. The calls led to initial confusion about just where on I-40 the crash happened.

"We got a couple different locations," the dispatcher says. "We had them going the wrong way."

KPD officer Andrew Taylor arrived and moved the ambulance to give shelter from the flames until a Knoxville Fire Department crew arrived and put out the fire.

THP officials said Lewis, the driver for FSH Trucking Co. of Orlando, Fla., had fallen asleep when his rig drifted into the shoulder and slammed into Russell's cruiser.

Lewis, 32, remained in jail Wednesday night, charged with aggravated vehicular assault and reckless endangerment.

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