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Tenn. Paramedics Honored for Aid to Trooper after Crash

ATHENS, Tenn. -- A whole series of occurrences had to line up just right to place Freddie Leslie and Kristi Graham in the right location to save a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper from a fiery death.

But they did line up, which Leslie, a paramedic and a lay minister at Freedom Baptist Church in Turtletown, Tenn., attributed to a heavenly plan beyond human comprehension.

"It was the way God wanted it to be," he said Friday following a presentation ceremony at the Athens headquarters of the pair's employer, American Medical Response, a national corporation based in Colorado.

God, Leslie said, "chose to use" him and Graham, and he "can't question that."

Late Monday and early Tuesday, according to Leslie, it had been planned to transfer a patient from a McMinn County medical facility to the University of Tennessee Medical Center via helicopter. But bad weather interfered, so he and Graham were summoned into service to move the patient by ambulance.

They delivered the young man to UT Medical Center and were about 10 minutes into their return trip early Tuesday on Interstate 40, he said, when they came upon the wreck. A tractor-trailer had smashed into the parked cruiser of THP Sgt. Lowell Russell near Walker Springs Road. Their training kicked in and Leslie and Graham immediately rushed to the aid of the trooper, who was unconscious and still belted in his burning cruiser. Two Knoxville police officers also responded to the scene and helped the trooper.

Even for someone familiar with scenes of mayhem, Leslie said, "I've never seen anything like this."

Leslie has a couple of burns on his face from pulling Russell from the cruiser.

Russell remained in critical condition Friday at UT Medical Center.

"We're here to do whatever we have to to save a life," Graham said.

Leslie is a 13-year veteran of emergency work, and he and Graham have been partners about two months, he said. Leslie said he is more than a little uncomfortable with the attention he and Graham have received for their response to the crash. He is ready, he said, "for it to be over with" and get back to his job of serving those who need him.



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