LEXINGTON, Ky. — The freezing rain that coated parts of Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday morning is being blamed for a bizarre series of accidents that killed a young pregnant woman and the paramedic who was trying to help her.
Just after 9 a.m., Paintsville Emergency Medical Services received a call of a pregnant woman needing an ambulance on U.S. 460 in Johnson County, near the Magoffin County line, said Jim Williams, a spokesman for Paintsville EMS.
The mother-to-be, Erica Brown of Salyersville, had lost control of her car on the icy road and crashed into a rocky cliff 5 miles west of Paintsville. She was not injured, but she wanted a paramedic to make sure her unborn baby had not been harmed in the jarring crash, Williams said.
Brown, 24, was 11 weeks pregnant.
The director of Paintsville EMS, Christa Burchett, 33, responded to the call in an ambulance. A Johnson County sheriff’s deputy also drove to the scene.
As Burchett stood in the freezing drizzle helping Brown on the shoulder of U.S. 460, a passing 18-wheel tractor-trailer loaded with coal began sliding on the icy road, said Trooper Scott Hopkins, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police post in Pikeville.
The truck slid into a car traveling in front of it, sideswiped the deputy’s cruiser parked on the shoulder of the road, and then slammed into Burchett and Brown, who stood near the back of the ambulance, Hopkins said.
A second coal truck overturned while trying to avoid the accident.
Brown was killed on impact. Burchett died at Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center in Paintsville at 10:04 a.m.
Kentucky State Police were on the scene much of Tuesday reconstructing the crash.
Preliminary investigation shows that the accident was caused by icy road conditions. State police say speed does not appear to be a factor and the coal truck, owned by M&R Trucking of Salyersville and driven by Leslie Spence, was carrying the amount of coal permitted and was not overweight.
No charges are expected.
Hopkins could not find the words to describe the horrific crash. He said the accident involving the mother-to-be and the emergency medical responder had hit home for many.
Tuesday afternoon, dozens of EMS personnel and community members gathered at the Fire-Rescue-EMS Center in Paintsville.
Many hugged. Many more cried.
Together they quietly shared fond memories of Burchett, who they said was nicknamed “hero” because of the many times she risked her life to save others.
Burchett, of Lowmansville in Johnson County, had been a paramedic since 2003. She began working with Paintsville Fire-EMS in August 2005 and was named director of EMS last April.
Yesterday, those who knew Burchett best said her life revolved around her job and her 14-year-old daughter Olivia, who attends Paintsville High School. Burchett was divorced.
“Christa was a dream employee,” said Paintsville Mayor Bob Porter. “She worked all the time and she never complained. The only thing that upset her is someone who didn’t work as hard as she did.”
Burchett’s true passions were the outdoors, cars and motorcycles, and helping those in need.
“She loved what she did. That’s all she ever thought about was helping someone else,” said Tonya Dingess, who said Burchett was her best friend. “She died doing what she wanted to do. I don’t think Christa would have wanted it any other way.”
Burchett’s daughter Olivia was also present at the EMS center in Paintsville.
The 14-year-old, surrounded by classmates, was too heartbroken to speak to reporters. Through friends, she said she wanted everyone to know that she loved her mother, her hero.
Funeral arrangements for Brown were not available Tuesday. Funeral arrangements for Burchett were pending at Wilson Funeral Home in Louisa in Lawrence County.Reach Cassondra Kirby in the Hazard bureau at (606) 487-8785.