As Harte got closer to the plume, he saw a horrific crash scene. A pickup truck that had been traveling an estimated 75-80 mph had crashed into and pushed a minivan off the road and then hit and pushed another vehicle into the median.
Harte, a former EMT and first responder, stopped his truck and got out to help. As he approached the minivan, he noticed a man and woman holding an infant. The couple appeared to be frantically trying to get something out of the crumpled minivan.
Harte rushed back to his truck and got out a first aid kit and put on medical gloves.
Since other bystanders were attending to the other two vehicles, Harte went back to help the man and woman at the minivan. As he reached the minivan, he learned there were three children trapped inside.
The van had been crushed like an accordion. Its third row seat was in the second row and the second row of seats was in the front.
As he was assessing the scene, he heard a bystander talking to a 911 operator on a cell phone. He asked to speak with the operator so he could describe the severity of the scene and convey a sense of urgency.
Harte then worked to extricate the most accessible child who had been sitting in the second row but was now in the front. Once he was able to free the five-year-old boy, he directed bystanders to lay the child down on the ground to prevent exacerbating any potential spinal injuries.
At that time, emergency personnel were began to arrive and assist all the accident victims.
Harte searched the crowd for strong-looking bystanders to help him open the van’s back hatch so he could reach two young girls in the van’s backseat.
After getting the back hatch open, Harte began performing first aid on one of the girls and was able to slide her out of the van. Another off-duty EMT arrived and began attending to the third child. Harte assisted the off-duty EMT. Firefighters pulled apart the seats and cut away the seat belts so the child could be extricated.
After all three children had been removed from the van, Harte stayed with the crash victims while two ambulances made trips back and forth from the hospital transporting all 8 crash victims.
“I have been a firefighter/first responder since 1989, including four years as an EMT, and what I encountered that day was the worst motor vehicle accident I’ve ever seen,” said Harte, noting that the injuries ranged from a broken pelvis, to broken legs, hips, arms and jaws, to fractured skulls and internal bleeding. He noted that only two ambulances were available to transport the eight victims of both the car and the minivan, so he spent much time attending to the injuries while waiting for the ambulances to make return trips.
For his efforts, Harte has been awarded the TCA’s Highway Angel award.