Paramedic injured in crash with DUI suspect loses leg, family confirms

Paramedic injured in crash with DUI suspect loses leg, family confirms
Jody Lynn Heglar. (Source: Florence County Detention Center)
Jody Lynn Heglar. (Source: Florence County Detention Center)
Publicly-shared photo of Tessie Smith. (Source: Facebook)
Publicly-shared photo of Tessie Smith. (Source: Facebook)

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - A veteran paramedic lost her right leg as the result of a collision between an ambulance and a pickup truck Wednesday morning in Florence, her family confirmed.

Florence officials confirmed an ambulance and pick-up truck were involved in the crash Wednesday on Church Street at 5:02 a.m. Three people were sent to the hospital for treatment. The driver of the pickup truck, an employee for a Pamplico-based lumber company who was driving a company vehicle, was charged with DUI and driving on a suspended license, officials confirmed.

Public Information Officer Billy C. Hatchell said crews were responding to an emergency call when the crash took place. Florence County EMS ambulances transported a total of three people from the scene to an area hospital, including the two medics.

The two paramedics involved in the crash were identified by the Florence County EMS as: Paramedic Crew Chief, Sgt. Tessie Odom Smith, 47, from Pamplico, and EMT Crew Member, Pvt. Joshua Craig, 29, from Florence. Smith is a 15-year veteran with the Florence County EMS, and Craig had been working there for six months.

The pickup truck driver and Craig had non-life threatening injuries, and Smith suffered serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.

The ambulance was not carrying any patients at the time of the incident.

Authorities say the two medics were responding to an emergency call and had just a few hours left of their shift when they were hit almost head on.

"When I got on scene and saw the accident, it took my breath away," Hatchell said.

Major Carlos Raines with the City of Florence Police said the male driver of the pick-up truck, 45-year-old Jody Lynn Heglar, from Norwood, NC, was released from the hospital, and was charged with felony DUI and driving under a suspended license. Heglar works for Barry White Logging out of Pamplico, South Carolina, and was driving a company truck at the time of the accident, Raines said.

"What happened this morning is a reminder that there is no such thing as a routine day at EMS," EMS Director Ryon Watkins said. "These folks were on their way to help someone one minute, and they were in need of help literally just a few seconds later."

The accident is currently under investigation by the City of Florence Police Department and the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Authorities say Smith, the paramedic seriously injured in the crash, needs all the help she can get.

"She's been here a long time, and she's a valued employee," Hatchell said. "We love her to death...the type of person that if you see her on scene, you know you're in good hands."

A GoFundMe page set up to pay for for Smith's medical expenses raised nearly $10,000 in just one day. The family released a statement Friday confirming that Smith suffered serious and potentially life-threatening injuries in the crash, including the amputation of her right leg. She will have to undergo several more procedures to address the other injuries received.

"While she remains in critical condition, we remain hopefully optimistic as her stability continues to improve every day," the statement reads.

The family has also established a Facebook page, "Praying for Tessie Smith," where they will provide daily updates on Smith's progress.

"The outpouring of love and support we received these last few days has blessed our family more than words can describe," the statement reads. "Please continue to pray for Tessie as she has some long, tough days ahead of her."

Hearing about their co-worker's pain has taken a toll on others who work in Emergency Management Services.

"You can see it on their face, that every one is very, very concerned," Hatchell said. "Everyone's very upset, and they're scared for our employee that's sitting in the hospital right now, who's hurt really bad."

However, some say knowing someone is being held accountable for the incident has brought some peace of mind.

"It won't be closure until we know how our paramedic does," Hatchell said. "We know it wasn't their fault. They were doing their job. They were doing what they were suppose to do, and someone else caused this."

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