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Friday, May 6, 2016

In the line of fire

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Clay City Town Marshal Terry Skaggs. While off-duty, the officer helped rescue two accident victims from a fiery wreck Aug. 8, on SR 46.

Part 2 of 2

Off-duty, Clay City Town Marshal Terry Skaggs was on his way home Sunday, Aug. 8. With him were his three daughters, one daughter's friend and a nephew. They were all going to church together that evening.

Just after passing the Dietz Lake entrance on SR 46, Skaggs suddenly saw a wreck happen about a quarter mile ahead of him. A westbound Dodge Ram 3500 truck, pulling a fifth wheel horse trailer, had been broadsided by a Pontiac Bonneville that had been heading south on CR 200 N.

The Pontiac was engulfed in flames beneath the sleeper/storage section of the trailer where Mary Jo Bowers and her 14-year-old son, Cody, tired from a weekend camping trip, had been sleeping. Mary Jo's husband, Richard, had been driving the RAM truck which broke loose from the trailer after impact and landed in a cornfield about 15 yards west of the scene.

Skaggs parked his truck and went to see if he could help anyone involved in the wreck. He determined that, due to the heat, he could not get close to the vehicle burning beneath the trailer. Then he noticed the Ram truck in the cornfield.

The driver jumped out of the truck appearing disoriented and bleeding from his head. He came running toward the hot smoking trailer yelling, "My God, Terry, Mary Jo and Cody are in there!" Skaggs then recognized that the frantic man was his wife's uncle, Richard Bowers.

The trailer was on its side with the door to the ground but a side window in the sleeper was facing up. Richard climbed up on the trailer and kicked open the window with Skaggs by his side.

The first person they saw was Cody. Groggy and confused, he was awake, conscious and bleeding profusely around his head and neck.

The two men pulled him up and out of the silver inferno. While his dad helped Cody off the trailer to safety, Skaggs attempted to get Mary Jo out.

She was a little disoriented and asking, "What happened?"

Because of pain and soreness all over, Mary Jo was unable to help pull herself from the smoking trailer. Skaggs tried to pull her out but couldn't do it by himself.

The intense heat was coming through his shoes, starting to burn the bottom of his feet. The trailer was full of smoke. He knew they were running out of time.

Richard returned and, together, the two men grabbed Mary Jo's up-stretched arms and were able to pull her straight up through the window out of the trailer and took her to safety.

Against Skaggs' advice, Richard ran back to try to help the horses but was unable to do anything. They had kicked the roof of the trailer loose. Later, Search and Rescue workers were able to get the three animals out safely.

The cut on Cody's neck turned out to be superficial. Richard had a large bump on the top of his head which caused his bleeding, but it was not serious. Surprisingly, Mary Jo had no cuts or broken bones; she was just extremely sore. They were all treated at St. Vincent Clay Hospital and released.

Unfortunately, the driver of the red Pontiac did not survive the crash. It's believed that Amber L. Jolly, the 21-year-old wife and mother of two from Clay City, died on impact.

True heroes always seem reluctant to accept credit and accolades. If Skaggs had not been present and taken the actions he did, Mary Jo Bower, and possibly Cody, might have died.

"I saw the Bowers the other day," Skaggs said. "They were so grateful and thanked me. But I don't feel like I did anything that great. I was just doing what I was trained to do.

"As far as saving someone, I felt like her husband did as much as I did," Skaggs continued. "I could have gotten Cody out. But without Richard's help, I don't think I could have gotten Mary Jo out by myself."

Skaggs paused for a moment.

"I wish I could have done more to help the lady who died. The coroner thinks she died on impact and there wouldn't have been anything I could have done. But still..." He didn't finish his thoughts.

"I am proud that I reacted as I did without hesitation," Skaggs said. "But I have to admit I was scared for my own safety. I didn't know what might happen because of the flames and the potential for explosion."

"And I guess I was really amazed that just coming up on an accident like that, to find out it was someone I knew, even a relative of my wife. I'm just glad I was there to help."

The uniformed policeman concluded his comments about the accident then got in his patrol car and headed to the south end of the county to start work. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference, but this public servant would soon be, officially, on duty.

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