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Fatal accident on Lemon Island

One night just before midnight we received a call that there was a fatal auto accident on Lemon Island. I was the supervisor so I responded and so did two of my men. When we got to the scene we found a head on collision between a car and a van. The people in the car had just minor injuries, so we left them and headed to the van.

The van had rolled and was sitting on it's passenger side. I don't remember the make of the van but it was designed like one of the old VW vans, with the engine under the front seats. So when we walked up we were able to stand right next to the front windshield. I saw two people in the van. One was positioned feet up and head down and the other was head up and feet down. I could not see any movement from either one. I pulled the drivers side door open so that I could reach in. I felt for a carotid pulse on the male whose head was near the door, but found that he was dead.

I then grabbed the ankle of the girl who was head down and felt a weak pulse. I yelled for the other Deputy to help me pull the dead man out of the vehicle so that EMS could work on the girl who was still alive. With his help I grabbed the dead man and pulled him out of the van and placed him on the pavement. EMS personnel were now there and started trying to stabilize the girl.

I was yelling orders to the two Deputies that were there, telling them to try to move traffic along the shoulder of the road and to put out flares, etc... I happened to look at one of the Deputies who had only been on the Department about three weeks and he looked very pale. I asked him what was wrong. His answer surprised me. He had been a Beaufort City Police Officer for 2 or 3 years before being hired by the Sheriff's Department, but he told me this was his first fatal accident.

I told him that was okay, he was doing fine and asked him to go direct traffic. I had forgotten what it was like to see and deal with your first messy fatal accident. Everyone has to deal with the first couple in their own way. It made me stop and think about how routine death had become to me.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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