Local EMT Brian Morgan says he believes ‘someone’ was watching over his son Garrett during serious Dec. 28 crash
Gainesville resident Brian Morgan has responded to hundreds of accidents in his nine-year career as an emergency medical technician, but on Dec. 28, 2019, he experienced a crash in a completely different context than he’s used to.
Instead of delivering his usual professional medical attention to the crash victim, Brian was on scene at a crash on Highway 5 north as a family member of the crash victim, his 18-year-old son Garrett.
“It’s different, being at an accident like that. Very much so,” Brian told the Times. “When we got there, he was on the stretcher on the side of the road. [MSHP Troopers] Charlie Hogue and Dakota Nash were there trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t tell you what they said. Because everything in me – all my focus – was on Garrett. It was a scary situation for me and his mom.”
Garrett was transported to Mercy Hospital, where he was diagnosed with multiple broken bones in his left arm and two small holes in his lungs.
Garrett was traveling southbound on Highway 5 around 3:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, headed to his parents’ house in Gainesville when the accident occurred.
“I had my cruise set on 65 [mph]. I’d left my girlfriend’s house in Clever that afternoon. I was on my way back… It was foggy, and I was getting pretty tired,” he said. “I was trying to stay awake…. jacking my radio up, stuff like that.”
About a half mile north of the Ozark County line in Douglas County, Garrett fell asleep at the wheel of his 1999 Dodge pickup, and his vehicle drifted into the opposite lane. He was jolted awake just before the truck impacted a guardrail.
“I woke up with just enough time before I hit the guardrail to scream, ‘No,’” Garrett said. “Then, ‘No. No. No. No,” as I was sliding all the way down the hill. It was all very loud and it’s all that chaos, and I looked up and saw this big cedar tree, right before my truck slammed into it.”
Instinctively, Garrett raised his left arm to block the side of his body just before the truck struck the tree.
“[The impact] busted out both passenger and driver’s side windows and the back glass. It shattered the windshield,” Garrett said. “It ripped my entire hub off the axel, broke my driveshaft. The truck was still running when it came to a rest. My foot was actually on the gas pedal when I stopped, because I had tensed up on it. But because the driveshaft was broken, it was just sitting there not going anywhere.”
Garrett said he immediately knew he had to get out of the truck and get help.
“You couldn’t see my truck from the road. No one was close enough to hear it or see the crash, so there was no way for anyone to have known about it besides looking at the guardrail. I’d clipped the end of it, but people usually drive past a broken guardrail,” he said.
Garrett shut the truck off, unbuckled himself from his seatbelt and attempted to get out of the truck, which had come to rest on a steep hill.
“I don’t even know what the grade was, but it was steep. Really steep,” he said. “I put my right foot on the passenger’s seat so I could hold myself in the truck. I saw that the passenger window was busted, but I couldn’t open the door because it was wedged against the ground. And the driver’s side door was obviously not able to be opened. So I scooted myself up and slid all the way across the cab and climbed out the passenger’s side window.”
Once he was out of the truck, Garrett unsuccessfully searched for his cell phone. He later found out that it had been catapulted into the passenger’s side airbag.
“I knew immediately that my arm was broke. It felt like knuckles were being rolled in my elbow,” he said. “I decided to climb back up the hill to the road. I had to use my right hand to crawl up the hill. It was difficult. My left arm was just dangling at my side all the way up.”
Garrett made it to the top of the hill and ran to Highway 5 to try to flag down a vehicle.
“My face was covered in blood. I had white pants on, and they were all splotched with blood,” he said. “I tried to wave down three different cars that went by - and they didn’t stop. Then, as I was climbing over the guardrail, a fourth car went by, and they didn’t stop either.”
Garrett knew he had to get medical attention, so he walked into the middle of the highway, waving his good arm in the air to try to get any vehicle to stop.
“This truck that was going down the road, northbound, in the lane I was in, he just went past me. I had my hand up. My left arm is obviously just dangling there. I was all bloody. And he just went in the left lane, went around me and kept on going.”
Finally, a fifth vehicle, a minivan driven by an Illinois couple, stopped to help.
“They were following the truck that went around me, and they were the first ones to stop. After they stopped, it seemed like everyone else did too,” Garrett said.
‘Mom, I messed up’
The couple from Illinois called 911 and was connected with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The dispatcher told them help was on the way.
“The lady from Illinois told me she had a previous experience with an arm fracture, almost the same… plates in her arm and screws. So she kind of understood what it was like. She ended up giving me a blanket because it had started to rain. Someone else had a garbage bag that they held out over me because I was leaning up against the guardrail.”
In the meantime, several more people stopped. In the third car was a familiar face – Garrett’s Gainesville High School art teacher, Milan Chisam.
Meanwhile, “I was waiting for him to get home. I knew he was coming home, but I wasn’t sure when,” Garrett’s mom, Nikki, told the Times. While others tended to Garrett, trying to make him as comfortable as possible until medical help arrived, Milan called Garrett’s parents. Nikki answered.
“He told me who he was and that Garrett had been in a wreck. My first words were, ‘Is he OK?’” Nikki said. “He told me he was alert and talking and that he had a pretty banged up arm. He said he was pretty sure it was broken, and he wasn’t sure [about injuries] other than that. Then he asked if I wanted to talk to him, and I said yes. I just had to hear his voice.”
Milan put the phone on speakerphone and held it up to Garrett, who reassured his mom he was OK.
Nikki hung up and called Brian, who was on duty at the Ozark County Ambulance base. After explaining the situation, Nikki and their daughter Katelyn picked up Brian and headed toward the crash site, stopping to pick up Nikki’s dad, Paul Jenkins, from his home on Highway 5 on the way.
Back at the crash site, Squires first responders arrived and began treating Garrett. Nikki, Brian, Katelyn and Paul arrived on scene soon afterward.
“They had just gotten him on the stretcher when we got there. I walked up to him, and he said, ‘Mom, I messed up,’” Nikki said. “I told him, ‘It’s OK, Bub. You’re here. That’s what matters.’”
A Cox ambulance, dispatched from its location in Seymour, was on scene about 30 minutes after 911 was called. Garrett was loaded into the ambulance, and Brian rode with him to Mercy Hospital in Springfield.
A familiar face
When Garrett arrived at Mercy, emergency room personnel took him immediately for x-rays. A doctor told Garrett and his parents that the two bones in his left forearm, the ulna and radius, were both broken. He said the radius bone was also dislocated from the head of the humerus bone at his elbow.
The emergency room doctor also diagnosed Garrett with two pneumothorax, small holes in each of his lungs, and called for an orthopedic surgeon to assess the situation before he treated him further.
To Brian and Nikki’s relief, Dr. Darin Talley, an orthopedic surgeon the family was familiar with, soon came to see Garrett. Talley had treated Nikki for an ankle injury and Tyler, the Morgans’ other son, for a leg injury.
“It was kind of a weight lifted off of us that we knew him, and we knew he was a good doctor. It was a blessing to have him in the room,” Brian said.
Talley told the Morgans that Garrett would need surgery to repair his arm. The medical team was initially worried that the holes in Garrett’s lungs might cause issues during intubation, but upon closer examination, they decided the holes were small enough that they wouldn’t be a problem.
Garrett went into surgery at 9 p.m., about six hours after his accident. During the two-and-a-half-hour operation, Talley inserted two metal plates into Garrett’s forearm and secured them to the bones with several screws.
“He said he also removed over 100 pieces of glass from my forearm, and now there are at least 15 stitches that are visible and several underneath too,” Garrett said. “When he was removing the glass, he said my skin just looked like hamburger.”
Garrett was in a lot of pain at first, and he says he continues to relive the crash when he falls asleep.
“It was like every time I went to sleep . . . , I drove my truck off a cliff,” he said.
He was in the hospital for four days before he was released.
Garrett is a freshman at Southwest Baptist University in Boliver studying exercise science, with ambitions of a physical therapy career. He says he is now on strict orders to be completely non-weight-bearing for four months.
“In four months, I can start to lift a pound,” he said. “But they said I should be close to 100 percent in eight to 12 months.”
He plans to go back to college when classes resume Jan. 22.
Garrett says the injury has had a big impact on lifting weights, a pastime he enjoys and usually practices frequently.
“But now he’s got firsthand experience. An occupational therapist came here, and when Garrett told her what he wanted to do, she said one good thing that will come out of this experience is that he’ll be more compassionate,” Nikki said. “She said, ‘Now you’ll know what your patients are going through, because you’ve been through it already. It’ll make you a better therapist.’”
‘Just the way this community is’
The day after the crash, Brian said he returned to the crash site to try to find Garrett’s phone and some of his other belongings.
“The truck was gone. It had been towed to our house after the crash,” Brian said. “I found some loose change and other things. Then I found something that stopped me in my tracks. Almost exactly where the truck landed, where Garrett would have been laying at the time of the wreck, was this little cross that Pastor Dale Roberts had given him before he went to college.”
Garrett said he’d kept the cross inside his center console in the truck ever since Roberts gifted him the cross. The console had flown out of the truck during impact, but the cross was lying about 8 feet away from it.
“It was a sign that he had someone with him that day…a few someones I’m sure. My mom, for one,” Nikki said, referring to her late mother, Carla Jenkins, who died in January 2014. “We keep playing it all in our head… what could have happened that day. And it could have ended up totally different. If he was trapped in the truck, or if his legs had been injured… He had to have had someone with him for it to play out the way it did.”
Brian, Nikki and Garrett say they want to extend a big thank you to Pastor Bruce DeWeese and wife Melanie for praying for Garrett, as well as all their friends, neighbors and community members who helped in so many ways since the accident.
“Whether it was commenting on Facebook, prayers, thoughts, visits to the hospital…. whatever it was, we appreciate you. A special thank you to the Kiger family, who took care of our dogs while we were gone, fed us and did all the things that needed to be done but were the last things on our minds at the time,” Nikki said.
“I love this community. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” Brian said. “Anything that happens here in Ozark County, the county pulls together to help. Everyone, even some people you might not know, they all come to help. It’s just the way this community is – and we are blessed to be a part of it.”