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story.lead_photo.caption Left: An ambulance is pulled onto a wrecker after it was hit on Interstate 40 on Jan. 6. Right: Paul Sanchez, who was injured in the crash, undergoes therapy in Little Rock Wednesday.

A medic who was suspended by his seat belt after a head-on collision on Interstate 40 left his ambulance on its side and his foot trapped in the wreckage said he hopes to return to work by the end of the year.

The medic, 22-year-old Paul Sanchez of North Little Rock, said he remembers everything about the Jan. 6 collision, which killed the driver of the other vehicle, 21-year-old Briana Carter.

Sanchez and his partner Darius Williams, 23, of Maumelle were returning to Little Rock on I-40 shortly after 5 a.m. when, as they crested a hill near the Morgan exit, they saw the headlights of an oncoming car traveling the wrong way on the highway.

The impact, he recalled, was nearly instantaneous.

“My partner exclaimed there was a car, and at the last minute I tried to turn right, but we had already made impact,” Sanchez said. “From there, we rolled about once and kind of bounced off the ground.”

The medic called for Williams, but the other man didn't immediately reply.

“At first I was a little scared when I was first calling for him and he wasn’t responding,” Sanchez said. “But then once he finally responded back I knew that at least we’d be somewhat okay. I wasn’t alone, and he wouldn’t be alone also.”

Sanchez said he knew he was trapped. His right foot was pinned inside the vehicle, and he said he knew his leg was broken. As the ambulance had come to rest on its passenger side, he was also hanging in the air, secured in place by his seatbelt.

As Williams crawled out of the ambulance to examine the vehicle, Sanchez called for help over his handheld radio. He knew that responders would get there as soon as possible. He said he “knew he was in good hands.”

By the time Williams came around the ambulance to check on his partner’s condition, several people who witnessed the crash had gathered around. Sanchez said he tried to keep a positive attitude.

“The first thing I asked [Williams] is, ‘How’s my hair?’”

Williams then went to check on the condition of the vehicle that struck them head-on. The driver, Carter, was dead.

Sanchez said it took about 15 minutes before he got word on the other driver’s condition, and another 45 minutes before rescuers freed him from the mangled ambulance. He was already familiar with the medics and firefighters who were on the scene.

After Sanchez was freed from the wrecked ambulance, he was taken to the hospital for treatment. While Williams was released from the hospital the day of the crash and has since returned to work, his partner’s recovery will take more time.

Sanchez said he ultimately sustained four breaks from the accident — two to his left femur, and two to the heel in his right foot — and faces two months of rehabilitation. He is recovering in the Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute and expects to be released Friday.

According to Sanchez, it will probably be a year until he fully recovers, but the medic says he hopes to return to MEMS before then.

“Yeah, it’s a bump in the road," he said, "but I know I can overcome it.”

Sanchez also serves as a combat medic in the National Guard and plans to return after recuperating.

In the meantime, Sanchez has his sights set on home.

“I’m ready to go home to my dogs,” he said. “That’s been my major influence, to get better and get back home and from there progress forward to get back to work.”

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Comments

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  • JPRoland
    January 16, 2019 at 5:32 p.m.

    It's a tragedy, but Mr. Sanchez sounds like a great MEMS professional. We have had several emergencies and the MEMS employees are excellent. We are lucky to have people like Paul Sanchez!

  • seitan
    January 16, 2019 at 6:23 p.m.

    Man, he is lucky to be alive. Great attitude!

  • ZeebronZ
    January 16, 2019 at 9:34 p.m.

    Sad, but at least they survived. Another wrong-way crash on an Arkansas freeway.

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