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story.lead_photo.caption Physical therapist Meredith McKelvy gives instruction Wednesday to Paul Sanchez, 22, at the Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute in Little Rock. Sanchez, an emergency medical technician, was injured when his ambulance was struck head-on earlier this month on Interstate 40. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

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.

Paul Sanchez, 22, 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 OK. 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 ended up on its passenger side, he was left hanging in the air, secured in place by his seat belt.

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 walked 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. The driver, Carter, was dead.

Sanchez said it was about 15 minutes before he got word about 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 at the scene.

After Sanchez was freed, he was taken to a hospital. 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 suffered four breaks in the accident -- two in his left femur, and two in the heel of his right foot. He 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 before he fully recovers, but he hopes to return to work at 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 medic in the National Guard and plans to return to duty 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."

Metro on 01/17/2019

Print Headline: Medic injured in wrong-way crash on I-40 recalls car's headlights, then impact

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