North Carolina

Trees save driver’s life as he dangles 125 feet over a flooded NC mountain creek

The crumbled pickup had to be stabilized by rescue workers before they pulled the driver from inside, officials said. The driver escaped with minor injuries.
The crumbled pickup had to be stabilized by rescue workers before they pulled the driver from inside, officials said. The driver escaped with minor injuries. Champion Fire Department photo

A North Carolina man owes his life to a tree that kept him from making a “catastrophic” upside down crash into a flooded mountain creek Monday, rescuers say.

The driver, who was not identified, had to be pulled with a harness from his pickup, after the vehicle tumbled down a 125-foot mountain ravine in Wilkes County and got stuck over a boulder-filled creek.

Chief Craig Hollar of the Champion Volunteer Fire Department says the driver owes his life to one or more trees that stopped the pickup’s roll into Stony Fork Creek. The crash site was near Ferguson, about 70 miles west of Winston-Salem.

“There is no question in my mind those trees saved him from going all the way down,” Hollar told the Charlotte Observer.

“If the tree hadn’t have caught him, we’d have been down there in the creek bed, doing a water rescue. The water tables are up in that area, ‘cause of weather. If he’d been upside down in that creek, it would have been catastrophic.”

So precarious was the truck’s position that it had to be stabilized before rescue crews could complete their work, he added.

The driver, a middle-aged man, was treated for cuts and scratches at the scene by medics, officials said. The pickup is owned by a funeral vault company, officials said.

The Champion Fire Department, based in Ferguson, says the crash happened about 4 p.m. Monday, in the 6000 block of Mount Zion Road. Hollar described the stretch of gravel road as “narrow, curved, very steep and one-lane.”

Officials with the Wilkes County Rescue Squad told the Charlotte Observer the driver “got too close to the edge” of the road and tipped over. A photo released by the squad showed the truck was pulling a trailer at the time it fell.

It’s possible the accident was caused by rain soaked gravel that became unstable at the edges, collapsing under the pickup, Hollar said.

A crew of about 14 responded to the crash, including Wilkes Emergency Medical Services and the N.C. Highway Patrol, he said.

Parts of Wilkes County have seen intense flooding in the past week, including downed trees and roads blocked by swift water.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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