He stopped and found the driver and passenger of one car had crawled out to safety and appeared to be OK. When he approached the other car, however, he said the driver and passenger were already deceased and he was unable to free their bodies from the vehicle.
Fast forward to Jan. 31, 2011, and Campbell was driving to work along Coles Ferry Pike when he passed by the same location where he had come across the wreck almost two years earlier.
He looked up into his rearview mirror, either by instinct or providence, and when he did, a Chevrolet Trailblazer behind him began to swerve and the driver, Karen Adams of Lebanon, lost control. The vehicle swerved into the ditch and rolled several times before coming to rest on its side.
“God had His hand in this,” Campbell said, referring to everything that happened after he stopped in a driveway upon seeing the wreck behind him.
Campbell ran down the road as another driver slowed down to see what had happened. He told the driver to call 911 and he continued toward the car to free the people inside.
When he approached the vehicle, he was looking at the undercarriage and noticed smoke coming from the front of the wreckage and could see flames in and around the SUV’s engine.
“My heart sunk then because I saw the flames, and then it sunk again when I heard the kids crying,” Campbell said.
The vehicle was lying on the driver’s side and Campbell said he couldn’t get to the doors on the passenger side, so his only hope was for the back door to be unlocked so he could crawl inside.
“I said, Lord let this hatch be open and I got in,” he said.
Campbell found two young children in the back seat, wrapped in heavy coats and securely fastened in their car seats. They were crying, but appeared to be uninjured. The car seats had shifted down the seat because of the roll, but were still in place. Adams was also held in her seat by her seatbelt.
The children were in car seats that Campbell didn’t know how to operate and said he again asked for God’s help in getting the children out. He found the button to release the seatbelt and safely removed one child from the car and handed it to another driver who had stopped at the wreck.“I didn’t want to tell them the car was on fire, because I didn’t want them to panic any more,” Campbell said.
He went back into the vehicle and said Adams pointed out to him how to unbuckle the other car seat and managed to free the second child and get her to safety. Once they were safely away from the car, he went back in to free the driver as the flames spread.
“She had actually unbuckled herself and all I had to do was pull her out of the car,” Campbell said of Adams.
During the ordeal, Campbell said the incident in 2009, which occurred less than 100 yards away from the wreck Monday passed through his mind, but he focused on trying to help the family inside the overturned vehicle.
When they were all safely outside the vehicle, Adams wanted to return to get her purse and personal items from the car, but Campbell told her about the flames that were spreading from the engine.
Another passer-by had stopped and told them to move further from the vehicle as he saw the flames getting worse. Campbell said they all had the children and Adams on the shoulder of the road by the vehicle, but after the warning they moved further from the burning Trailblazer.
“I grabbed her face and said, you are a good mother, those kids were wrapped up in there safely,” Campbell said as he tried to calm Adams.
He noted that one of the other women who had stopped asked Adams what had happened, and she remarked that she didn’t know. Campbell said he wasn’t sure if she had a blowout, or if she just looked back at the kids for a moment and swerved, overcorrected and lost control. He was definitely sure about who was in control that morning.
“God was in control, He had me look the minute it all started, and He had that back door unlocked,” Campbell said.
While he was crawling in and out of the wrecked vehicle, Campbell said all he could think about was the Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which reads, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” Campbell said, “He was definitely giving me strength.”
Campbell said he climbed into the ambulance that arrived with the mother and her children and said they all appeared to have no injuries. He remembered the little boy waving at him, and that all three were sitting up and didn’t need a stretcher or serious medical attention.
Adams’ husband Travis came running up the road after hearing about the wreck and Campbell met him along the way to tell him what had happened and that his wife and children were OK.
“I told the woman that God had a plan for them because that fire was not meant for them,” Campbell said.
As they stood at a safe distance away, Campbell said the fire overwhelmed the vehicle and remarked how they could hear the tires bursting from the heat of the flames. He said he was grateful for how differently things turned out this time than they had in 2009.
Campbell reflected on how he was faced with the same situation twice in the same location, but with two drastically different outcomes. He knew that God had him drive by that location at that particular time, and made everything possible for him to safely rescue the family inside.
Campbell said deputies with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department arrived followed by Wilson County Emergency Management Agency personnel and Tennessee Highway Patrol. He commended the job these men and women do every day and the situations they face in the line of duty.
“Those guys are the real heroes, they do this kind of thing every single day,” he said.
Adams and her family could not be reached for comment on this article by press time Tuesday.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.