02/23/04 — Survivor of crash still critical

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Survivor of crash still critical

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 23, 2004 1:57 PM

Sandra Maldonado, 12, is in the intensive care unit of Wayne Memorial Hospital in critical condition, the only member of her family to survive a collision that occurred Saturday near Mount Olive.

She was riding with her parents and sisters in the family's 1994 Ford when, according to the Highway Patrol, her father ran a stop sign at the intersection of Indian Springs and Kelly Springs roads. The car broadsided an oncoming 2001 Mitsubishi Galant driven by Juanita Lee of Mount Olive. The Ford flipped over and caught on fire.

Sandra's parents, Alfonzo Puebla, 37, and Alfonsina Maldonado, 30, and sisters Blanca Maldonado, 7, and Alejandra Maldonado, 6, were killed. Ms. Lee was treated at the hospital and released.

Sunday night, a crisis intervention team from New Bern came to Wayne County to counsel the Mount Olive and Indian Springs firefighters who went to the accident. The team talked to about 20 firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The dispatcher was there.

One of the firefighters, Assistant Chief Greg Wiggins of the Mount Olive department, said he and six or seven fellow firefighters gravitated back to the fire station around 5:30 that afternoon.

"I've seen burn victims and people mangled up pretty bad, but this was one of the worst I've been to," said Wiggins, who has been a firefighter 28 years. The children were the same size, the same age, as one he had just left at home. "It plays with your mind."

Wiggins went to the accident in the extrication truck and had to cut the doors off the car and one of the seats out to free two of the bodies. One of them was a small child.

At the fire station later, he said, "Everyone was eager to talk about it. I slept Saturday night. That's a good sign. Sometimes you lie down at night and have flashes in your mind of the scenes that day.

"There's no way we could have changed the outcome ... If you keep something bottled up, that's when it gives you a problem ... I think we all handled it as well as could be expected."

Wiggins arrived a few seconds after Eris Jones of the Wayne County EMS and Paul Robinson, a neighbor, had pulled two people out of one of the cars. One was alive. Seconds later, that car burst into flames.

Nobody was ejected from either of the cars.

Wiggins said the response time to the accident was good. The chief, Steve Martin, was at the station when the alarm sounded. On his way to the wreck, he picked up another firefighter, and water started flowing as soon as they got there.

The burning car was near an abandoned house that would have caught fire if the response time weren't as quick as it was, said Wiggins. There were several pack houses nearby. "It was unreal how quick folks got there."