Bus crash tragedy touches families in Salisbury

  • Posted: Saturday, October 5, 2013 1:32 a.m.
    UPDATED: Saturday, October 5, 2013 1:33 a.m.
Wanda Martin
Wanda Martin

At least three families involved in Wednesday’s horrific church bus crash in Tennessee have Salisbury connections.

When Debbie Martin came home from work Wednesday, her husband Edwin was beside himself. Because he has a degenerative brain disease, the only three words he could get out were “wreck,” “bus” and “Wanda.”


Debbie ran to the television and realized from the breaking news report that her sister-in-law and Edwin’s only sibling, Wanda Martin, was in the bus crash. Wanda lives in Statesville, but she’s the longtime choir director at Enon Baptist Church in Salisbury.

Debbie, a nurse, got on the phone immediately. She reached the emergency room at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, a level-one trauma center. She discovered that Wanda had cracked ribs and a badly mangled right hand.

“Do I need to drop and run?” she asked the ER nurse.

“No,” the nurse told her. “Please do not rush. But y’all need to get here.”

Edwin’s oldest son, Chris, serves as Wanda’s health-care power of attorney. He and Edwin’s youngest son, Jay, left from the Winston-Salem area, where they live with their families. His middle son, Nick, met the couple in Troutman, and they were on the road Wednesday evening by 6:30. Despite I-40 being shut down and Highway 81 being closed because of another wreck, the three took an alternate route and arrived at the hospital shortly after 11 p.m.

“They let us all right back,” Debbie said. They found Wanda being sewn up by a doctor, right there in the ER.

“It was a fantastic trauma unit,” Debbie said. “I was very impressed with that ER.”

Edwin stood right by Wanda’s bed, holding her left hand.

“Jay had seen her hand before the doctor started sewing her up,” Debbie said, “and he was amazed that the doctor reconstructed her index finger.”

The doctor kept asking for sutures from a nearby cart, and Debbie kept pulling more and more out for him. “I’ll bet he put 200 stitches in her hand.”

Debbie said that the doctor knew Wanda was tired, but he kept on sewing. He told Wanda he wanted to do the best he could, Debbie said. Wanda was alert the whole time she was in the ER, and was able to tell staff where her friends had been sitting on the bus.

“It’s just amazing that some made it out with just cuts and bruises and broken bones,” Debbie said.

Family friend Steve Wright lives in Statesville but works at Food Lion in Salisbury. His father, John, died in the crash. Another friend, Phyllis Storie, is a member of First Baptist Church, Salisbury. Steve and Doris Swaim, her sister-and-brother in law, were also in the crash, but survived. Doris broke both arms, Debbie said, while Steve sustained back and head injuries.

The Martins stayed at the hospital all night.

“The boys did not want to leave their aunt,” Debbie noted.

Jay and Chris left in the early morning hours to retrieve Wanda’s cellphone, pocketbook and luggage. Amazingly, they were able to find all of their aunt’s belongings.

Jay and Chris stayed the rest of the day Thursday, while Nick brought Edwin and Debbie home. Then Nick, a newlywed, left Friday morning to pick up his aunt and bring her home to Statesville. Debbie said Nick planned to spend the night with her, then Chris’ wife would spend Saturday night.

“Their aunt means the world to them,” Debbie said of her stepsons.

And to members of Front Street as well.

“The Front Street congregation is so tight,” Debbie said, “and I have a feeling that the congregation will be there on Saturday morning.”

Wanda’s best friend, Brenda Jolly, was also in the crash.

“You never saw one without the other,” Debbie said.

Brenda was discharged Thursday.

Even at the hospital, Debbie said, members looked for the opportunity to minister to one another. “All of them were going through such shock. They were all worried about each other. They were spread all over the hospital, but they were trying to comfort each other. They’re a close-knit group of people.”

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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