Driver escapes injury after car overturns in Happy Lake
By Steve Huffman
ROCKWELL ó The driver of a car that ran off the road and overturned into Happy Lake escaped injury Friday afternoon.
Witnesses to the accident were upset about the amount of time it took for help to arrive after they’d called 911.
Freddie Underwood, the owner of Happy Lake, a recreational facility on Happy Lake Road, said he saw the car run off the road and flip into the water. He immediately used his cell phone to call 911.
“I was calling as that thing hit the water,” Underwood said, motioning to the black sedan. “He was crawling out the window almost as soon as it went in.”
According to officials at the Rowan County Telecommunications office, the first call for assistance was placed at 2:36 p.m.
The car was driven by Michael Hoffner, 24, who bystanders said lives only about a mile from the accident site. He crawled through the window and waded to a beach area, then told witnesses that he didn’t need medical attention.
But witnesses said they still didn’t understand why it was more than an hour ó about 3:40 p.m. ó before a trooper from the N.C. Highway Patrol arrived. He was the first to respond to the call for help.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” Underwood said of the amount of time it took for anyone to respond to his call.
Underwood wasn’t the only one to call 911 about the accident. Michelle Bradshaw, one of his employees, also called 911 as soon as she saw the car hit the water.
Bradshaw said a 911 dispatcher asked if an ambulance was needed. Since Hoffner said he didn’t want medical attention, she said no. But she said she was still surprised at how long it took for anyone to respond to the call.
Bradshaw said she called 911 three times over a span of about 30 minutes ó the third time going so far as to say, “I’m not trying to harass you guys, but … ”
Lonnie Owens, a supervisor with the Rowan County Telecommunications office, said there was a slip-up in how quickly the Highway Patrol was alerted to the accident. He said that once the first caller said no ambulance was needed, the dispatcher told the caller to stay on the line while the call was transferred to the Highway Patrol.
But Owens said the caller apparently hung up before the call was answered by the Highway Patrol. Neither Underwood nor Bradshaw said they heard a dispatcher tell them to stay on the line while the call was transferred.
They said they assumed help was on the way.
Owens said that when telecommunications received a second call about the accident eight minutes after the first, the dispatcher assumed the Highway Patrol was already aware of the situation.
It wasn’t until another call to 911 was placed at 2:55 p.m. that the caller was transferred and the Highway Patrol made aware of the accident.
“That was the initial call to the Highway Patrol,” Owens said.
He said that had the first call to 911 indicated that an ambulance was needed, the situation would have been handled far differently, with medical personnel immediately dispatched.
“It takes on a whole different” meaning if injuries are involved, Owens said.
As it is, he said, if the call concerns only property damage and the location is outside a municipality, the caller is transferred to the Highway Patrol.
First Sgt. B.E. Hower of the Highway Patrol confirmed that his office wasn’t alerted to the accident on Happy Lake Road until 2:55 p.m. He said the first trooper arrived at 3:40 p.m.
Hower said troopers respond to accidents as quickly as possible, but noted there were a number of crashes throughout the county Friday afternoon.
“We had more accidents than we had troopers,” he said.
Hower said a wait of 40 to 45 minutes for a trooper is not unusual, especially on a Friday afternoon when roads are busy and numerous accidents are reported.
Witnesses said Hoffner, the driver of the car involved in Friday’s wreck, works at Kohl’s and was hurrying to work when he wrecked. Hoffner’s clothes were soaked and he admitted he was still a bundle of nerves more than an hour after the accident.
Trooper C.F. Rogers, who responded to the accident, reminded Hoffner the incident could easily have had far more dire consequences.
“You were going too fast and your car’s in the lake,” Rogers told him. “You’re lucky I’m not pulling you out in a black bag. I’ve had to do that before, too.”
Attempts to get a report of the accident were unsuccessful Friday evening.