Woman injured in crash temporarily out of hospital; family, friends remember firefighter

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 6, 2018

SALISBURY — Just for one day, Penny Carter Stokes checked out of the hospital Thursday, a day after she was seriously injured in a two-vehicle crash that claimed the life of West Liberty firefighter Michael Goodnight.

Stokes, 44, of Gold Hill, was driving on Gold Knob Road on Wednesday along with her son’s girlfriend, Sarah Al-Zaid, 18, of Concord, when her Mustang was struck by Goodnight’s vehicle as she made a left turn.

Stokes was joining her family for a July 4th cookout to honor her father, Bill Duncan Carter, who died Monday.

As Stokes was turning into her father’s driveway, Goodnight, 55, was trying to pass her car in a no-passing zone. His pickup collided with the Mustang, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol. Goodnight’s Chevrolet Silverado overturned. He died at the scene.

Both Stokes and Al-Zaid were flown to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Stokes had to be extracted from her vehicle.

Stokes’ brother, Chad Carter, said he was outside and witnessed the crash. He said his sister has a broken pelvis, a fracture to her face, a head injury, and a lot of other cuts and bruises.

As family members approached the wreckage and saw Stokes in the car, Carter said, they thought she was dead.

His brother begged Stokes to come to, and she suddenly became conscious.

“She woke up and starting swinging on him,” Carter said.

He said there are seven siblings in the family.

Carter called the crash a tragedy but said it could’ve been prevented had Goodnight not been “taking a risk.” He said he understands that people make mistakes.

Troopers have not said whether Goodnight was going faster than the posted speed limit. The investigation is continuing.

Officials said the accident that Goodnight was en route to was not a serious one.

Al-Zaid suffered a broken collarbone and a head injury. Carter said he thinks she will be released from the hospital soon.

Judy Burris, a sister of Michael Goodnight, waited outside the West Liberty Fire Department on Thursday morning with her family. Burris, who is four years older than Goodnight, said even as a child, all he talked about was being a firefighter.

She said he almost died in November and she told him he had better get better.

“I said, ‘You can’t die on me now,'” Burris said.

He was given 9 pints of blood, but God pulled him through, she said.

Burris said she told her brother he had a lot to look forward to, including family cookouts.

Burris said he was also planning to attend a family cookout later Wednesday evening. She said he didn’t show up, and then the family received the news that he was dead.

She said it wasn’t until they saw his picture on television news that they finally believed he was gone. Family members had thought that it could have been another man with the same name.

“Unfortunately, it was our Michael Goodnight,” Burris said.

Burris said helping others was her brother’s passion. She was overcome with tears at the thought that her brother will never come to her house again.

West Liberty Fire Chief Darrin Trexler said at a Thursday news conference that his department is thankful for the other departments that are supporting his.

While members of the West Liberty Fire Department are grieving the loss of one of their own, neighboring departments including Gold Hill and Union are answering their fire calls. The department responds to about 500 calls a year.

The firefighters also are relying on support from the state Fire Marshal’s Office and Rowan County Emergency Services Department. In attendance at the news conference were Chief State Fire Marshal and Senior Deputy Commissioner Brian Taylor and Chief Chris Soliz, head of Rowan Emergency Services.

He said his firefighters appreciate the prayers from the community for Goodnight’s family and the firefighting family.

“Michael would do anything you’d ask him to do,” Trexler said.

Goodnight had been with the West Liberty department for about two years.

“He was as dedicated the first day he got here as he was yesterday,” Trexler said.

Family friend Diane Goodman said Goodnight was a “good-hearted fella.”

“He’s always loved firetrucks ever since he was a kid. He died doing something that he loved to do,” Goodman said.

She said Goodnight loved this community and the Fire Department.

“That’s all he ever wanted to do was belong to a fire department. He kept that scanner with him at all times, and when that thing went off, boom, he was gone,” Goodman said.

High school friend Alan Waller, a retired Salisbury police officer, said he heard the sirens Wednesday signaling that West Liberty firefighters were responding to a call.

He was saddened to hear that his former classmate killed. He said they drifted apart, like most do after graduation, then reconnected as adults and most recently drifted apart.

A counseling team has been made available for members of the West Liberty Fire Department.

When Goodnight’s body is released by the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office, a procession will be scheduled from Raleigh to Salisbury. No route and time of travel were released.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.