A trucker who spent nearly six hours trapped inside the wrecked cab of his semitrailer more than 17 years ago near Uniontown never had the chance to properly thank those involved in his rescue.
On Saturday, Dennis Seldon of Toledo, Ohio, finally had that chance and made the best of it, spending time at Crothersville with some of the 20 or so people involved in cutting him out of his cab that early spring morning.
Seldon, who is now 53, remembers little of what happened in the early morning hours of April 14, 1998. He said he does remember stopping on Interstate 65 somewhere just south of Indianapolis while he was taking a load to Nashville, Tenn.
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He then continued driving south on Interstate 65 and was near the 39-mile-marker — a couple of miles south of the Uniontown exit — when his truck left the road and went into a wooded area down a ravine. It traveled about 400 feet and hit a tree. It was shortly after 1 a.m.
A UPS truck driver who had stopped along the interstate for another reason noticed the reflection in the rearview mirror of her truck as she drove away. She stopped and went back and found Seldon’s truck.
“If she hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t be here,” Seldon said while talking with his rescuers and others at the Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Department station.
Seldon said he’s haunted by the thought that all he can remember about the wreck is that he was driving through a tunnel of trees with a green floor and it seemed like a dream.
He does, however, remember everything about what happened after the wreck that left the cab of his truck wedged in a pocket created by either three large trees or the three limbs of one large tree.
That’s because he was awake and alert the whole time that his rescuers spent cutting him from the cab.
If he had been unconscious, he said he might not have one of his legs right now because his rescuers might have thrown caution to the wind and hurt his legs more while trying to get him out.
“I could tell them when I was in pain, and they would stop,” he said.
The memory of the events of that morning are pretty strong for his rescuers.
“When we showed up there, I remember there was a semi in a tree upside down,” Seymour firefighter Chris Allman said.
Crothersville firefighters and medical personnel were already at the scene.
“We asked them what they needed,” Allman said.
At the time, the Crothersville department did not have any hydraulic equipment such as the “Jaws of Life” to free someone from a wrecked vehicle, firefighter Lynn Howard said.
Allman was joined by fellow Rescue 12 crew members Doug Stickles and Josh Trueblood.
“We went down, took a chainsaw and cut all the trees away from the truck as much as we could,” Allman said.
They also set up a roof ladder and went to work trying to open the driver’s-side door.
“As soon as the door came open, he kind of came out right into my arms,” Allman said.
Both of Seldon’s legs were trapped and broken, and that kept him from falling out.
The rest of the morning was spent using air chisels on both the top and bottom of the cab to free Seldon’s legs.
At one point during the ensuing rescue, it was thought that one of Seldon’s legs would have to be amputated to free him from the cab.
Allman said at one point, flight paramedic Missy Shuck with StatCare told rescuers they had 10 minutes or they were going to cut his leg off.
“We begged with her to not do that,” he said.
They managed to beat that deadline, Allman said.
Shuck remembers that night, too.
“We were getting down to the nitty gritty,” Shuck said.
Shuck, who wound up holding Seldon during most of the rescue, said she provided him with physical and emotional support because everyone else was busy trying to get him out of the cab.
“He was kind of hanging halfway out of the truck,” Shuck said. “It actually gave him a little bit of relief from his leg injuries.”
Firefighters and others occasionally gave her a break.
She said it was kind of unusual in her position at that time to sit with a patient and talk that long because most patients are unconscious, and if they were awake, they weren’t in any mood to talk.
Shuck said the two talked, and she found out he was a registered paramedic driving a truck.
“He said he couldn’t make any money being a paramedic, so he started driving a truck,” she said.
Shuck wound up visiting Seldon and his wife, Toni, a couple of times at a Louisville, Kentucky, hospital, where he stayed for a week before being transferred to Toledo for additional rehabilitation. They later exchanged Christmas cards and kept in touch for several years.
It would be several months before he was healed well enough to walk, Seldon said.
Tenley Foster, who was dispatching for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department that morning, also remembers it clearly.
The call came from Indiana State Police and was transferred to Foster.
She would spent the rest of the morning dispatching firefighters, contacting a doctor to be on standby in case Seldon’s legs had to be amputated and dispatching someone to bring blood from Seymour.
During the rescue, Seldon said he didn’t ask anyone to contact his wife.
“I wanted to be sure I was going to make it,” he said.
Toni Seldon said she didn’t find out about the wreck until her husband was at the hospital.
“It was 7:50 a.m. that morning,” she said.
She also said she just wanted to hear as much as possible from her husband’s rescuers.
“I wasn’t there and don’t know what happened,” she said.
Seldon told his rescuers that the only thing anyone has ever been able to determine about why he had the wreck is that he feel asleep.
He recently decided he needed to find some closure with the wreck that he blames on himself.
He reached out to Foster and others to bring together a meeting with those involved.
“He had my home number because I had called the hospital to see who he was and told them if they needed anything to let us know,” Foster said.
Howard said he was just impressed that someone involved in a wreck nearly 20 years ago wanted to take the time to come back and thank those who had helped him.