BY BRUCE BRANUM
The Greenville Standard
Butler County Sheriff Deputy Tom Birtley had a close call with death this past Saturday. He was attending a wreck on U.S. Interstate 65 when he was struck by a passing vehicle.
Saturday was a rainy day off and on and numerous wrecks were reported to 911. Birtley received one of those calls and responded to a wreck in the northbound lanes of I-65 at the 133.8 mile marker.
When he arrived at the scene Birtley found a full conversion van had struck the guard railing just before the bridge over New Searcy Road and had spun around with the front of the van facing east into the bridge railing and was completely blocking the right lane and partially blocking the left land.
Birtley said cars could pass with some difficulty but that for 18 wheelers it was a tight squeeze. He estimated traffic was flowing in the passing lane at around 8-10 miles per hour. He reported the accident and requested a State Trooper to investigate.
Before a trooper could arrive, Birtley saw the elderly man, who was driving the van, attempt to get out of the van. He was worried the man might try to go behind the van and step into the passing lane traffic because he could not get around the front due to the proximity of the van to the bridge railing.
Birtley then approached the rear of the van wearing his high visibility yellow rain coat with reflective striping in attempt to get the man to stay in his vehicle.
Birtley said he put out his left hand to get traffic to stop but was struck by a blue Buick Enclave’s passenger side mirror and was spun around and landed on his knees. He estimated the Enclave was traveling at around 8-10 miles per hour.
Before he could gain composure to get the license plate number, the black woman driving the Enclave sped off without even checking on him.
Birtley reported being struck to 911 and Butler County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) Chief Investigator Sean Klaetsch, who was off duty, responded to the scene and said Birtley indicated he felt like he had been struck by linebacker.
After a trooper arrived, Birtley drove himself to Regional Medical Center to be evaluated for injuries. He was later released with instructions to stay at home for seven days.
Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond said of the incident, “You’ve got first responders out here on the road working and trying to take care of everyone else and when you see us, a trooper, the fire department, the highway department, or a wrecker, pay attention till you get around those people.
“We have a move over law for a reason and this is a prime example of why. It is fortunate Tom is going to be okay as far as we know. Tom easily could have been killed and for the driver not to have even stopped and at least checked on him is disconcerting.”
Bond asks if anyone saw the incident to please call the BSCO at 334-382-6521.