Fort Bragg soldiers injured in van-truck accident, some critically

akenney@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2014 

— Five Fort Bragg soldiers on their way to serve as honor guard for the funeral of a World War II veteran were hospitalized in critical condition after a vehicle accident Friday morning near Laurinburg in Scotland County.

The 82nd Airborne Division members were en route to a military funeral near Charlotte when a log truck struck their van, which had a driver and nine passengers aboard, according to the state Highway Patrol.

The van’s driver, also a service member, was driving south on N.C. 144 when he apparently failed to yield to oncoming traffic as he crossed U.S. 15-501, according to Trooper John Martin of the Highway Patrol. The five critically injured soldiers were trapped for 45 minutes while emergency responders freed them from the crushed van with extraction equipment.

The two most badly injured servicemen – Joshua Furr, 26, and Nathaniel Jemison, 28 – were airlifted to UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill. As of 6 p.m., Furr was listed in critical condition, while Jemison was listed in good condition, according to a hospital spokesman.

Three of the crash victims were taken to Scotland Memorial Hospital in “critical but stable” condition, Martin said. They are Richard King, 21, William Schnidt, 24, and Christopher Somers, 26. An update on their medical condition wasn’t immediately available.

Rahul Tangirala, 28, William Mira, 27, and Thomas Velacquez, age unknown, were treated at Scotland Memorial Hospital and released, Martin said. Joshua Provost, 25, was treated at Scotland Memorial Hospital, but Martin was unsure of his condition as of 5 p.m., he said.

The driver, Richard Horton Jr., 22, was cited for a traffic infraction. Horton apparently stopped briefly at the intersection before driving into the path of the oncoming truck, which was going an estimated 55 mph.

“From the statement (Horton) gave me, he relied on the right front passenger to tell him that the road was clear, but never looked himself,” Martin said. Horton was treated and released from Scotland Memorial Hospital.

It was obvious from the outset that the crash was devastating. The right side of the 15-passenger, government-owned Chevrolet van crumpled inward, trapping five of the soldiers, Martin said. The vehicle rolled onto its side, then back onto its wheels during a 72-foot slide, Martin said.

“The assistant commander of the rescue squad was on the scene pretty quick,” he said. “He knew he had a bad situation as soon as he got there.”

UNC dispatched its helicopters immediately, he said. Most of the injuries appeared to be broken bones and internal injuries, he said.

Donald George Stone, 42, was listed as the driver of the tractor-trailer. Stone, of Lumberton, faces no charges or citations in the crash. He reported pain at the scene but was not hospitalized, according to Martin.

The honor guard members were on their way to Evergreen Cemetery in Charlotte, where they were to serve in the private burial of a former Army colonel who had served in World War II, the N.C. National Guard and the Army Reserve.

The government is required, when asked, to provide at least a two-man honor guard at the burial of any veteran who was honorably discharged. At a minimum, the detail folds the flag from the service member’s casket, presents it to the next-of-kin and plays taps. Full military honors includes a firing party with three rifle volleys.

Robin McGrath, a funeral director at Heritage Funeral Home in Indian Trail, which handled the funeral, said she was notified about the crash shortly after it happened Friday morning.

“We said a prayer for the soldiers,” she said. “We are deeply saddened to learn of their injuries.”

She immediately contacted the N.C. National Guard, which was able to organize another honor guard detail for the service.

Staff writer Martha Quillin contributed to this report.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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