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June 29, 2011

2 die, 4 hurt in Okla. ambulance crash

By Cathy Spaulding
The Muskogee Phoenix

BRAGGS, Okla. — Two people are dead and four were sent to area hospitals Tuesday afternoon after a Chevrolet Corsica and a Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service ambulance collided on Braggs Mountain.

Carrie Cash, 32, and Holden Collins, 6, both of Muskogee, died at the scene, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Three were transported by helicopter to St. John Medical Center in Tulsa — Amanda Coffey, 32 of Muskogee; Karen Swimmer, 37 of Gore; and Elsie Mullen, 68 of Gore. A fourth, EMS paramedic Chance Bates, 34 of Tahlequah, was taken by ambulance to Tahlequah City Hospital.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Ron Watson said the ambulance, driven by Swimmer, was going north on Oklahoma 10 about 3 p.m. Tuesday, and the Corsica, driven by Cash, was going south and had apparently gone left of center. Collins and Coffey were passengers in the Corsica. The ambulance had been approaching a curve to the northwest. Bates and Mullen were passengers in the ambulance.

The Corsica, according to Watson, spun and smashed into a guardrail. Cash and Collins were pinned for 1 hour and 45 minutes before being freed by the Muskogee Fire Department, according to the OHP.

On the other side of the guardrail, the ground sloped down to the Arkansas River valley. Oil and other fluids spilled from the ambulance and the Corsica. The front end of the ambulance was smashed and the window shattered.

Muskogee County EMS spokeswoman Rebecca Smith said the ambulance was taking Mullen on a non-emergency run from the Fin and Feather Resort area.

Cars, semi-tractors and other vehicles were backed up for several miles in both directions for at least two hours as OHP, Muskogee County Sheriff and crews from Braggs, Fort Gibson Police, Muskogee County EMS and others responded.

Chris Jennings said he was taking his 3-year-old daughter Carly home when he came upon the accident. He and the child waited out the accident under trees. He said he did not know what had happened.

"All I know was the car and the ambulance hit head-on," said Brenda Coleman of Braggs, who was driving home with family members. "We've been sitting in the car, but it was getting too hot."

Muskogee County EMS Director Terri Mortensen said she arrived at the scene at about 3:15 p.m. She said the last time a Muskogee County EMS ambulance was involved in an accident was about 18 months ago in Tulsa.

"We were not at fault in that accident," Mortensen said.

Airbags were equipped and deployed in both vehicles. Seatbelts were equipped in both vehicles and in use by Swimmer, Coffey and Collins. Bates was assisting Mullen at the time of the accident, according to the OHP.

Reprinted with permission from the Muskogee Phoenix.