Grissom Airmen respond to devastating accident

  • Published
  • By Douglas Hays
  • 434th Air Refueling Wing public affairs
Staff Sergeant Melissa Hunt-Hoover was headed home and going south on U.S. 31 August 7, when she watched a vehicle heading north cross the median into the southbound lane and strike a sports utility vehicle head on right in front of her.

As she braked hard to avoid becoming part of the accident, she was hit from behind by another car.

She ran to the scene to help. She wasn’t alone.

So did Master Sgt. Joe Fruggiero. So did Master Sgt. Eric McGraw. So did Tech. Sgt. William Bailey. So did Tech. Troy Woods. So did Staff Sgt. Kyle O’Brien. So did Senior Airmen Daniel Martin.

Seven members of 434th Air Refueling Wing were among those who stopped to assist in what would become a fatal accident.

For Sarah Nicholson, the actions Hunt-Hoover and others made that day made a lasting impact upon her and her son Jaxan – who was riding with his grandparents in the SUV that was hit.

“My mom instincts kicked in,” said Hunt-Hoover, a 434th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief and mother of five said, when she learned of Jaxan and his injuries.

When she got to him, Jaxan had rub burns from the seatbelt, and he was concerned about his grandparents’ condition. She assured him that there were people taking care of them and helping them out.

“I tried to keep his mind pre-occupied off the tragedy,” she said.

In trying to connect with him, Hunt-Hoover showed him photos of her 9-week-old puppies, and eventually aerial refueling videos she had taken during a recent temporary duty assignment.

“[I appreciate] every single military person who brought my boy to safety, gave him comfort and continue to distract and engage him to avoid focusing on the tragedy,” said Nicholson said.

The accident occurred as Airmen were heading home following a unit training assembly and an aircraft generation exercise.

Directly behind the SUV that was hit, Fruggiero, was trying to dodge flying debris when he went off the road and into a ditch ending up just past the scene. As the dust settled and he made his way back to the victims he was joined by the others.

“Everyone just started helping out where they could,” said the program analyst for the 434th Maintenance Group.
Fruggiero moved some of the larger pieces of debris from the road, and clear a path for ambulances.

Senior Airman Daniel Martin came upon what he described as a “horrendous car crash.”

“I saw people administering CPR and a vehicle along the slant of the highway, so I as I walked up, I started moving traffic along,” the 434th AMXS crew chief said.

A person identified themselves as a doctor and asked if help was needed and Martin directed him toward the most seriously injured person.

Impatient motorists were trying to skirt around the scene and speed through, and law enforcement directed Martin and another to ‘lock down traffic’ so that’s what they did until the helicopters left and the scene settled down.

Howard County Sheriff’s Deputy Ezekial Zimmerman approached the scene and saw Air Force members among those rendering medical aid assisting with traffic.

During the investigation, Zimmerman said he learned that two of the military members sustained damage to their vehicles trying to avoid the initial crash by running off the road.

“They put their personal property damage at the back of their mind to render aid to the needy,” he said.

“My son’s heart feels full due to their action and kindness at the worst time of his life,” Nicholson said. “Thank you to everyone who made this possible.”

Zimmerman, added that as a fellow veteran it gave him great pride that in such a horrible and tragic accident to see them husting to render aid to all involved in the accident.

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

Stay connected with the 434th ARW on Facebook and Twitter.