Fatal Wreck

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BPD seeks eyewitnesses to fatal Friday wreck

By John Howell Sr.

Batesville police on Monday were still seeking witnesses to Friday’s four-vehicle accident on Highway 6 East that killed Panola County Emergency Management director William “Son” Hudson.

Specifically, police are seeking anyone who saw “what happened immediately before the truck overturned,” BPD Lieutenant John Miller said.

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“We’ve heard conflicting stories about what happened,” said BPD Deputy Chief Don Province.

Emergency workers and many bystanders had shared common burdens in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s midday collision on Highway 6 that claimed the life of Hudson, 65.

We know each other’s pickups in Batesville. Even if we do not, a pickup truck with the conspicuous “Panola County Emergency Management” lettering considerably narrowed guesses about the victim’s identity.

We also knew that there was no chance that the victim in the pickup could have survived the rolling hardwood logs that had so thoroughly crushed his vehicle underneath.

Word passed quickly among responders and bystanders alike that it was indeed “Son.” Every firefighter, law enforcement officer and other first responder there knew Son.

It was personal.

Son Hudson had served as Panola County Civil Defense director since January, 1994. Within a few weeks of taking the job, he was faced in February with the devastating Ice Storm of 1994. Most of the county’s electrical distribution system was destroyed, threatening water systems, frozen food, and breathing assistance apparatuses. Most rural roads were blocked with piles of broken limbs and trees.

In recent years the office took on added responsibilities under directives from the Department of Homeland Security. Hudson helped secure community storm shelters and helped individuals secure shelters through a federal grant program. He also distributed emergency weather radios to county residents.  

Those first people to reach the wreckage leaned under the logs and called his name. Firemen with chain saws arrived and began to cut away the logs one at a time, trying to get closer access to the truck’s cab. Finally workers wrapped a sling around the nine or so remaining logs and a large wrecker raised the logs enough to allow them to free the pickup and recover the body.

As the sorrowful but necessary task of untangling the logs and wreckage progressed, emergency workers unfolded a large red tarpaulin to shield their work from view. They unrolled yellow crowd tape and moved the gathered crowd — which at the time ranged up to 100 people or more on the north side of Highway 6 East away from the highway and up the hill in front of Western Sizzlin and Wendy’s restaurants.

Charlie and Janice Dulany were exiting East Oaks Shopping Center on the south side of Highway 6 and witnessed the crash. The log truck looked as though it was attempting to turn, she said, and suddenly it appeared “to be airborne.”

Bob Greene, a CNN reporter lodging in Batesville to cover the Oxford Presidential Debate, had walked along Highway 6 daily for exercise, he said.

Greene had walked into the East Oaks Shopping Center to lengthen his route and heard what he thought was a “fender bender,” he said.

When he looked up, he saw the logs rolling off their carrier as it turned over on its side. “It looked like slow motion,” Greene said.

Later Greene said that the tragedy had so unnerved him that he did not attend the debate in Oxford as he had planned.

The Batesville Police Department’s investigation is expected to be complete by Thursday, Province said.

Police Chief Tony Jones said that a 2003 Nissan Xterra driven by Charles Ray Nix of Batesville and a 2001 Chevy Tahoe driven by Lashond Osborn of Sardis “were nose-to-nose in the turn lane” between the entrance to East Oaks Shopping Center on the south side of Highway 6 and Wendy’s entrance on the north side.

The log truck, driven by Miguel Marceleno of Coffeeville, was traveling west and Hudson was driving east, Lt. Miller said.

The police department received the call at 11:52 a.m. Highway 6 was closed until 3:15 p.m. and closed intermittently afterwards.

Buses carrying presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, and their entourages, passed to the east of the accident scene as they made their way from the Memphis airport to Oxford, the police chief said.

Visitation for Hudson was held Monday night at Sardis Lake Baptist Church, where he was a member. A funeral service is planned for 11 a.m. today at the church.
Interment will follow in the church cemetery.