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Greenville man honored for lifesaving actions

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Rick Dickerson holds his Governor's Award for Excellence in front of his truck on Nov. 21, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The quick action of drivers along a rural highway in Bertie County 17 months ago kept a tragic accident from becoming a horrifying loss of multiple lives.

Now one of those drivers, Richard Dickerson of Greenville, has been honored for the help he gave on June 15, 2017.

Dickerson, 62, received the Governor’s Award for Excellence for Safety of Heroism as one of 20 state employees honored earlier this month during a ceremony at the North Carolina Museum of History.

“The state employees honored have provided extraordinary service to the people of North Carolina,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “Some risked their lives to save those in danger, while others created innovative solutions to workplace challenges. These awardees reached above and beyond their daily responsibilities to embody the state motto, ‘To be rather than to seem,’ and we are grateful for their service.”

Dickerson was the first person on the scene of a crash between a log truck and a car filled with four teenagers. He pulled the teens from the car before it caught fire.

“I am not a extremely religious person but I do think God put me there that day to help,” Dickerson said.

A rehabilitation engineer with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Independent Living in the state Department of Health and Human Services, Dickerson was traveling from his home in Greenville to Ahoskie to inspect a ramp that had been installed at a home.

He was on N.C. 11, just north of Aulander, when he noticed a wobbly log truck attempting to pull off the road only to have its trailer full of logs flip over.

“I looked down the road and I could see a big puff of smoke,” Dickerson said.

Seconds before, a car occupied by four teenagers had tried to pass another vehicle only to encounter the log truck. The car’s driver tried to return to their lane but it was too late and the vehicles collided.

“I pulled up to the car and I could see smoke coming out of it,” Dickerson said. “At that time it was mostly vapor … but there was a small engine fire.”

He saw the driver, a girl, draped partially outside the car. He said she looked like an angel or that she might have been asleep. Even though she had no outward injuries, Dickerson said he knew immediately she was dead.

Then he saw a teenage boy who was behind the driver’s seat. He had both head and facial trauma and couldn’t be removed from that side of the his side of the car.

Dickerson went to the passenger side and pulled out a teenage girl who was in the front seat and a teenage boy behind her.

He said at that moment, two employees of Piedmont Natural Gas arrived and used fire extinguishers on their truck to put on the growing engine fire.

Dickerson said another person — he was not sure who it was — then joined him to remove the teenager who had been behind the driver. They worked carefully because they suspected the teen had a neck injury, Dickerson said.

“I turned him a little bit on the side and held his head until the ambulance got there,” he said.

“As I was holding his head, trying to keep his neck from flexing, the fire started again underneath the car,” he said.

A Piedmont Natural Gas employee grabbed another extinguisher from his truck to fight it back. Dickerson estimates the Piedmont employees used about a half dozen extinguishers to fight the fire before the fire department arrived.

“It shook me up pretty bad, it’s not a scene you expect to see every day or any day,” Dickerson said.

That was not the impression Capt. Shannon Williams with Bertie County EMS had when she arrived on the scene.

“I noticed Mr. Dickerson right off because he was with the (teens), helping them,” Williams said in a video produced for the awards ceremony.

“He put himself in danger, with the car being on fire, pulling them out,” Williams said.

EastCare air ambulance was called, and the three survivors were taken to Vidant Medical Center for treatment. They and the truck’s driver survived.

It was only then that Dickerson felt the toll of the incident.

“When I stood up I felt woozy,” Dickerson said. He felt blood rushing in his head. The paramedics pulled him into the air conditioned ambulance and started giving him water. He was dehydrated from the heat and the sun.

Once he recovered, Dickerson called his supervisor, explained what happened and took off for the rest of that day and the next.

“I’m not in the greatest shape in the world,” he said. “I’ve been out (of the military) for 25 years and I don’t go to the gym as often as I should,”

“I was as sore as anything for about a week,” Dickerson said. “I had muscles that I used that I didn’t realize I had.”

Dickerson said the incident left him with several sleepless nights because as a father of two, he thought about what the driver’s family was experiencing.

It turned out she had a social media presence, with some YouTube videos. Some people sent him links to the videos but Dickerson said he could not watch them.

“Sometimes you have to compartmentalize and move on,” Dickerson said. “I did think about it, I have thought a lot about it, but if it happened in front of me today I would do the same thing.”

Earlier this year, Dickerson learned his supervisor had nominated him for the Governor’s Award for Excellence. Out of 116 nominees, he was one of 20 to win.

“I was very, very honored,” he said.

“For these state employees, a career in public service is about being a part of something bigger than themselves,” said Barbara Gibson, director of the Office of State Human Resources. “It’s about making a meaningful contribution to society. By going above and beyond their normal duties, they’ve left an enduring legacy of accomplishment.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.