BLOUNTVILLE - Firefighters worked for nearly an hour Sunday afternoon to rescue a motorist whose car flipped several times on Highway 11-W and then landed on its roof in a creek, pinning him in the car about 15 feet below the highway.
The accident occurred shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday in the eastbound lane of Highway 11-W almost directly in front of the Tennessee Department of Transportation driver's license office.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Noah Click said the accident could be attributed to a combination of a wet highway and possible alcohol use by the driver, Larry Wayne Edwards, 61.
Click allegedly found a pill bottle containing suspicious substances in the vehicle, and he said charges are pending.
"At this time it's under investigation, but we do believe that alcohol played a factor, and it's unknown at this time if anything else played a factor," Click said.
Justin Cottrell of Lee County was westbound on Highway 11-W when the accident occurred in front of him in the eastbound lane. Cottrell stopped to lend assistance.
"I think he swerved too hard changing lanes and it started to hydroplane," Cottrell told the Times-News from the scene. "It spun two or three times and then it flipped four or five times before it hit the creek. When he hit the creek it smashed him pretty tight in the car, and it took about an hour to get him out."
Edwards was the only occupant of the vehicle. Sullivan County Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wendell Clark said removing Edwards from the vehicle was especially tricky due to its position on its roof down a steep embankment in the middle of a creek.
The car landed in front of a tunnel where the creek crosses beneath the highway.
"If it hadn't been for a rock that he landed on when he went down, he would have been submerged in the creek," Clark said. "We had about 15 firefighters assisting with extrication to get him out. We had to cut him out, then we slowly had to take the seats out to be able to get to him where we could bring him out.
"This is probably one of the worst extrications I've had to deal with in 10 years. The terrain was rough and all of my guys worked their tails off getting him out of there."
Cables were attached from the crashed vehicle in the creek to heavy fire department vehicles in the roadway to hold the car up on its side as the extrication took place.
Paramedics on the scene said Edwards' injuries didn't appear life-threatening. One paramedic said Edwards had shoulder, leg and hand injuries and might have a concussion, but he wasn't knocked unconscious.
Edwards was flown via Wings Air Rescue to Holston Valley Medical Center, where he listed in stable condition Sunday evening.
Both lanes of the highway were blocked for about 20 minutes while Edwards was loaded onto the helicopter. But the eastbound lane of Highway 11-W stayed blocked for about two hours.