'I've got to get out of here'

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Van driver recounts harrowing wreck


Steve Liles says he doesn’t remember the moment his van slammed roof-first into a swollen creek near the middle school.

He does remember, though, water gushing into the van and thinking he could die.

Liles, 59, said he is lucky to be alive after his mini-van collided with another car and was propelled into the creek at the intersection of Glensboro Road and Mustang Drive.

Liles said he had just left Century Bank and was heading to the middle school to pick up one of his children when the other vehicle apparently ran the red light and knocked him upside down into the creek.

Liles said he distinctly remembers buckling his seat belt just seconds before the crash, and checked traffic both ways before heading into the intersection.

“I never saw the vehicle until it was right there on me,” said Liles, who has only one leg after losing the other 10 years ago. “I felt like I was in a movie or something when the creek came into view. It was in slow motion.”

Liles said he attempted to steer away from the creek, but said he thinks at that point he might have been airborne.

“When that didn’t work, I tried to slam on the brakes, but that didn’t help me, either. I don’t remember landing in the creek or rolling over, but I don’t think I blacked out.

“Some things God spares you, I guess.”

Although he doesn’t recall the impact of hitting the creek, he said it didn’t take long to realize his life was in danger.

“The next thing I remember was the water coming into the van and realizing I was upside down,” Liles said. “As the water entered the vehicle I was thinking, ‘Holy crap, I’ve got to get out of here.’”

With only one leg, though, Liles was worried that getting out might be impossible unless help arrived soon.

“My head never went under water, but it would have if I hadn’t been able to get the seat belt loose,” he said. “The water came in quickly, but once I had the seat belt off, I rolled over to keep my head out of the water.”

Help arrived quickly in the form of several people who jumped in the water moments later.

“I knocked on the window and cried for help so they would know I was alive,” Liles said.

Before his rescuers could reach him, they first had to cut the straps on his daughter’s car seat, which was seen after the wreck floating near the van.

“They had to cut the straps to get it out,” he said. “I was able to undo my seatbelt, but was twisted in it. Once I realized I was lying on my left arm and the seatbelt was wrapped around my arm, I was able to get my arm free and crawl out.”

Liles said “two strong people” helped him out of the water, and that a woman at the scene called his wife, told her of the accident and that he was OK.

His three children in the middle school weren’t told, however, and got a bad scare.

“Unfortunately they saw the van upside down in the water before they saw me,” Liles said. “They thought I was going to die.”

Liles said he doesn’t know the names of those who helped him from the wreckage, but would like to thank them.

“It’s nice to know that people around here aren’t afraid to get involved and rushed to my rescue,” he said. “The man that cut the car seat out also cut his hand. I hope he’s OK.”

Liles, who along with his wife has adopted five children, said he now needs to find another van.

His artificial leg, though, made it through the accident intact.

“I just got a new one in November, and for the first time in 10 years it doesn’t hurt me,” he said. “They told it was waterproof. Monday was a test, and it is.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.