Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

Frank Rizzo | Democrat

Chris Edwards of Liberty warmly greets Fallsburg Police Sergeant Matthew Robinson, who saved his life in the Dec. 5 auto accident in which four others died in South Fallsburg. Chris’ mom, Tammy Edwards-Belser looks on during a meeting last Monday at the Hurleyville Firehouse where Chris met with his rescuers.

‘Part of the healing process’ as accident survivor meets rescuers

By Frank Rizzo
HURLEYVILLE — January 12, 2010 — A month later, it was obvious that emergency responders – who see their share of carnage and mutilation – were still affected by the fatal car crash of December 5.
In an accident that made the national wires, four Sullivan County men were killed that Saturday morning when their car smashed into a tree on Pleasant Valley Rd. in South Fallsburg. The violent impact split the vehicle in half.
“It was beyond horrific, it was a miracle anyone came out alive,” said Hurleyville Fire Chief Jim Kaufman, among the first on the scene minutes after the impact.
Already at the site was Fallsburg Police Sergeant Matthew Robinson who, hearing choking sounds from a survivor as the seat belt pressed against his throat, cut the belt – after lifting a dead body off of the victim.
That action saved Chris Edwards of Liberty, 24, one of two survivors of the crash, along with Ever Padilla, 22, of South Fallsburg.
Last Monday, Edwards visited the firehouse to thank his rescuers. He was driven there by his parents, Henry Belser and Tammy Edwards-Belser and slowly, with the use of a walker, made his way inside. Chris joked to his parents that, if he were to fall, a fire department was a good place to do it – trained personnel and all that….
The word “miracle” and its variants was thrown about liberally that evening, and it started with the fact that Edwards was there at all. Not just for having survived the crash – and getting stabilized after being flown to Westchester Medical Center’s Trauma Unit – but for being released after only 11 days in the hospital.
“He’s come a long way,” said Henry Belser. “It’s amazing… we thought he wouldn’t be mobile so soon. We thought he’d be in the hospital two-three months.”
In view of the fracture of a neck bone (C-2) and the nature of his injuries, related his mother, “[Doctors] thought he could be paralyzed.”
To which Chris rejoined, with a smile, “They don’t know what they’re taking about!”
The healing process
Kaufman and FD member Jim Sullivan visited Edwards and Padilla at the hospital soon after the accident. So did Robinson. Mental health experts say this staying in touch with survivors is a necessary step to coming to grips with the trauma and stress of the emergency responders’ job and help with the healing.
Kaufman requested the services of the Hudson Valley Critical Incident Stress Management Team, a  volunteer group whose members counsel first responders.  In two sessions, the CISM met with dozens who responded to the accident, including Sgt. Robinson.
When Edwards expressed how his moods went through swings, Kaufman assured him that “we know how you feel” and urged him to seek mental health counseling.
“Just be happy you didn’t see what we saw,” Robinson added.
“Thank God you’re walking, you’re breathing, you’re here,” Kaufman added. “We’ve sort of adopted you.”
Slow rehabilitation
Part of the reason why Chris was allowed to leave the hospital was because his doctors knew he was in good hands – his mom dealt with people with physical challenges at SullivanArc, where she has worked for 14 years.
Edwards is getting rehabilitation at Catskill Orange Orthopedics in Ferndale.
“I’m starting to do the things I used to do before the accident,” he said, and one of those is “shaping” his stepfather’s hair. Henry, who works in the county’s Clerk Office, proudly showed off the result.
Chris is also trying to walk on his own again.
“His gait is unusual right now, but he’s determined to walk,” said Henry. “He refused to use a wheelchair.”
“How are you spending your days?” Chris was asked.
“Doing as little as possible,” his mom responded
Tammy stayed in touch with the department, and helped set up the meeting.
“It’s a first step toward healing,” she commented. “This means a lot to us. You guys do a lot for a lot of people.”
“It does our hearts real good to have him here,” Kaufman responded.
Kaufman and former chief and 40-year member Jack Halchak praised the department’s response to the accident. Twenty-six members signed in that morning, even though the junior members were turned back from the scene.
“They weren’t ready to face that, but they contributed in other ways,” Kaufman said.
“I’m proud of how how everybody acted and performed,” Halchak added.
As for Chris, he is hoping to soon get back to his job as assistant manager at the Liberty Burger King.
“We’ll all come down… maybe you can give us a discount,” Kaufman joshed.
“We’ll eat off the dollar menu,” Halchak reassured Edwards.

top of page  |  home  |  archives