Congratulations to Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary Lt. Montie Dowling, Troop F, Clewiston. FHPA selected Dowling as its Trooper of the Quarter for quickly using his skills and training to provide first response on the scene of a fatal crash. While traveling with his family, off duty, Dowling observed a crash between a car and a bus carrying numerous passengers. At least five individuals were ejected from the bus as it turned over. Lt. Dowling, using his FHPA training, called 911, got his traffic vest out and started administering first aid to the injured. He was the first responder on the scene until Emergency Medical Services arrived. Two people died in the crash, and all the other passengers were either ground transported or air lifted out of the area. Dowling exemplified what an FHPA trooper is all about, serving and giving of his time to others in need.
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LAKE PLACID - Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary Lt. Montie Dowling helped operate a rollover exhibit at the recent Lake Placid Country Fair.
The cab of the S10 pickup truck would spin on a motor and throw the two dummies inside the vehicle out of its windows.
Driving back to his Lake Placid home Monday afternoon with his wife and 91-year-old father in law, an off-duty Dowling saw the real thing on U.S. 27., when a tour bus full of senior citizens rolled over after being hit by a car.
"I just saw a white streak go across the road and (was) not even sure I knew what it was at that point," he said Wednesday. "And then I saw dust fly, so you can see that, of course you know somebody's rolling.
"And then I saw bodies coming out of the bus."
Dowling, who has been a volunteer with the FHP Auxiliary for three years, underwent 350 hours of training as a first responder. That training was put into action after he called 911 and immediately went to help the crash victims.
The first people he came upon were seven who had been thrown out of the bus.
"Surprisingly, they weren't (hurt) too bad," Dowling said.
The lieutenant assessed their injuries, told them to sit tight, remain calm and wait for emergency personnel to arrive. From there, it was off to help those still inside.
"I looked in and it was just tangles of bodies, people all over each other," Dowling said.
Inside the bus was a group of very quiet passengers who were waiting for help to come, according to Dowling. The first person he came to was a man who said he thought his leg was broken. Another man suffered a bad shoulder injury.
"I started kind of untangling the bodies, checking each of them to see ... what the injuries were," Dowling said. "There was quite a bit of head injuries."
Dowling's wife and father-in-law stayed in the car while he tended to the victims. With her in the back seat and him dozing in the passenger seat, neither of them saw the accident happen.
"They really had no idea what was going on," Dowling said.
His father-in-law timed the emergency crews' response. Thirteen minutes was the count.
All hands on deck
Highlands County EMS Director Steve Coltharp didn't have an exact count Wednesday on the number of emergency personnel who helped tend to the 30 passengers who suffered injuries in the accident.
However, the agency list was quite extensive: Highlands County Fire Services, Highlands County EMS, Positive Mobility, Aeromed, DeSoto City and Leisure Lakes volunteer fire departments, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office and mutual aid from Polk and Hardee counties.
Firefighters from Highlands Lakes, West Sebring and Sun 'n Lakes South were on standby, according to Coltharp. Nurses from Hope Hospice arrived to help once they heard about the accident, as did off-duty EMS personnel.
Bystanders also came to help and "rose to the level of expertise of whatever they could do," Coltharp said.
The Highlands County School Board sent a bus to help transport patients to area hospitals. When the victims were placed on backboards, the bus proved ideal in getting them to emergency facilities.
"We just lay them right across the seats, on top of the seats," Coltharp said, adding that seven were transported to hospitals by school bus.
Paramedics unfortunately could not help all of them. Two passengers, John Roy, 79, of Cohasset, Mass., and Joan Horsch, 78, of Abingdon, Va., were pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver of the 2010 Mercury Marquis that hit the Sunburst tour bus, Betty Adams, 81, of Lake Placid, was not injured in the accident. No charges have been filed against her at this time, according to the FHP.
As bad as Monday's crash was, Coltharp said it could have been a whole lot worse. He praised not only the emergency personnel and bystanders who assisted the patients, but also the patients themselves for remaining calm throughout.
Dowling called seeing the accident "surreal." His "tunnel vision" then kicked in as he pulled off the side of the road, grabbed his FHP vest and started helping those in need.
"You've got to block out everything else and go and you do what you were trained to do," he said.