The Clovis High School Lady Wildcats softball team made an unexpected stop on their bus trip to Farmington Thursday.
Coach Brandi Thomas stopped the bus to help a semi-truck driver who had been hit by a pickup on the side of the road between Fort Sumner and Melrose.
She said she didn’t think her assistance to Herrera was a “big deal,” just an automatic response to an emergency situation.
Thomas said fellow truck drivers had blocked off the highway and were directing traffic at the scene when her bus arrived at the wreck.
“There were people on scene that were helping direct traffic, and I was really impressed with the way that just the general public handled it,” Thomas said. “With those 18-wheelers, they literally shut off the highway in both directions and so they could control who was coming and who was going to keep the scene pretty safe.”
According to New Mexico State Police Lt. Eric Garcia, state police responded to a call on U.S. Highway 60, on mile marker 352 west of Melrose at 9:48 a.m.
James Herrera, 26 of Lubbock, was driving a 1984 Peterbilt commercial vehicle with vehicle owner Albert Benavidez, 42 of Lubbock, in the passenger seat. Garcia said the vehicle began experiencing engine trouble and Herrera pulled the semi over.
When the two opened the truck’s hood, a large cloud of smoke rose from the vehicle, Garcia said.
“(The scene was) described as big smoke going across the highway,” New Mexico State Police Capt. Jimmy Glascock said.
At this time, Michael Ortega, 31 of Albuquerque, was driving a 2009 Ford F-350 westbound on the highway. Garcia said the smoke from the semi truck obscured Ortega’s vision of the road.
“He couldn’t go into the opposite lane of traffic because of oncoming traffic,” Garcia said.
The Ford hit Herrera, knocking him into Benavidez. Both Herrera and Benavidez sustained serious injuries. Glascock said Ortega stopped after hitting Herrera.
Before EMS personnel arrived at the scene, the Clovis High school bus pulled over and Thomas administered first aid on Herrera.
“I checked his vitals to make sure his pulse was OK,” Thomas said. “His legs were tore up pretty bad and his shoulder was dislocated so we just basically kept him comfortable, got him covered up so he wouldn’t go into shock and just kind of cleaned him up as much as we could and kept him as comfortable as he could until he got there. We kept an eye on his vitals because he was in and out of consciousness.”
Herrera was airlifted and Benavidez was driven by ambulance to Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock to receive treatment. Both are in serious condition, state police said.
“We had heard Herrera was entering surgery last night and was in the intensive care unit,” Garcia said.
Thomas explained Clovis Municipal Schools recommends coaching staff to be CPR certified in case a player gets injured. Thomas’ first aid knowledge stems from her college years when she worked as a lifeguard, and she said she regularly renews her CPR certification.
“We got on the way and left him in good hands and hopefully he’s doing OK,” Thomas said. “I know he’s hurting pretty bad but hopefully he’ll recover fully.”