It was a miracle that no one was killed in last week's 38-vehicle pile up on Interstate 64 in Nitro, but a second, smaller miracle occurred when a van load of students and parents showed up at graduation only a little late with help from paramedics.
Police, firefighters and paramedics showed up not knowing what to expect Thursday evening on the Nitro-St. Albans Interstate Bridge.
Brian Oxley, Nitro police chief, said Metro Communications first told responders there were 10 to 12 vehicles involved but that number grew to 20 to 25 vehicles and then 30-plus.
The final count would be 38 vehicles with 22 injured, though only nine would go to area hospitals. Officers have not yet determined the cause of the crash.
"We really dodged a bullet on this one," said Mike Jarrett, chaplain and spokesman for the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority.
The ambulance authority sent paramedics and ambulances and also passenger vans, as they do in mass casualty situations, Jarrett said. The vans were for the walking wounded they expected to find at the scene.
But those walking wounded, which numbered 10 or more, weren't at the scene when the vans arrived. They already had been taken to a nearby park and ride by a KRT bus. The paramedic supervisor was about to send all the vans back when Jarrett asked for one.
"You just heard all these people saying 'We're on the way to graduation,' 'How are we going to get to graduation,' 'Now we'll never make it,' " Jarrett said. "I thought maybe this is something we could do to help."
About a dozen seniors from Winfield High School were on the road either stuck in the crash or just behind it. Their graduation was being held that night at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston and they were in danger of missing it if they couldn't find a way to get there.