News

Farmer recounts being thrown from tractor during roadway accident

Randy Wilcox checks on his cattle on his farm near Loraine recently. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: May. 17, 2013 8:43 am Updated: May. 31, 2013 9:15 am

By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

LORAINE, Ill. -- Battered and bloodied, Randy Wilcox remembers crawling along Ill. 336 heading back to his tractor.

Dazed but still conscious, he pressed a button on his cellphone, making the attempt to reach his son, Andy.

"I could hardly talk," Wilcox said. "I told him I just got hit."

That call was the last for the phone.

"It was no good after that. It wouldn't work at all," Wilcox said. "It did make that last call."

The cellphone may have died in the Oct. 11, 2011, accident when a vehicle struck the tractor from behind, but Wilcox was spared.

"Everybody can't figure out how I survived," he said. "I'm a very fortunate man. The good Lord wasn't ready for me to pass away."

 

Routine trip

Wilcox and his son had been tearing out fence that Tuesday on rented land just south of the Adams-Hancock county line. They quit just about dusk, with Andy heading to one farm and Wilcox to another on a utility tractor, a trip that had become routine for him over the years -- until that night.

Wilcox pulled out onto Ill. 336, heading south on a flat stretch of highway, a place where the tractor's lights could be seen for miles. Then another vehicle came up behind Wilcox and struck the tractor.

The impact threw him "a long ways" off the tractor and onto the road.

"It broke my left ankle, broke a whole bunch of ribs. I had head lacerations, a collapsed lung. They had to take my spleen out. It messed up my shoulders real bad," Wilcox said. "It laid me up for probably the biggest part of six months."

Looking at the tractor confirmed how lucky Wilcox was to be alive.

The accident "pretty well broke the tractor in two," he said. "The back of the tractor and the front of the tractor were held together with hydraulic line that hadn't busted and electrical lines going to the back fender."

The only thing still working was the lights.

"There was no doubt if I had proper lighting," Wilcox said.

 

Seat belt

Despite the seriousness of the accident and his injuries, Wilcox said some things still worked in his favor.

Ambulance crews were meeting nearby and "got there right away and got me down to the hospital," he said. "They told me I was bleeding pretty bad internally."

Wilcox didn't know the other vehicle was closing in fast -- and he didn't brace himself for the impact.

If he had, "I might have been in worse shape," Wilcox said. "I'm lucky nobody hit me when I was crawling back to the tractor."

The driver who hit the tractor swerved and went on around Wilcox before stopping farther up the road. "I must have landed to the right. I was in the right-hand lane, which I should have been, but I can't remember how far away I landed," he said.

And even though the tractor was equipped with a seat belt, Wilcox said it's a good thing he wasn't wearing it.

"If I had it on, I don't know what would have happened. This way, it threw me completely clear of the tractor. It did break the tractor pretty much in half and messed everything up by where I would sit," he said.

"This would be one of the instances I guess where a seat belt would have been a hindrance instead of a help."

 

Healing

Medical care in Quincy and in Columbia, Mo., helped speed his recovery, and so did his family. His sons managed the farm work while Wilcox recovered, and his girlfriend, now wife, Kathy, "helped me through all this," he said.

By January 2012, he was back helping to check on the cattle, and he had healed enough to plant crops last spring.

"I had operations after that to fix some problems and I still may have some more yet to do," he said. "I'm in pretty good shape right now. I've got things that are never going to be quite right, but that's just part of life. I can do a lot of everything of what I used to do ... You don't realize until something happens how fortunate you are to be able to get up and do everything you do every day."

 

Awareness

Wilcox shared his story to make people more aware, especially during spring planting. Farmers work long hours and can be out on the road at any time of day or night with slow-moving vehicles.

"People that are on the roads really have got to be aware that they're in a farming community. There are guys on the road in farm vehicles. You can come up on them so fast. You can have all the lights on and everything, but people are just not very aware of it," Wilcox said.

Wilcox and other farmers report drivers passing on the wrong side of the road just to get around the farm equipment.

"If people would just slow down a little bit," Wilcox said. "Farmers have to use the road, too."

Distracted driving only worsens the problem.

"Everybody on the road is talking on a cellphone or doing multiple things while driving. We all have probably done that," Wilcox said. "You just need to be really careful about what's on the road right in front of you."

For Wilcox, when he's on a tractor on the road, it's what's behind him that matters most.

"I do keep an eye behind me a little bit more," he said.

 

-- dhusar@whig.com/221-3379

 

SAFETY TIPS

Tractors and combines have top speeds of about 20 to 24 mph. A car going 55 mph that is 300 feet behind a tractor going 15 mph can close that gap -- about the length of a football field -- in about five seconds.

"Motorists need to be alert," said Karen Funkenbusch, a University of Missouri Extension rural safety and health specialist, in a news release. "It's that time of year when farmers are going to have their equipment on the road moving it from field to field, so we need to slow down, take our time, be patient."

Funkenbusch offers some safety tips for farmers including:

º Take extra precautions when driving in the early morning or early evening hours when visibility is often impaired by sun.

º If traffic lines up behind the farm equipment, pull off or let traffic pass.

º Use hand signals, electronic signals or both to indicate intentions to turn. Try to avoid wide turns.

º Turn headlights on, but turn off rear spotlights, which can be mistaken for headlights.

º Avoid being on the road during rush hour, in bad weather and at night.

º Use pilot cars if going a considerable distance.

Other drivers on the road also need to take precautions, including:

º Some farm equipment is wider than the road. Don't assume a farmer can pull over to the shoulder as it may be steep or soft.

º Pass with caution.

º Don't assume that a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to turn right or is letting you pass. Because of the size of some farm machinery, the farmer must execute wide left-and turns.

º Don't assume the farmer in front of you knows you are there. Farm equipment is loud.