Rescue recognition

Published 2:31 am Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Andalusia police officer was one of 47 Alabama National Guard soldiers honored Friday for rescuing passengers from a Louisiana church bus that overturned on Interstate 20 July 12.

Detective Alice Donaldson and others who were returning to Aliceville from drill at Camp Shelby, Miss., were behind the 30-passenger bus carrying members of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport, La., when a tire blew, causing the bus to roll over three times.

Donaldson, a 17-year department veteran, is also a staff sergeant with the Alabama Army Guard’s Detachment 1- 2101st Transportation Company. She, along with her fellow soldiers, was awarded the Alabama Commendation Medal for meritorious and outstanding service and accomplishments by Gov. Bob Riley Friday.

When the accident occurred, “We were all sitting back, relaxing, anxious to get home,” Donaldson said.

Coming upon the crash site almost immediately, Guard members lifted the 30-passenger bus so trapped victims could be freed and also directed traffic and provided medical assistance to the injured until local emergency personnel could arrive on the scene – which is the task Donaldson was assigned.

“Being in law enforcement, that was the best thing for me to do,” she said. “I cleared traffic for rescue units and the medi-vac (helicopter). There was one guy there I stuck pretty close to. He was bad off. And when the helicopter landed, I said, ‘Get him first.’

“No one there thought twice about jumping out and helping those people,” she said. “We never expected any recognition, but to get it – from the governor no less – it’s a good feeling.”

In a statement, Riley said what the guard members did “symbolizes what is best about our country.”

“When (they) saw people who needed help, (they) did what (they) could, (they) did all that (they) could, without thinking of (themselves) first,” he said.

He said the soldiers “took action not to be heroes, but to serve others.”

He called it an “act of Providence” that the Alabama Guard members were traveling not far behind the church bus when the accident occurred. Not only had they been trained in providing emergency medical help, the soldiers had also been trained in how to upright an overturned vehicle. That training allowed the Guard members to save lives that day.

The bus was carrying 17 teenagers and six adults who were headed to a camp in Georgia when the crash occurred near Meridian, Miss.

“I know we saved some lives that day,” Donaldson said. “If we hadn’t been there to help….Well, it makes us all feel good to have done something positive.”