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Dump-truck driver aids wreck victims

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

ATHENS — A dump-truck driver said she gave a helping hand to a woman and baby in a burning vehicle Friday on U.S. 31 near Country Club Acres.

Laura Cottingham, 43, said she was traveling north from Holland Co. Inc. in Decatur, her employer, to deliver a load of sand to Craig's Building Supply in Athens. She saw a wreck in the southbound lanes at about 10:30 a.m.

"I saw a vehicle. I wasn't sure what it was at the time. I saw it flip and dust and all kinds of things go up in the air," Cottingham said.

"When it landed, I saw it was on fire. I hollered at Bruce (Janssen, a dispatcher for Holland) on the radio and told him a car had just flipped and it was on fire.

"I told him to call 911 and gave him a mile marker. He told me to grab my fire extinguisher."

Cottingham said flames came from under the hood on the driver side of the vehicle.

"When I got to the vehicle and started spraying the fire, the woman was doing her best to get out of the vehicle and get the baby out," Cottingham said.

"I sprayed the flames to allow her to get her child," she said. "When she got her, I grabbed her by the hand and said, 'We've got to go.' I took them on the other side of my truck to keep anybody from getting hurt anymore. ... The baby did not get hurt, thank God. She didn't have a scratch on her."

Cottingham said fire engulfed the entire vehicle not long after the woman and baby got out.

Athens police identified the driver as Marilyn Roberson, 43, of Tanner. They said her passenger was an 11-month-old girl.

Officer Johnny Campbell said Roberson told police she was traveling south on U.S. 31 when she noticed smoke coming from underneath the hood of her sport utility vehicle.

She ran off the road and hit a culvert, flipping several times before coming to rest right side up in the roadway, Campbell said.

"It landed on its wheels, luckily, because that would have been peril for the passengers," said Athens fire Lt. Clint Boyd, one of the firefighters who responded to the wreck.

"When we arrived, the vehicle was already fully involved and the victims were on their way to the ambulance and the hospital," Boyd said.

"Their conditions weren't life-threatening. I didn't examine them, but from what I could see, their conditions were pretty good considering they had been upside down at least once."

The southbound lanes of U.S. 31 remained closed for about 30 minutes while firefighters put out the blaze and police investigated the crash.

A nurse supervisor at Athens-Limestone Hospital could not say whether Roberson had been treated earlier in the day, but she said Roberson was not listed as a patient late Friday.

Attempts to reach Roberson were unsuccessful. Neither Boyd nor Campbell could confirm Cottingham's account, but Campbell did say he had seen a fire extinguisher and dump truck at the scene.

Janssen contacted The Daily on Friday afternoon to commend Cottingham's actions.

"We're very proud of her," Janssen said. "Her quick actions trying to use the fire extinguisher probably saved the people in the car by giving them that split second."

Cottingham was humble.

"I didn't do it to be a hero. I did it because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time," she said.

"It scared the living daylights out of me, I'm not going to lie," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, God, if I can't do something, they're going to burn.' "

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