BRISTOL, Va. — Travis Campbell and his family were traveling on Old Abingdon Highway last Monday when the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction crossed the road, plowed through the grass and crashed into a nearby creek — triggering an intense and frightening rescue of a woman and her child.
Around 8:30 p.m., the Campbell family was traveling in a van near American Merchant, the site of a number of crashes in recent years.
“When she come around the curve, the headlights went that way and then come back this way [toward the creek], and man, I’m going to tell you, I don’t know if she really touched much of the grass, and she nosedived down,” said Campbell, whose family was heading home from Kingsport, Tennessee.
Sydney Hopkins, 20, of Abingdon, Virginia, was driving a Toyota SUV in the opposite direction, on the way to her mother’s apartment in Bristol.
Hopkins said Friday that she was coughing at the time of the crash, and when she looked up, she saw an oil patch.
“I hit the oil patch, and I hydroplaned,” said Hopkins, who was traveling with her 4-month-old son. “I tried to get it under control, and it kind of spooked me, so I slammed on my brakes, and I remember spinning the other direction that I was going from, and I remember hitting the grass. That’s about all I remember.”
Hopkins said she apparently was knocked unconscious from the impact of landing in the creek because she woke up minutes later to hear people screaming.
The Campbell family stopped to help.
“When I got down to here, this is all you hear is just the water. Nothing else. Then her radio come on really loud,” Campbell said Friday while visiting the crash scene.
Campbell said he realized he had to go into the water to help the vehicle’s occupants.
“I come down here, and the windows are tinted, so you can’t see anything,” he said. “I go around to the backside. I see water in the sunroof.”
The vehicle was resting on its passenger side in the water, which was rising quickly inside, reaching the seats.
“The vehicle is filling up with water,” said Campbell, who was in about 4-5 feet of water. “So I tried to turn it over. I was down low, and I had hold of the roof rack, and I was pushing and pulling.”
Campbell yelled for help and his daughter, Madison Campbell, 17, and son, Mason Campbell, 12, entered the water to assist.
“We couldn’t get the doors open,” Campbell said. “We just kind of panicked.”
The man then retrieved a nearby log and began striking the window. After three “whacks,” Campbell said the window broke.
At that point, Hopkins became conscious and began yelling “my baby, my baby.”
Hopkins said she immediately began trying to help her son.
“I couldn’t unlatch his car seat from the base, and I couldn’t unlatch the base from my car,” Hopkins recalled. “They busted my window out to get my son out.”
Another passerby gave Mason Campbell a knife, and he handed it to his father, who then tried to cut the car seat’s cord.
Two Bristol police officers, Steven Lowe and Brandon Moore, who were in the area, soon arrived and also went into the water.
“I didn’t realize they were there until I heard a radio beep,” Campbell said. “He had a different knife, so I held him up while holding the baby. We couldn’t get the base unlocked. It was scary. It was super time-sensitive.”
Lowe, who climbed on top of the SUV, said he eventually was able to cut the cord and retrieve the baby from the vehicle.
“Lowe grabbed the baby and took off running,” said Campbell, who added that the officer took the baby to the arriving emergency medical service personnel.
Moore and Campbell helped the mother out of the vehicle. They placed a blanket down and then carried her to the creek’s bank.
“I tried getting down because I wanted to run after my son because they pulled him out of his car seat, and I seen blood all over him,” Hopkins said. “I thought he was really hurt.”
Hopkins and her son were both checked, but they had only minor injuries. They were taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center for treatment.
“I was definitely scared, but the only thing going through my mind was getting my son out of the car,” Hopkins said of the time she was trapped in the vehicle.
Hopkins and Campbell said they believe something needs to be done to the curve on Old Abingdon Highway to prevent future crashes.
“They definitely need to do something to prevent this from happening again,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been told there was numerous times where people have wrecked into the creek, and there definitely needs to be something done. Had somebody not gotten to me, my car could have filled up with water, and my son may have not made it.”
Both suggested adding guardrails on the side of the road closest to the creek.
Since Monday’s crash, Jay Detrick, transportation planner for Bristol, Virginia, said he’s been studying that stretch of Old Abingdon Highway between Beaverview Drive and Cheyenne Road. He was asked to do so by City Manager Randy Eads.
“We’re going to look at it and make suggestions to the Transportation Safety Commission,” said Detrick.
He added that possible corrections may be an extended guardrail, added signs or a suggested lower speed limit at the curves. The speed limit on Old Abingdon Highway is currently 25 miles per hour.
Between 2014 and 2018, Detrick said there were seven crashes at the curve where Monday’s crash occurred. One motorcyclist who crashed said he swerved to miss geese in the curve. Three vehicles, in addition to Monday’s crash, went into the creek.
Another curve, between the American Merchant plant and Beaverview Drive has also had a significant number of crashes, Detrick said. There were 19 crashes at that curve between 2014 and 2018, but those involved collisions with poles and trees.
Monday’s crash remains under investigation. Hopkins said she and her baby are doing much better. She has since thanked the police officers and the Campbell family for their help.
“I will definitely be keeping touch with them,” Hopkins said. “They are angels. They saved me, and I will forever be in debt to them.”