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Woman rescued by helicopter 17 hours after parkway crash


A woman was rescued by helicopter Wednesday from the bottom of an embankment along U.S. 431 in Anniston, where her car had crashed.

A woman was pulled by helicopter from her car Wednesday morning, 17 hours after it crashed off an embankment on Veterans Memorial Parkway when she dodged a deer in the road, the driver’s sister said. 

A car driven by Ashley Johnson, 32, left the road on the parkway heading north around 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to her sister, Nina Gouger. The vehicle came to a stop at the bottom of a deep embankment along the northbound lanes, just before the exit onto Alabama 21. 

“She was out there alone all night,” Gouger said. “I guess she woke up earlier and called police herself.” 

Anniston police, fire and EMS, along with Alabama State Troopers and Alabama Department of Transportation workers, responded to the wreck around 10 a.m. Wednesday. 

Calling from UAB Hospital in Birmingham around 4 p.m., Gouger said she had yet to speak to Johnson directly, but their mother had talked with her and relayed information.

The crash left Johnson with a dislocated hip and a punctured lung, she said. 

“She’s awake, and it seems like everything is OK with her,” Gouger said. “I haven’t been able to go back yet, but my mother has.” 

Anniston police closed both sides of the highway by 10:15 a.m. The wrecked car was barely visible from the road. Johnson, the vehicle’s sole occupant, was still with the car.

An Alabama State Trooper helicopter arrived and circled the crash site before hovering near the vehicle. An emergency crew member was lowered by cable to the crash and secured Johnson to a stretcher. Both dangled at the end of the cable while a motor lifted them back into the helicopter. The crew member grabbed the landing skids and took Johnson inside the helicopter as it flew over the highway and landed behind a LifeSaver rescue helicopter waiting on the road. 

Emergency personnel carried Johnson, who appeared to be conscious, to the LifeSaver helicopter and secured her inside. The helicopter took off soon after, flying north, around 10:45 a.m. Public Facebook posts from Dara Ivie Cole, Johnson’s mother, said she had been taken to UAB Hospital by helicopter. 

Cole had pleaded on Facebook Tuesday night for information regarding Johnson’s disappearance, noting she was last seen in her black Toyota 4runner. Gouger said Johnson had gone to see a family member and should have been out for just a few minutes. When she didn’t return, the family filed a report with the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office. 

Gouger sent a Facebook message to a reporter at about 7 p.m., in which she said she’d spoken with her sister. Johnson told her she’d swerved to dodge a deer, and had been thrown from her vehicle. She tried to crawl to safety, Gouger said, but went back to her car for fear of being discovered by wildlife. 

“God really touched her,” Gouger wrote. “It could’ve been a lot worse, but God was really with her.”

Earlier at the crash site, the trooper helicopter lifted off to circle the area again after Johnson’s rescue, apparently scanning the scene. Another emergency worker went down and came back up by cable, this time with an empty stretcher. By 11 a.m. a tow vehicle arrived to retrieve the vehicle. The wrecker’s driver spoke with Alabama Department of Transportation personnel, who were also at the site.

Police spoke with only two non-emergency personnel at the scene, one of whom claimed to be a preacher at the woman’s church. He credited God with Johnson’s rescue, though he declined to give his name. The road had been closed about a half-mile in either direction from the wreck, with police directing traffic to turn back, preventing onlookers from arriving.

Police helped one Anniston EMS worker who appeared to have walked up the embankment. The sweltering heat seemed to have taken a toll on her, with the temperature hitting a cloudless 89 degrees by noon, according to the National Weather Service. She seemed to be fine after getting water. 

Both southbound lanes were reopened just after 11 a.m., and the Police Department announced that all lanes were open as of about 12:15 p.m.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.