Construction worker digs out from under earth mover with two nails

November 09, 1994|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

STATESVILLE, N.C. -- Bob Beatty owes his life to determination and two eight-penny nails.

The self-employed heavy machine operator nearly died when his 18-ton Caterpillar earth mover flipped, crushing his left leg.

It took the north Iredell County, N.C., man two hours, using the 2 1/2 -inch nails, to free his leg. For almost an hour more, he dragged himself uphill toward help, quenching his thirst with water from puddles along the way.

"I thought I was going to die, and I remember looking at the watch to see what time I was going to die," Mr. Beatty said from his bed at Davis Community Hospital in Statesville.

Mr. Beatty, 51, lost his left leg as a result of the Oct. 11 accident. He told his tale yesterday.

"I was determined I was going to make it," Mr. Beatty said.

A 31-year veteran of the construction business, he was working alone about 8:30 that morning at a building site on U.S. 64 about 2 miles east of Statesville. He was moving dirt from a Crescent Electric construction project to a wooded area when the accident happened.

"I had just dumped a load and was making a right-hand turn when the left-front wheel fell into a 3-foot hole that I didn't see," Mr. Beatty said. "It threw me, and God was with me because the machine came down all around me. It could have killed me right there."

Dazed, Mr. Beatty reached up and switched off the motor. He tried to rise but couldn't. His left leg was trapped from the knee down.

Feeling the jagged edges of the broken bone, Mr. Beatty knew he was hurt. Bleeding heavily, he looked around and saw only trees. No human in sight.

Mr. Beatty remembered he had lent the cellular phone he usually carried to a friend.

"I started looking for something I could use to dig myself out," Mr. Beatty said. "I couldn't find anything until I reached in my coat pocket and took out two eight-penny nails."

Using the nails, Mr. Beatty dug, moving bits of dirt with each pass. Two hours later, he reached down and pulled his crushed knee and heel from beneath the machine.

With his leg free, the bleeding increased. Mr. Beatty packed dirt into the wound to slow the blood. He couldn't think of anything else to do, he said.

He crawled back toward the construction site, dragging his useless leg. He traveled an inch or two at a time, he said. Then, he found a stick and pulled himself along 3 or 4 inches at a time.

Thirsty, he drank water from two mud puddles as he dragged himself along. Three hours after he fell, Mr. Beatty reached the crest of a hill and called to workers at the construction site for help.

Mr. Beatty was taken by ambulance to N.C. Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. His left leg was amputated at the knee and he remained at Baptist 27 days until his transfer Monday to Davis.

Mr. Beatty says he survived because he stayed calm and made up his mind to live. "I just decided I would do whatever it took to live," he said. "I didn't want to die."

Mr. Beatty's mother, Johnsie Beatty, said her son grew up on the family dairy farm in north Iredell, working hard, milking cows and driving a school bus part time.

"He's always been very self-reliant," she said. "When I broke my left arm two years ago, he was very insistent that I'd use it again. He was right."

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