Accident victim seeks help

Published 8:55 pm Saturday, March 27, 2010

Three years ago, Ray Shourds was hailed as a local hero after he risked his life to pull a young boy from a fiery crash.

Now, Shourds is about to lose his home to financial fallout from the crash in which six people perished.

Shourds and his assistant in his core-drilling business were returning from a project in Chesapeake on July 24, 2007. They stopped at Santa Fe Grill for lunch, and then got back on the road.

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As the drill rig rumbled toward the Pitchkettle exit on U.S. Route 58, Shourds saw the most horrifying sight of his life.

“From out of the median strip, I noticed an airborne car,” Shourds said. “It was already in the air and coming at us with no hope of changing.”

The car slammed into the front of the drill rig, exploding in a mass of twisted metal and shattered glass that still makes Shourds shudder when he thinks about it. The two vehicles careened off the side of the road and burst into flames near the tree line.

“As soon as I was able to stop, I bailed out instantly,” Shourds said. “We were already on fire before we stopped.”

Shourds first pulled his semi-conscious employee from the carnage, and got him a safe distance from the wreck. He then went to the car, where other Good Samaritans were already trying to rescue the six occupants from the inferno.

Shourds saw a man trying to pull a young boy from the wreckage, and noticed that the boy’s pants were caught on a piece of metal. Shourds loosened the pants in the midst of the flames and the two men pulled the boy away.

The men started to pull more victims from the blaze. Suddenly, the car’s gas cap popped off and struck Shourds’ thigh.

He knew that meant something terrible was about to happen.

“I grabbed the fellow that was helping me by the back collar, and we took one giant step back,” Shourds said. “Once the flames engulfed it, it was a pretty horrifying scene.”

Another helper ran up with a fire extinguisher, but it was too late for such measures.

“They might as well have spit on it,” Shourds said.

The fire devoured the car — with five victims still inside — half of Shourds’ truck, and grass and trees along the roadside. Those who seek it can still find the location of the wreck by looking for the gap in the tree line.

“Every time I go past, it brings it back,” Shourds said. “Not that it ever leaves my mind for long.”

The five people inside the car were dead before fire crews even arrived. The boy Shourds had helped rescue succumbed to his injuries the next day.

Though Shourds and his girlfriend, Crystal Ellison, realize they are blessed that he is still here, the accident has caused them numerous hardships.

“I’m a psychological and a physical and financial mess,” Shourds said.

After the accident, Shourds was out of work for eight months. His insurance paid him $50,000 for the truck — which he says was worth at least $80,000 — and promptly tripled his rates.

“Needless to say, I’m not with them anymore,” he said.

He burned through substantial savings keeping both his personal and his business bills paid. To make ends meet, he sold several pieces of equipment, which set his business back even further.

To make matters worse, the crash caused permanent injury to his back, which now needs regular treatment in physical therapy.

The family that caused the accident had minimal insurance, leaving Shourds’ insurance to cover all the bills. However, they sent him to trial, letting a Suffolk jury decide how much Shourds should be awarded.

In a trial earlier this month, the jury awarded Shourds $30,000 — a paltry sum compared to what he needed, Shourds said.

“I felt like I needed at least $150,000 to get back to even,” he said. “When this thing started, I had money in savings, I had a good credit score, and was doing pretty good, and then when this hit me, my credit score is crashed down to nothing, and I don’t have operating money to even continue to work.”

Shourds feels that legal technicalities caused the jury to look down on him. His insurance company required him to sue the estate of the other vehicle’s driver, and then his insurance would pay when it was determined the estate couldn’t pay.

That fact couldn’t be mentioned in court, however. Any mention of insurance, according to law, would likely cause a mistrial.

“Here I am in front of a jury, and you’re not allowed to tell them it cost you $5,000 to even go to trial,” Shourds said. “None of that was allowed to be told. What it looked like to the jury was, ‘Here’s this guy trying to get money out of a dead person.’”

Shourds is now about nine months behind on his mortgage, and is facing foreclosure unless he finds some money from somewhere.

“My mortgage company’s been great,” Shourds said. “They’ve waited all this time and I’ve owed them money this whole time. They’ve worked with me up to this point because they knew I was going to have a settlement at some point. That’s a phone call I’m dreading to make. I have to tell them I didn’t get no money. I have a feeling they’re going to say, ‘Get out of our house.’”

The $30,000 judgment will be eaten up by court costs, lawyer’s fees and doctor’s bills.

“It cost me $5,000 just to do the trial,” he said. “The lawyer took a third. Doctor’s bills added up to more than what was left. That doesn’t give me any.”

The day he found out he would receive only $30,000 — and never see a cent — was the second-worst day of his life, Shourds said. The first, of course, was the accident.

“Six basically kids were killed in front of me,” he said. “I’m not even over it and then for this to happen, it’s like it’s dumped on me all over again.”

At the end of his proverbial rope, Shourds feels like he has no choice but to plead with the community for help. He and his girlfriend, however, aren’t just asking for a handout.

“I’m definitely willing to bake anything,” Crystal Ellison said. “I will do anything. I’m not going down without a fight.”

For each person who donates $20, Ellison will send a loaf of banana bread or a dozen chocolate-covered cherries. In addition to his core-drilling services, Shourds also can repair roofing, fences, decks and sheds, and remove trees and stumps in the Suffolk area.

In addition, Ellison is selling some of her Elvis and other collectibles on eBay under the username RaysSuffolk.

“She wants to do something to help out,” Shourds said. “She’s a severe asthmatic, so she can’t really work, but that’s something she can do. She likes to cook stuff.”

Though Shourds and Ellison say they aren’t the type to beg, they feel like they have no choice, he said.

“I don’t like to ask for things, but the alternative is being homeless,” he said.

To help Ray Shourds, send checks to 3413 Manning Road, Suffolk, VA 23434. To contact him, call 651-1433. For more information, visit