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Survivors of fatal car accident reunite with first responders 33 years later

Posted at 11:05 PM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 01:11:20-04

TWIN FALLS — On August 4, 1987, four teenage girls, Shelley Rowlan Engle, Linda Hall, Marla VanTassel and Janis Astle, got into a vehicle and made their way home to Shoshone from Twin Falls. They did not know that they would be involved in an accident on the drive home that ultimately changed their lives.

"We were four girls out on a gorgeous, hot, sunny day, just headed to Twin Falls for shopping and lunch. My last coherent recollection of that day was I remember we had said hi to one of our English teachers at Wendy's, and we hit the highway and began driving at a very high rate of speed," Engle, one of the crash survivors, said.

Earlier that day, The four girls had made a promise to Linda Hall's mother to have that car back before she needed the car for work. Since they got a late start on the drive back home, Linda, the driver of the vehicle, was reportedly going 75-80 miles per hour on a 55 mile per hour street.

"I remember feeling uncomfortable and a little fearful at one point, and because I was, I remember trying to distract myself," Engle said.

Linda was passing vehicles throughout the drive, and at one point she pulled up to a slow-moving road grader, just as she passed the other cars, she planned to pass the road grader as well. As she made her way to pass the grader, she quickly realized the driver was going to make a left turn. The driver of the road grader, Leroy Lewis, noticed the vehicle approaching and quickly straightened the grader so he wouldn't get hit. It was too late, they both tried to swerve, but Linda's car hit the left rear tire of the grader and went airborne, the vehicle landed on the roof and immediately burst into flames.

"The last thing I remembered was hearing someone," Engle stopped and mimicked someone gasping, "just catch their breath, and I looked up and I just remember screaming."

Leroy, the driver of the road grader, immediately grabbed his fire extinguisher and headed over to put out the fire.

"I looked back when I got to the side of the road I saw some flames on the car, so I grabbed the fire extinguisher. I don't know when I grabbed it. Next thing I knew and I ran over there, and I yelled at them I said, 'close your eyes if you can, I have to spray the fire extinguisher' so the fire was out and then I was trying to call for help on my radio, but couldn't get anyone to answer because it was lunchtime," Lewis said.

Jerome County was putting on a parade on that same day, and most of the first responders were there waiting in line for their turn. That is when they received the call about the accident.

"There was a call that came in that said there was an accident at interstate 93 and 200 North and there were injuries, and that was basically all they said. The minute I got there, I knew we had a serious accident," Larry Webb, Jerome Chief Deputy Sheriff, said.

The Fire Department had to use their jaws of life equipment to get the girls from under the car. Linda Hall, the driver of the vehicle, did not make it.
The three survivors tried for years to contact Leroy and the first responders who saved their lives but never had any luck. Shelley decided to plan a reunion without knowing if she would be able to get in touch with any of the first responders.

Two weeks before the event, she got a call from Fire Chief, Joe Robinette, who told her he was on the scene of the accident that day, and most of the first responders had been trying to get a hold of her.

"One by one, I was able to contact them. And the stories they were able to tell me; the fact that they were able to remember the accident and the impact it had on them," Engle said.

Last weekend was the first time they have all reunited since the accident 33 years ago.

"Knowing that some of them are still alive and were able to be with us and are so appreciative that we tracked them down. It took a long time, but we finally tracked them down," Engle said.

Through tears, Shelley described the moment she saw Leroy and the first responders as one of the best moments in her life.

"I had just stepped down off a picnic bench, and someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, do you know who I am, and I guessed two wrong names. And he said Shelly I'm Leroy and I just started crying I hugged him so tight," Engle said.
Leroy said he was shocked to have received a phone call from Shelley because he thought he would never see the survivors again.

"I was glad to meet them finally because I didn't think I'd ever get to meet them. And I was shocked when I got the phone call from shelly. It was excellent to see how they have lived their lives and have been able to live their lives. It was quite heartwarming," Lewis said.

Shelley said the most important thing about the reunion was making sure Leroy and the first responders knew they were greatly appreciated.