GREENFIELD — Trevor Waller couldn’t take his eyes off the little boy.
As he stood alongside the wreckage, watching a child he’d pulled from the crash carted away in an ambulance, Waller sighed and shook his head. It could have been so much worse, he knew.
Thirteen people, including 11 children in a church van on their way back from a field trip, were hurt in a three-vehicle crash Friday afternoon near State and Boyd streets.
Waller was sitting in his car at the intersection, stopped at a red light around 3 p.m. when it happened.
Story continues below gallery
A box truck and a sedan collided just in front of him, their crumpled front ends coming to rest in the middle of the intersection near Hancock Regional Hospital. Seconds later came another impact.
The driver of a van full of children from Trinity Park United Methodist Church, headed north on State Street, must have spotted the accident in the roadway just ahead, Waller said. He watched in horror as the driver careened around the wreck but then lost control, Waller said. The van smashed into a nearby utility pole, flipping onto its side.
Eight of the children were taken to Hancock Regional, where they were treated for minor cuts and scrapes. Three others were more seriously injured and transported to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis — one by helicopter, two by ambulance, police said.
The driver of the church van and a passenger in the car that collided with the truck were taken to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. None had life-threatening injuries, police said.
As debris from the wreckage scattered across the road, Waller didn’t hesitate.
He sped forward into the hospital parking lot. He jumped from his car and ran toward the wreckage without stopping to cut the engine, leaving it running as he scanned the area for victims.
Other helping hands were close behind, he said. He and other witnesses to the crash crowded around the van. The grade school-age children inside were dangling to the side, all strapped into their seatbelts, he said.
Passersby worked together to gingerly lift the children, one by one, from the wreckage. They set them in the patch of grass lining the roadway and promised help was on the way.
And it came from every direction, he said. Nurses and doctors from the hospital, mere feet from the site of the crash, raced outside. They carried medical supplies and bandages, started to patch up injuries, as paramedics from the local fire department rushed to the scene.
In all the commotion, Waller spotted one little boy, sitting in the grass, looking scared and worried. As medical professionals took over, Waller settled down next the boy, put his arm around him.
They didn’t talk about the crash, or the flurry of emergency responders working busily just beside them. He asked the boy about different things — basketball, his favorite teams and players — anything to distract him from the chaos, he said.
As fire department medics loaded the boy onto a gurney, Waller watched a few feet away.
“I’ll never forget that little kid,” he said softly.
Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche said the community’s response to the crash was inspiring.
It wasn’t just hospital staff and witnesses who offered help but neighbors and those working in other businesses that line State Street, he said.
As police, medics and firefighters tended to the injured, residents like Waller filled the gaps, comforting the children, holding their hands and telling them everything would be OK, Rasche said.
Even after the children were taken from the scene, and first-responders turned their attention toward investigating the cause of the crash and directing traffic around the wreckage, passers-by brought them bottled water along with words of thanks and encouragement.
“That was so important to the first-responders who were here today,” Rasche said.
Those good Samaritans said they were happy to do whatever they could to help; but some admitted the scene would weigh on their minds long after they went home.
David Tyler was working on the hospital’s landscape, pruning bushes and trees, when he saw the crash, heard the crunch the metal. Like so many others, he ran forward to help the kids — seeing his own children in each of their faces, he said.
As Tyler left the scene, he remained shaken. His work would wait.
“I’m done for the day. I’m going home,” he said, packing up his gloves and hedge trimmers. “If it had been just adults, if would have been one thing. I could have handled that. But kids — I’ve got two. I can’t.”