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Students get in car accident on service trip

Madeline Buckley | Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Senior Alan Geygan returned to Notre Dame feeling lucky to be alive after spending Fall Break on an Appalachia service trip.

On the second day participating in Notre Dame’s Appalachia seminar in Tennessee, Geygan and three other students drove up a mountain to go hiking.

But during the drive, their van veered off the road and fell several feet down the mountain before flipping over.

“We were driving up a mountain road, and a car was coming down the mountain in other direction so we pulled over to the side to get out of the way,” Geygan said. “But the van tipped and slid down the side of the mountain, flipped over and slammed into a tree.”
Geygan said the students as well as the four other passengers in the car sustained only minor injuries, but the University-rented car was totaled.

Junior Gabby Tate, the driver of the van, said the experience was “absolutely terrifying.”
“The car was tipping so slowly, it seemed like,” she said. “And then all of a sudden it flipped over. A tree luckily stopped the car from rolling all the way down the hill.”

Geygan and Tate said the accident was a result of the poor conditions of the mountain road.

“It was a gravely, muddy road and it didn’t hold the car’s weight,” Geygan said. “And the road wasn’t big enough for two cars to begin with.”

Junior Nathan Hall, also a passenger in the van, said the mountain road had no guardrails.
“I was surprised at how loose the edges of the road were. Even under my own weight, bits of pieces came off,” he said. “I have a newfound respect for those roads and what the people have to deal with. I couldn’t imagine driving that road in snowy or icy conditions. It’s probably almost impossible.”

Geygan said the accident offered a learning experience in a way he would not have expected.

“This really brought us together as a group,” he said. “It was probably the best education we got during the trip. We saw how poor the infrastructure is in Appalachia.”

Geygan noted the neglected conditions of the road, and he said emergency personnel did not respond immediately to the accident.

“The ambulance didn’t get there for about an hour and a half,” he said. “It put a lot of things in perspective to see how few resources the area has.”

Luckily, no one in the group required serious medical attention, Tate said. Tate injured her wrist and Hall burned his hand.

“I was climbing back up mountain after accident, but I slipped back down towards the car, reached my hand out and caught the exhaust pipe,” Hall said about his burn.

Geygan said several local people helped the group while they waited for the ambulance and tow truck.

“A couple of people who lived in the area were pointing to spots on the mountain saying if we fell there, it would have been 80 foot drop,” he said. “I feel really blessed to be alive.”

Tate said the Center for Social Concerns has been supportive throughout the process.

“They said they don’t care about the car as long as everyone is okay,” she said.

In the future, Tate said she thinks the University should install an OnStar system or something similar in the cars to make the driving trips safer.

“It took so long for the ambulance to come and none of us got cell phone reception,” she said. “I felt so helpless. It was a really humbling experience.”