NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton and defensive lineman Lynn McGruder's heroics recently saved the lives of several people, when they pulled a family of five out of a burning car after a tragic car accident on Interstate-35. This story (see link at the bottom of the story) was spelled out today in The Oklahoma Daily, and will be written in detail in more major newspapers on Thursday. However, I had a chance to catch up with Mark Clayton today to get his account of what took place.
JH: I am going to guess that in your wildest dreams you never thought you were going to be in a situation where you have to avoid a flying car onto your side of the highway, and then have to get out of your car and then save the lives of five people. Can you explain what happened?
MC: "We were coming down the highway and there was a van and a police car on the left side of the highway. All of a sudden I see, on the other side of the highway, that a red car was going off the road. At first I thought it was pulling over, but it had a little speed to it and it was pulling over on the wrong side. It went down into the median and then came out of that median airborne. I just knew right then that this could be it for us.
"The car hit the van head-on and the police car hit the red car and the van. I swerved, trying to miss everything, and I ended up riding in the center median on the grass and ‘Bo' (Lynn McGruder) had grabbed my wheel and we spun out, but came to a stop. After all the smoke, grass and the debris cleared, we took a quick look at the situation. The police car was in front of us and the little red car that came across the highway ended up behind us. The van was totally knocked off the side of the road. I pulled my car out of the ditch and we all got out of the car.
"Myself, 'Bobo' and a friend of his (Kenny) got out and went to the van, because that was the closest car to us. As soon as we got to the van we saw that MaKenna (Smith), who was driving, was stuck between the steering wheel and the seat. She was our first priority, because she seemed the worse off. While we were doing that somebody yelled that there was a fire. So, we then started concentrating on getting the fire out. A lady who stopped just happened to have a fire extinguisher and Lynn took it put the fire out real quick.
"Then, another guy came and tried to pry the door open. Lynn started helping him and they bent it out pretty good, but it wasn't enough to get MaKenna out of the car. I went around to the other side of the van and me and another guy helped get MaKenna out of her seat from that side. Her dad (Bruce) had a fractured tailbone and I helped him out. I guess Lynn and the rest of the people helped pull the rest of them out of the back window, which ‘Bobo' kicked in with a pretty good kick. We got them all out, and fortunately one of the off duty paramedics happened to be driving and she ran up and starting helping everybody.
"We then went up to the police car and he was okay, but he was shook up. So we went over to the red car, but the paramedic was already talking about pulse and everything and we knew that we couldn't do anything there even if we wanted to (Unfortunately 19-year old Alicia Layne of Purcell was pronounced dead at the scene). After we went back and made sure all the people in the van were okay we knew we had done all we could do.
JH: You barely avoided the accident yourself, so was this an instant reaction to get out of your car and help the people in the other cars?
MC: "I felt that I was in a accident myself. After I figured out I was okay, and ‘Bobo' and his friend were okay, we decided to get out and make sure everybody else was okay. I wanted to see if anybody needed help or anything like that."
JH: How much did it help that you guys were in great physical condition?. It is not easy to pry open doors and break those windows is it?
MC: "I think that ‘Bobo' and his big leg-breaking the back window and he was pulling on the doors as well. BoBo can move some weight around and he was working hard along with several other people that we didn't even know. I would say our physical condition helped a lot now that I think about it. We never got tired or at least I didn't think about being tired. You wouldn't believe how far they pulled that door open, when to be honest most people could even budge it at all.
JH: How frightening was it for you, or were you moving at such a fast pace that you didn't get a chance to really think about how scared you were?
MC: "We were moving so fast, we really didn't think about that kind of stuff. I heard the screaming and the people saying ‘help me' and that had me shock. You have trouble thinking when you're doing everything you can to help people in that situation. Actually, to think clearly is a big key, because that isn't easy. I was doing what I felt was right."
JH: I saw the pictures in the The Oklahoma Daily of you, Lynn and MaKenna, and all of you have great smiles on your faces. How do you feel that your heroic effort may have saved her life and the lives of other members of her family?
MC: "It was a blessing that we could help MaKenna and her family, but a disappointment we couldn't help the family in the red car. There just wasn't anything we could do for the girl in that car. I wish there was something we could have done. We could have easily been in their situation, but by a foot or so we missed the police car and we were spinning around, and just by luck we ended up where we did. Just by luck we were in the right place at the right time, so that we could help them. That was truly a blessing."
JH: How much did it help that Lynn grabbed the steering wheel?
MC: "It helped a great deal, because if he didn't grab the wheel we would have gone straight into the police car. By him grabbing it he was able to turn the car and we avoided the police car by just a foot. I was breaking the whole time, but it really wasn't effective in the grass."
JH: Does this give you a different perspective on life?
MC: "Yeah, it really does. Just all of a sudden, by a snap of a finger, anything can happen. It doesn't take but a second and your whole life can change."
Tomorrow, we'll talk to Mark Clayton about the upcoming football season and the Sooners' wide receiver core.
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