The 26-year-old was driving north on Lockhart Highway (SC Highway 49) when he noticed the driver in a pickup ahead of him was acting somewhat fidgety.
Howell could see the man in the truck rubbing his neck and was getting slightly agitated as the lead driver kept slowing down and speeding up. The former EMT with the Union County rescue squad didn’t know what was going on with the driver in front of him but later came to find he was in the right place at the right time.
He had watched the other driver’s behavior for sometime and then it happened.
As the two vehicles were driving around a curve near John D. Long Lake just a few miles outside Lockhart, Ricky McCloud — driving a white 2000 Dodge pickup ahead of Howell — fell limp over his steering wheel and Howell watched the pickup in front of him drive off the highway and launch over an embankment, striking a tree head on.
“I slammed on the brakes and ran down there,” Howell said about his actions following the accident.
The Buffalo man was the first person on scene with McCloud and the only passerby to stop and help the 59-year-old from Lockhart.
According to South Carolina Highway Patrol Region 1 Public Relations Officer Cpl. Bryan McDougald, the accident report from the incident says due to an unknown reason McCloud and his vehicle — heading north on Lockhart Highway — traveled off the roadway, over an embankment and hit a tree at what the responding trooper estimated to be a speed of 50 miles per hour.
The accident occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday just south of SC Highway 105.
McCloud was injured in the incident and had to be airlifted by helicopter to Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in Spartanburg from the scene.
“My first thought was just to get there and assist him,” Howell said.
He saw smoke coming from under the pickup’s hood upon reaching McCloud and pried open the hood. Howell cut the battery cables which were causing the smoke to prevent a possible fire.
He then turned his attention to McCloud who was unconscious inside the pickup. Howell said the Lockhart resident’s pulse was OK but his breathing was not. The former EMT also said McCloud was bleeding from several places.
As Howell was doing all of this, he was already on the phone with Union County E911 officers. Rescue teams only took about 10 minutes to arrive on scene.
Howell — who stayed on scene until emergency responders arrived — said McCloud woke up once while he was there. He was disoriented and passed out again not long after.
No further information was available on McCloud’s condition Tuesday afternoon. McDougald said the accident is under investigation.
A damage estimate also was unavailable.
Howell was glad to be there when someone needed his help.
“I would have done that for anybody,” he said.
He hopes McCloud and his family are doing well.
“I’ll be praying for them,” he said. “Me and my family.”