Sonya Whitlock recently marked what was almost the 10th anniversary of her death.
Shortly before dawn on Jan. 10, 2007, the Glen Rose woman was on her way to work when an 18-wheel water transport truck rolled on top of her Toyota Camry. Whitlock told the Glen Rose Reporter last week that it was “horrific” when the weight crushed the driver’s side of the car, trapping her inside until she was rescued by the Somervell County Fire Department and other first responders.
Although the response was rapid, the job was not easy for the first responders, who at that time were working with more limited rescue equipment than they have now.
“It took an hour to pull the car out from under the truck, then 45 minutes to cut me out of the car,” Whitlock said while petting Coco, the lap dog that helped her pull through the depression she suffered during her recovery. “I had a firefighter holding my hand.
“It felt like in one minute everyone was there, keeping me calm. The fire department here — I was just so amazed. Everybody was doing whatever they needed to do. What a blessing that we have a really good firefighting team.”
Eventually, a female firefighter held up Whitlock’s head during the rescue because there was nothing to rest it on.
Later came the noisy — but effective — Jaws of Life to the rescue.
“Everybody was comforting,” Whitlock said. “I remember saying, ‘Just don’t cut my legs. The steering wheel was on my legs. It threw me in the middle of the two seats.’”
Even afterward, Whitlock said she heard from many of the firefighters, checking to see how she was doing.
Somervell County Fire Chief Mark Crawford was on the scene with many other first responders that day, and remembered that the extraction was difficult. He also gave credit for Whitlock’s survival of the crash to another factor.
“I would say I believe it was a miracle that she survived,” Crawford said. “That was very complicated, given the limited resources and equipment we had at the time. We had to use every tool the fire department had to get her out.”
Whitlock noted that she stands 4 feet, 10 inches tall, and the fact that he head wasn’t at a higher level may have saved her from a fatal head injury.
“They said if I had been a foot taller, that tanker truck would have crushed my head,” Whitlock said.
Crawford has seen many fatal crashes during his long tenure with the SCFD.
“If she had been a larger person, the outcome would have been different,” Crawford said.
The truck was heading south on Highway 144 and attempted to turn right onto Highway 67 — where Whitlock was waiting at a red light, on the way to her job in Fort Worth. The truck rolled over onto Whitlock’s car.
“It was a 35,000-gallon water truck, and bam, he landed on me,” Whitlock stated. “They said he took me 45 feet, into a ditch.”
Whitlock believes she was in shock after the impact, and possibly even during the rescue.
“The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Someone needs to call my husband.’ I was in such shock, I didn’t even cry.”
Whitlock was flown by helicopter to a Fort Worth hospital. She suffered a broken left scapula, seven compressed fractures of her spine, and a head injury. She was in a back brace for about six months, and wore a neck brace for a couple of weeks.
Whitlock said even now, she endures chronic pain in the areas that were injured, but also noted, “I am blessed.”
Whitlock had a scary brush with a powerful painkiller, but escaped that peril as well.
She was prescribed to take 180 mg of morphine for her pain, and took it for about a year and a half. But after forgetting to have it filled twice going into a weekend — and getting a little taste of the feelings of withdrawal that went with the temporary absence of that drug — she switched to Tramadol, a more manageable pain treatment.
She said the pain began at a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, but hovers at about six these days after the pain medicine kicks in. Whitlock engages in physical therapy at home, five days a week. That includes the use of a treadmill, and she also makes use of heat and cold treatments on her shoulder.
“When it’s at an eight, there’s a stabbing (pain like) someone’s taking a knife, she said. “If I can get it to a six, I can deal with it.”
Whitlock and her husband, Bryan Whitlock, have lived in Glen Rose 13 years and have been married 26 years. They have owned Performance Truck and Auto on Highway 144 South in Glen Rose since Feb. 15, 2011.
Their daughter, 24-year-old Danielle Whitlock, lives in Brazos Point. Son Dylan, 20, lives in Glen Rose.
Whitlock said she has bouts with short-term memory loss, so the family members are no longer surprised by extra questions about things that may have been previously discussed.
They also have learned that when she is physically spent, she has to check out for a while to rest — end of conversation.
“They have learned,” Whitlock said.
They also were there for her when she started feeling depressed during her recovery process. As a successful manager and an outgoing person who had been working 50 hours a week for a shoe company in the Metroplex, she had problems adapting to being home alone.
“I would get up at 4:30 in the morning and I didn’t stop until 9 o’clock,” she said.
After the accident, she rarely left the house.
“I felt, ‘I’m useless.’ It hurt me. I always worked since I was 16. We had talked about a promotion,” said Whitlock, who was not covered by insurance at the time of the crash, but is now on disability. “I was looking at four walls — it was a whole different experience. I’m an extrovert like no other person. For three years, I was hardly out of the home. We did bring counseling in.
“I wasn’t even doing physical therapy (prescribed by her doctors). I was so down, I couldn’t care less if I got off the couch.”
Then Coco — her faithful lap dog — entered her life after a trip to a pet shelter.
“It was very important,” Whitlock said of having Coco around. “I never thought I’d be so attached to a dog, and a dog would be so attached to me. I had to train him and teach him stuff. He was a big plus for me then — and to this day. When no one is around, I really can hug him. It gave me a purpose.”
She also found a renewed sense of purpose when she moved her father, Glen Pilotte, to Glen Rose, helping her leave the depression behind.
“I think it was an accumulation of things,” Whitlock said. “Coco, the business, then the counseling. All those three things. God always comes first.
“I’m trying to figure out what God has for me to do. I don’t know yet. I helped my father so much. I need for me to help and do for other people also.”
Whitlock also saw how the Glen Rose community rallied around her after the crash.
“I saw how the town just pulls together,” Whitlock said. “I’m blessed to be in this town.”
“I keep saying, ‘Sonya, God saved you that morning for a reason,’” she said. “Get off your butt. I used to ask Him, ‘Why did you leave me here.’ I figured out that God has that when and why.
“And I just think it could be worse, so suck it up buttercup. In the long run, I’m very blessed. It wasn’t my time.”