Teen-ager crippled in van-truck wreck

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 1, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / April 1, 1998

LAPLACE – Rescuers struggled for more than two hours Monday to free an 18-year-old LaPlace man from a van after he slammed into a truck.

The scene of terror was punctuated by the trapped man’s pleas for help and the anguished cries of his mother, as she repeatedly called out to him, “I’m here, baby!” Avery Usand Jr., 18, 601 Medford Drive, LaPlace, broke both legs after hedrove his father’s 1995 Chevrolet AstroVan into the driver’s side of a flatbed tractor-trailer carrying a load from Bayou Steel.

The accident was reported to the St. John Sheriff’s Office at 4:08 p.m. andtook place where Louisiana Highway 3217 (Bayou Steel Road) intersects with Airline Highway.

Usand was on his way to work at TransAmerican Refining Co. in Norco.Usand was not freed until 6:18 p.m., according to Lt. Michael Tregre of thesheriff’s office. He was listed in stable condition Tuesday at RiverParishes Hospital.

According to Jessie Chatman, 57, of Navasota, Texas, the driver of the truck, “He just came out of the blue. They really need to put a light here.”Chatman was attempting to turn left with his 3,810-pound load of steel, aboard his 3,280-pound truck, he said. He pulled onto Airline Highway andwaited for traffic to clear from the Norco direction.

At that moment, Usand’s van struck the heavy truck, which didn’t shift from the impact. However, gasoline spewed from the van and thefrightened Usand pleaded with rescuers: “Don’t leave me!” Louisiana State Trooper Jeff Diaz, in his report, said two unbiased witnesses confirmed Chatman’s description of the accident.

Police witnesses at the scene described the accident as having pinned Usand in the vehicle as the dashboard crushed his legs. The van was nearlydismantled as more than 16 firefighters from LaPlace, Reserve and Norco and crewmen from Acadian Ambulance struggled to free him.

Usand had been wearing a seat belt, as rescuers had to cut it away from him to remove him from the van. Sgt. Kyle Ory of the St. John Sheriff’sOffice added, however, “That air bag saved him.” Ory said the van struckthe wheel well of the flatbed trailer and the tires absorbed much of the van’s impact, which also helped save Usand’s life.

Finally, after more than two hours of cutting away the doors and a portion of the roof, Usand was eased out of the van and transported to River Parishes Hospital.

Funds were recently approved in Congress for federal highway money to help build an extension of Bayou Steel Road, to bank left and connect with U.S. Highway 51 at Woodland Drive. At present, there is no traffic light atthe intersection with Airline Highway.

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