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Van demolished, man unscathed

Staff writer

When Mitchell Unruh jerked awake after his van went into a ditch, what he experienced was worse than any nightmare — his world, his van, was literally spinning out of control.

Police said Unruh reportedly fell asleep at the wheel of his 2008 Dodge Caravan at 10:15 p.m. on Dec. l. Driving west on 330th Rd. east of Durham near Tampa, he drifted across the road into the south ditch, struck an embankment, then hit a utility pole, flipped end over end, rolled one time, and landed right side up.

Unruh emerged unscathed and no worse for wear than what a few over-the-counter pain pills might remedy.

“I feel very fortunate,” Unruh said Monday. “I was praying for it to stop. I kept expecting to black out, but I was conscious through all of the wreck.”

He didn’t know what caused his slumber, but he had worked a long day of construction.

“Once it was over I was anxious to get home because I knew my wife would be worried. I couldn’t find my cell phone, so I started walking,” he said. “It was a little less than a mile. I was just in shock. I didn’t feel any pain for about 15 minutes.”

At home, he embraced his wife and told her what happened, then went to the rooms of his four children and hugged each of them as they slept in their beds.

He also called in the accident to Marion County Emergency Medical Services and headed back to the scene, where Tampa Ambulance volunteer Larry Cushenbery was waiting in his personal vehicle with emergency lights flashing, after having heard the call come in on his scanner at his home nearby.

“The car was sitting half out in the road and there was no one there when I got there,” Cushenbery said. “I thought if this guy ain’t got any injuries he’s lucky. I’ve seen wrecks where the cars barely have a scratch on them and the people don’t make it out alive.”

Unruh’s van was demolished.

Duane McCarty, the sheriff’s officer that responded to the accident, said all eight airbag in the van deployed.

“There wasn’t a straight thing on that van,” McCarty said. “All six sides were damaged and most of the windows were shattered.”

Cushenbery examined Unruh when he returned to the scene.

“It was midnight and freezing, but according to EMS protocol, there was no reason that Unruh needed to get into an ambulance,” Cushenbery said. “There wasn’t a scratch or even a bruise on him.”

Unruh was feeling some pain where his seatbelt had restrained him as well as in his left side where he struck an airbag.

After examining the scene, McCarty said Unruh’s “asleep at the wheel” story checked out because there were no sudden brake marks, which usually indicate drivers are awake to react. The angle at which Unruh went into the ditch also suggested he veered off the road a little, at a time at a low angle.

According to McCarty, Unruh hit the utility pole at a side glancing angle instead of straight on.

“The glancing blow and the roll out allowed more time for all that energy to be released,” McCarty said. “Hitting something straight on in a sudden stop is usually more likely to kill a person.”

As for the mangled van, Unruh sold it for scrape. He said he feels very thankful considering what could have happened.

“I look around at the world and think about death and eternity, and I wonder how I’m still living,” Unruh said. “I feel so very thankful for my life and family.”

Last modified Dec. 11, 2014

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