Friends and family were not surprised when Chip Cole rushed to the aid of a paralyzed man stuck in a wrecked truck, but the extent of Cole’s injuries have been a shock.
He expected to spend a week at the University of South Alabama Medical Center. Four surgeries later, he’s still there, but hopes to be released by week’s end.
Friends have started a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses for the Pascagoula native, son of the late former Mayor Joe Cole and Cherie Cole, who traveled from her home in North Carolina to be by her son’s side. So far, almost $9,000 has been raised toward a goal of $50,000.
“He’s just one of those guys,” said Jason Poole, a lifelong friend involved with setting up the GoFundMe page. “I guess every person has one of those friends. He’s 95 percent feelings and emotions. Even if he didn’t know you well, he would go out of his way.”
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“ . . . If I was in a situation where I needed help or I needed something, and I had one call to make, it would be him.”
Cole, 38, said he would not change his actions on the evening of Sept. 18, despite the extreme pain he has since endured. Cole, who spoke to the Sun Herald by phone Wednesday, was quick to point out Randy Collier of Ocean Springs and Dustin Allgood of Lucedale also jumped from their vehicles to help when they happened upon the truck, flipped on its side, on Seaman Road in Vancleave.
The driver told them his passenger, Anthony Taylor, was trapped inside and could not walk. The three good Samaritans pushed with all their might against the truck, trying to right it. Chip Cole had his left hand on the truck when it exploded.
“I did not look at what was going on and anticipate that a vehicle was going to explode,” Cole said. “All I saw was someone that needed my help . . . When we walked up, it was just a turned-over pickup truck. There was no fire, there were no sparks, there was no gas or smoke.
“There’s nothing about how I handled myself in that situation that I would change.”
The windshield blew out when the truck exploded, giving Allgood an opening to pull Taylor from the wreck. Taylor was flown to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Jackson. The 21-year-old father from Vancleave had been paralyzed earlier in the year in a four-wheeler accident and was trying to pull his life together, his mother told Cole when she visited to thank him for helping. Taylor’s mother said she was able to communicate with her son before he died.
“I’m so glad she got that,” Cole said. “I wish desperately we could have given her more. I wish we could have gotten him out and for him to be in a similar situation that I am in, that he would be on the road to recovery. But that was not God’s will that night.”
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Initially, adrenaline and shock kept Cole’s pain at bay. The burns on his left leg were more severe than they first seemed. He has faced several skin grafts and an infection.
“Over the last three weeks, I have experienced what I would call the worst pain of my life,” he said. “There have been times when it has been excruciating. I passed out one time during wound care.” He said he uses pain medication sparingly because he does not want to become dependent on it. Each day, he can feel himself getting a little better.
Cole just wants to get back to the condominium he and his wife, Anna, share in Ocean Springs. Fall and winter are his favorite time of year.
“I just want to be outside,” he said. “I’m ready to get back to work. I’m ready to get my life back where it was prior to all this happening.”
Friendship had brought the Coles back to the Coast. Jason Poole, who owns Express Employment Professionals staffing service, was in Atlanta with co-workers when they had dinner with the Coles. Chip Cole said he wanted to move back to the Coast. Poole said he wanted Cole to come work at Express.
“OK, I’ll do it,” Cole said. Two weeks later, Cole had rented the condominium in Ocean Springs and transferred from his job as a software specialist at Apple to executive head hunter at Express. Anna Cole worked out a job transfer to the Coast with the Social Security Administration. The couple has bought property in Pascagoula, where they plan to build a home.
“He’s just that person,” Poole said. “Nobody was really surprised about what he did and how he acted. I hated the outcome of what happened, but I think if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t hesitate. In those moments of fight or flight, he’s definitely the fight.”