As Merika Hill was walking to church with her two young children last Tuesday evening, she suddenly noticed a truck driving towards them at a high rate of speed along Old Spanish Trail in Des Allemands.
With only a few seconds to act, the 25-year-old Des Allemands mother said she knew what she needed to do to protect her 16-month-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
“I pushed them into the ditch to stop him from running over them in the street. Right after I did that, I got hit,” Hill said. “I hit the windshield, flew up in the air and landed on the ground. He rolled over me and didn’t stop. He kept on going.”
After hitting her, Hill said the truck continued along the roadway and hit another woman with its side view mirror before disappearing from view.
Although she was suffering from a great amount of pain due to internal injuries and a laceration to her head, Hill knew she had to stay strong for her children.
“When I am sitting on the floor my daughter will always come sit right there on me,” Hill said. “She came and sat on me and just was crying and I told my son ‘get your sister.’ He started crying and I said, ‘You can’t cry, you’ve got to be a big boy.’”
Hill said she was lucky to have landed in a lighted area of the roadway.
“Where I landed it was lighted, but if I would have fallen where he hit me, I probably would have gotten hit again,” she said.
As she lay in the roadway cars drove around her, swerving to miss her body without stopping.
“I had three cars pass me by and the next car that passed stopped to help me,” she said.
The car that did stop had also narrowly avoided a collision with the truck that hit Hill.
“He said the truck almost hit him going around a curve,” Hill said.
After a neighbor called 911, Hill and her family, who had gathered at the accident site along with numerous neighbors, thought it would only take a few minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
However, it was an off duty EMT who was first on the scene. The man who stopped to help Hill did not wish to be identified.
“He was off duty and heard the call on his radio. He was just turning on that street and came there and checked on me,” Hill said. “He stayed with me the whole time.”
Shortly after, the fire department and police showed up, but still no ambulance.
Quinn Landry, spokesman for St. Charles Parish Hospital, said Hill’s incident happened at a time when St. Charles Parish Hospital’s two ambulances that were on duty were tied up with a critical patient in transport and a multiple car accident.
“That was around the same time this call came out,” he said. Landry said another ambulance was called in from a hospital in Raceland, but it appeared to have had mechanical problems and could not make it to the scene. An ambulance from Gretna eventually arrived to transport Hill.
After what Hill and her mother, Connie Hill, said was an hour and 20 minute wait, an ambulance finally arrived and took her to Louisiana State University Hospital in New Orleans.
The Sheriff's Office released a report stating that the ambulance arrived 55 minutes after 911 was called and that the first responder declined an air lift in the meantime.
Meanwhile, the search for the truck that hit Hill was underway.
Approximately four hours following the incident, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office pulled over 20-year-old Richard Watson Jr. of Des Allemands, who was charged with speeding and DWI. His vehicle matched the description of the one that ran Hill over.
Connie said there was evidence that the truck was the same one that hit her daughter.
“They found a lot of her hair in the windshield,” she said. Three hours after Watson was apprehended, Hill underwent emergency surgery to stop internal bleeding in her kidney and liver.
Trooper Melissa Matey, spokesperson for State Police Troop B, said despite Hill having to undergo surgery due to the incident, Watson was only charged with misdemeanor hit and run.
“The felony hit and run charge has to contain either a death or serious bodily harm, meaning critical injury or potential death,” Matey said. “From what I am being told this is moderate injury, so it doesn’t meet the felony threshold.”
Though Watson was charged with a DWI, Matey said there was no way to prove he was impaired at the time of the accident, which occurred six hours earlier.
Watson was released from jail only hours after being arrested while Hill was only just beginning to recover from her surgery.
Matey said while there is a chance that the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office might upgrade Watson’s charges to a felony, the State Police were only willing to arrest him on the misdemeanor charges.
Hill thinks Watson should have been treated more severely.
“He already went to jail and just bonded out right after. It could have been my kids, but it was me,” she said.
Connie said she was disappointed with the way the situation was handled, including the fact Watson was not charged with more serious crimes.
Hill is one of three pedestrians hit in the parish within a eight days – the two others were killed.
Connie said the incident also brings to light other problems in the parish.
Because Hill was walking along the fog line, which is the white line that runs along the edge of the road, state troopers said she was partly at fault.
“Where are we supposed to walk?” Connie said.
Old Spanish Trail does not have sidewalks and a ditch runs along one side the road. Connie said she is going to complain to the St. Charles Parish Council about the lack of sidewalks throughout the parish that have contributed to pedestrians being run over, as well as the slow response time of the ambulance service.
“This is unfair in the fact that this is our parish of better than 50,000 people and we have one ambulance for the East Bank and one for the West Bank,” she said. “ My daughter laid on the street for an hour and 20 minutes waiting for an ambulance to come from Gretna. That is totally unacceptable. She was like a freak show laying in the street out there.”
Hill is slowly recovering from the incident and remained in the hospital for a few days afterward.
She said her son does not understand what happened to her and has been very worried about his mother.
“He asked me ‘why he threw you in the air Momma?’ and I said when you’ve got people who drink and drive they don’t pay attention. They get stupid and crazy on the road,’” she said. “I am just happy that I was able to push him and my daughter out of the way.”
In the future, Hill said she will be wary about walking anywhere in the parish due to the lack of sidewalks.
“I won’t be walking anymore because I don’t want my kids to have to go through that again. I’ll either just stay home or catch a ride,” she said.
The Hill family is setting up a fundraising effort to help Merika recover from her injuries. If you would like to help, you can call Connie Hill at (504) 287-8216.
Editor's note: The online version of this story has been updated to reflect a Sheriff's Office report released after the original story was printed in the newspaper.
|Merika Hill lays in her hospital bed after being hit by a truck while walking to church along Old Spanish Trail in Des Allemands.|