Unforgettable call from husband of I-75 crash victim to 911 dispatcher after deadly crash
Most calls do not come with closure for emergency dispatchers. They hang up the phone once help arrives.
With each step Victoria Pecak takes on the treadmill beneath her desk, she's closer to the next call. The next life-changing moment for a complete stranger who needs her help.
Pecak stays on the line until help arrives. Once her job is done, it's back to the treadmill. It's a way for Pecak to calm her nerves and prepare for the next time the phone rings.
Some calls are easy to shake off.
Others are not.
"A couple months ago we had a really bad accident on I-75, and once it was all concluded I spoke with one party who had lost a loved one," said Victoria Pecak.
Pecak is talking about the June 25th crash on I-75 when a tractor trailer slammed into stalled traffic.
Six people died and several others were injured.
When Pecak answered a call that day, it was a man from Morristown looking for his wife.
"We ended up realizing and talking him through it and finding out that he was indeed a family member of someone who had passed away in the crash," Pecak said, "That's probably the call that sticks out in my head the most since I've been working here."
The husband on the other end of the phone was Rick Watts.
He made a call he never wanted to make.
Rick Watts was in Morristown, Tennessee waiting in line at Subway around 7 p.m. on June 25th, 2015. He'll never forget the buzz he felt in his pocket, his eyes glancing down at his phone screen, and his next move, silencing the call.
"I dismissed the call, " Watts said, "And I regret that. Maybe not, maybe the accident would have happened when I was on the phone?"
Watts and his wife Tiffany would call, text, and talk constantly throughout the day. So it was normal, he said, to miss a call from her and then call her back when he was free.
Tiffany Watts and her mother, Sandra Anderson, were on the way home from the Atlanta airport. They just picked up Tiffany's two daughters Keslie and Savannah Guerrigues for a six-week visit.
Tiffany called her husband that night as they were passing through Chattanooga.
Watts said he kept trying to call her back, but no answer.
After several tries with no answer, he went online to check the news. He saw reports of a terrible accident on I-75.
"And that's when I saw her car, the picture of it, what I thought was her car," Watts said.
Watts said he saw what looked like his wife's black Toyota Scion in pictures of the crash. His heart sank.
He started making calls to Chattanooga police, emergency dispatchers, any agency he could think of.
"I called off and on all night long," Watts said, "I don't know how many times I called the different ones."
He describes it as the worst night of his life, not knowing if he would ever see his family again.
It was about six o'clock the next morning when police showed up at Watts' workplace.
"When I heard the knock I knew, my heart sank, and so I got up and walked around to where I could see outside and there were police officers," Watts said, "One of them was a friend of mine and he volunteered to do that, and so, that was how I found out."
"It was the worst night of my life," Watts said, "but then, when you get confirmation it just goes into the worst day of your life the next day, and the worst week, and the worst month. It's a battle."
Four months after the crash, Watts says he's continuing to take it one day at a time.
Every inch of his Morristown home reminds Watts of his wife, her mother, and his two step-daughters. Pictures of them all attract the attention of anyone who walks inside.
On one window sill in the kitchen is a framed picture of Tiffany and Rick's wedding day.
"We would have just celebrated our second anniversary last Wednesday," Watts said, "We got married standing barefoot on the beach of Key West, Florida."
Watts says every part of Tiffany's life was a celebration.
She celebrated the good grades she made after enrolling back in college, her great deals on extreme couponing that made up "Tiffany's grocery store" in their basement, and the joy her family brought her every day.
After her death, Watts gave some of her jewelry to her closest friends so they could continue to celebrate life for her.
"They tell me all the time, they'll put something on Facebook and say hey, I took Tiffany to the beach with me and they're wearing her ankle bracelet," Watts said.
Much of his healing has been accomplished through faith. Watts said by following his pastor's advice to let people in, not shut them out, he is able to come to terms with the facts surrounding their crash.
"I thought it was a really, really bad accident, because really really bad accident's happen," Watts said, "Nobody's at fault, it's just something that happens."
At the park where he was planning on spending time with his family this summer, Watts said he can't help but to be angry.
"And when I found out why it happened, man, I was so angry. Why do people think the rules don't apply to them?"
The man driving the tractor trailer on June 25th that crashed into stalled traffic is facing a long list of charges, including six counts of Vehicular Homicide and Driving Under the Influence.
Benjamin Brewer was extradited from Kentucky in September and is now being held at the Hamilton County Jail.
His next court appearance is scheduled for December 3rd.