ONLY ON 3: Chattanooga bridge collapse survivor shares his side of the story
On the morning of April 1st, 2019 Ryan Hixon’s life was about to change forever. The thirty-year-old husband and new father had resigned his job as an insurance adjuster and was enjoying a day off before starting a new job at FedEx. Over the years, he had driven hundreds of thousands of miles with no incident. And then it happened. Returning to Chattanooga from Dalton on I-75, merging onto I-24, part of a bridge railing collapsed from the overpass. He had no time to avoid the falling concrete.
Hixon said, "All I remember is I was driving, and then I wasn’t. Just that quick. I just stopped."
Within moments, a motorist who saw it all from behind, pulled over to help. Larry Lawrence and his family were on a spring break trip from south Georgia. Lawrence attempted to remove Hixon from his vehicle, but Hixon's legs were numb.
Soon first responders and paramedics arrived. Hixon’s memories are unclear, as he lost consciousness. Hours later, he awakened in the hospital after the first of many surgeries.
Hixon said, "Honestly I was confused. When I saw my wife, I never thought I would see her again. I was paralyzed from the impact, and I thought I would have to learn to walk again."
The first reports coming from police and government officials acknowledged the bridge collapse but underplayed the victim’s condition. His injuries were described as not life-threatening. There were expressions of relief that no one was seriously injured.
Hixon can now set the record straight.
He said, "I had significant internal hemorrhaging, that’s why I passed out. They ended up having to remove 2 feet of my intestines, that’s why I was hemorrhaging. My sternum was cracked. My eye socket was damaged, so I have double vision, and another surgery coming up this week that can hopefully address that."
Married for less than two years, and with a baby girl now just six weeks old, Hixon is unable to drive, walks with a cane, and cannot walk or perform once-routine household chores. He said, "I can’t take out the trash, and I can’t hold the baby or care for her like I would have been otherwise."
Through no fault of his own, he’s been robbed of his health and livelihood. Legal action may be forthcoming, and medical bills are starting to accumulate. When he heard various theories as to why the bridge railing collapsed, he just shook his head. To him, the answer seems clear. The state is responsible, he says for ensuring bridge safety. "They even said there was the potential for the bridge to fall, there’s a tree growing out of it, causing cracks to expand," he said. "That shows negligence on their part."
His future is uncertain, yet he remains hopeful. He says his family, both in and out of Chattanooga stepped up to help, as did his circle of friends. Although his name has not been released publicly until now, he knows the entire community has kept him close to their hearts. He says prayer is powerful. He said, "We have been overwhelmed with support from people we’ve never even heard of before."
He can’t help but look back to April 1st, asking what if? What if he had approached that interchange 30 seconds earlier? He believes everything happens for a reason, and hopes this serves as a wake-up call for government agencies we rely upon for our safety. I would hope they would reevaluate their procedures and practices to re-evaluate our infrastructure," he said. "And respond more appropriately when need be."
Hixon also expresses his appreciation for the skilled surgeons and other medical workers who have guided him through numerous procedures, with more to come. He also encourages everyone to donate blood, because he needed several units on the day of the accident. And he admits that even if he achieves full physical recovery, he must also deal with the natural fears of driving again.
He says after what he has been through, he will never look at a bridge the same way again.