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Distracted Driving Happens on Tractors, Too

A tractor driver distracted by a cell phone nearly cost Jacob Ross his life.

Amanda Corley sat straight up in bed. She had just had a dream – more like a vision, she says -– of her three children, Jacob, Jackson, and Ally Ross.

They stood in a city with a tornado approaching them from behind. Corley watched helplessly from the passenger window of a distant car and cried out to God to save her children. Just then, a light pierced the darkness, God threw his arms out, and said, “I’m going to protect them and everything is going to be OK.” He absorbed the storm before it reached the children. 

“It was so vivid,” Corley says. “God planted himself like a tree, looked me in the face, and said, ‘The storm is here, but I’ve got this.’ ” 

This middle-of-the-night experience rattled Corley, a single mother who was working hard to build a new life for her children following a divorce. After that, she says she was extra protective of her children for months. Jacob was 9, Jackson was 7, and Ally was 2.

Heart-Stopping Phone Call

Flash forward a year to July 2010, and Jacob and Jackson, 10 and 8, were with their father for two weeks. Ally stayed home because she was too young to be on the farm all day.  

The children’s father farmed several thousand acres in Louisiana and Arkansas. He had just rented a new piece of ground on the Arkansas side and was working with a hired hand to level it. The boys spent their days, often from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m., in the tractors.

Jacob was riding with his father when the tractor had mechanical trouble. After working on it for a while in the 110°F. heat, Jacob's dad instructed him to walk to the other side of the field and join Jackson in the air-conditioned cab driven by an employee.

On his walk to the other tractor, Jacob called his mother at work and asked to come home. She agreed to talk to his father later that day. 

Ten minutes later, Corley’s phone rang again, but this time it was her children’s father. “When I saw their dad calling me, my heart stopped,” she says. “I knew it was bad, because he doesn’t call me.” He told her that Jacob had cut his arm on the tractor and that she should come to the hospital. She says he wouldn’t give her any other details. 

Always Make Eye Contact

It wasn’t until much later that Corley was able to piece together what had happened to her son. As he was climbing into the tractor, which was pulling a blade, his cell phone fell out of the pocket of his cargo shorts and landed in front of the tractor’s back tire. 

Jacob made eye contact with his brother before climbing down to retrieve it, but the man driving the tractor was talking on his cell phone and didn’t see him. The driver later said that he looked around for Jacob before taking off again but didn’t see him and assumed he had stepped back.

When he put the tractor in gear, the tire immediately ran over Jacob. The blade sliced his arm so badly that there were only a few inches still attached to his body. Jackson screamed and slapped the windows and told the driver to pick up the blade and call his dad.

“That driver lost visual contact with my son and was on the phone talking and ran him over,” Corley says. “It’s a miracle he wasn’t killed right then and there.”

Corley says Jacob was pressed into the loose dirt and that his father pulled him up to a standing position to see if he was OK. He then put Jacob in the back seat of his truck and drove him to the hospital. Jackson sat with his brother, held him, and talked to him the whole way.

Chaos in the Emergency Room

When Corley arrived at the hospital, Jacob had already had a CAT scan and X-rays. She met Jackson in the waiting room. “He was in shock and told me he didn’t think Jacob was going to make it. I needed to comfort this child, but I had to leave him there with family and friends.

“They had intubated Jacob earlier, and there were X-rays on the screen. I was just standing there with my hands on him trying to keep it together,” she says. “Later, he was very coherent and kept saying, ‘I think this is it. I can’t even see you, but I don’t think I’m going to make it.’ I said, ‘I’m here,’ and he said, ‘I feel you and I can smell you, but I can’t see you.’ ”

The arm injury was horrible to see, but that wasn’t the worst of it. “I asked the doctor what else happened, and he pulled back the sheet and I saw black tread marks on his abdomen,” she says. “I just fell back against the wall and almost passed out.” She had no idea he had injuries beyond his severed arm.

Jacob’s diaphragm and lung were punctured, and his organs had been pushed up into his chest cavity. He needed to be air-lifted to a hospital in Little Rock, but there wasn’t room for Corley to fly with her son, and the doctor wasn’t sure he would survive the 45-minute flight. “I signed the papers and said, ‘Go – take my baby,’ and I drove to Little Rock,” she says.

During the flight, drainage tubes were inserted into Jacob’s chest. Upon landing, he immediately went into surgery. Another surgery followed a few days later. In addition to the organ damage, he had a crushed pelvis and broken vertebrae. After doctors had done all they could, Jacob was put into a drug-induced coma and was on a ventilator in the pediatric intensive care unit for a week. Corley says, “My little boy was so swollen and didn’t look like my little boy anymore.”

Leaning on Faith

While she sat in the waiting room of the hospital, Corley held onto the cross necklace she had put on the morning of the accident, not knowing how much she would need it.

“I was sitting in a chair by myself and was so glad I had the necklace as a reminder of what I had to lean on,” she says. “I heard a voice that told me, ‘I’ve already shown you the storm, and I’ve shown you that I’ve got this, so let me have it.’ I had forgotten about the vision, but it immediately started playing in my head, and I knew he would come out of this OK.” 

Jacob spent three weeks in the hospital but still required constant care when he came home. He was in a wheelchair for a time and had to learn how to do everything again. “He did very intense physical therapy and rehabbed pretty quickly,” Corley says. He and Jackson also saw a therapist to help them cope with the emotional trauma of what had happened. For years after his injury, Jacob would occasionally share another memory or detail about his near-death experience that Corley hadn’t heard before.

Sharing their Story

Jacob is now 19, and is farming full time. “We are still living it,” Corley says. “I put my arms around that kid who’s now 6'3" and a grown man, but he’s living his life and is a fifth-generation farmer. Things spiraled out of control, but my kid is alive. He has his battle scars, but he’s 100% rehabilitated.”

After Jacob’s injury, Corley knew she needed to share his story in hopes of saving other families from the same or a worse fate. For several years, she has spoken at local Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, talking to children about the importance of making eye contact with equipment operators and offering other tips for staying safe on the farm. She also speaks to volunteers and sponsors at Safety Day training.

Corley says the ones who really need to hear this message are the adults. “Children’s brains aren’t done growing, and they don’t have adult motor skills. They can’t handle panic situations, and that can cost them their lives,” she says. “My boys were too young to be out there from daylight to dark in the heat every day. Their father said this is what his daddy did and his daddy before him, but what will it take for farmers to understand it’s dangerous?”

Looking back, Corley says, “Life is so different now. We are a statistic, but thankfully our story has a good ending. Others aren’t so lucky. God didn’t do this for me not to be a witness and testify to His goodness. Right now, this message is for me to carry and pass on, and I hope, as time goes by, my boys will share their story, too.”

Faith Through the Darkness

When Amanda Corley began speaking at Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, the event organizer knew the family’s story would make a good book. She put Corley in touch with author Ryan Curtis, who then wrote Faith Through the Darkness.

In order to reach children, Curtis also published a coloring and activity book, Jacob and the Tractor, sharing an age-appropriate version of events and safety tips. Last year, nearly 2,300  books were distributed at Safety Days around the country.

“The adult version was meant to help open peoples’ eyes to the dangers of farming and the reality of faith and miracles,” he says. “The kids’ book teaches safety through a story. The takeaways are that kids need to make eye contact with the person operating equipment before going near it and that both kids and adults need to be alert around equipment and not be on their phones.”

Find the books at amazon.com or ryancurtisbooks.com, or call 816/591-2228 for bulk pricing on coloring books.

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