Alan Luther has spent 30 years in the oil fields and seen many serious accidents, including terrible head wounds.
But his 14-year-old son’s injuries on Oct. 13 after his motorcycle crashed into a tree and a knobbed branch was driven into his face, was one of the worst.
He thought his son would die.
Luther called 911. Obviously distraught and shouting unintelligibly while at the same time trying to comfort his son, his 11-minute call starkly shows how critically important a skilled emergency dispatcher is to coordinating a rescue, and how agonizingly awful a parent’s terror can be.
That remarkable call was released Tuesday by Shafter Police at Luther’s request, who hopes it will serve as a cautionary tale for motorcycle and off-road vehicle riders of all ages.
Dispatcher Sheila McCaleb is not only able to calm Luther, 50, and help him tend to his son, but also get him to provide cogent directions to the pistachio orchard where the accident occurred several hundred yards off East Lerdo Highway.
“Help! Help!” Luther shouts at the beginning of his 911 call. “My son’s dying! Please help me!”
McCaleb’s voice is calm, soothing. “What’s going on?”
Between Luther’s sobbing and panic, his response is unintelligible.
“Listen to me,” McCaleb says, like a parent to an inconsolable child. “Listen to me. I need you to take a deep breath.”
Once Luther does, he stays relatively calm for the 12-minute-long call. His son, Zeus, badly injured, can be heard groaning throughout, while Luther, in an often desperate voice, admonishes him to lay still while continuing to speak to McCaleb and later a second dispatcher, and keep an eye on his 6-year-old daughter and a friend of his son’s who were also present.
Luther repeats directions to his location several times, and tries to stanch the blood flowing from his son’s head.
When asked by the second dispatcher if he can hear sirens, Luther has to ask Zeus to be quiet in order to listen.
“Hang on in there, Alan, they’re coming,” the dispatcher says. “Hang on in there.” Luther breaks into tears.
Zeus was flown to Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera, where he spent the next 17 days in intensive care. A freshman at Centennial High School, he lost all vision in his left eye and half the vision in his right eye, but according to his father the rest of his recovery will be complete.
He’s not expected to be released from the hospital until next week.
In the midst of his son’s recuperation, Luther called Shafter Police around Oct. 25 to provide an update. McCaleb happened to answer the phone, and told him she was the initial dispatcher for his 911 call.
“That was a difficult call for me to take,” McCaleb tells him, because her own boys like to ride motorcycles, too.
“You let him know people here were praying for him,” she tells Luther.
“That’s what saved us all is the prayers,” he answers.