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911 CALLER WAS FOLLOWING ERRATIC DRIVER BEFORE FATAL AMBULANCE CRASH

     

Thursday, June 13, 2013 Tracie Dunavin knew someone was going to die.

Dunavin was driving home Tuesday night after watching her daughter's softball game in Lincoln.

A couple miles west of Eagle, she spotted a 2002 Ford Ranger pickup swerving across both lanes of U.S. 34.

The driver clearly was drunk, she said Wednesday.

“I've never been so certain in my life that an accident was going to happen. He was literally from one shoulder to the other, repeatedly.”

Dunavin first called 911 from near 192nd Street while keeping her distance from the eastbound pickup. She passed up her turn a mile later, determined to help deputies in their pursuit.

She followed the pickup for another 8 miles, as the driver sped up and slowed -- fluctuating between 50 and 70 mph -- and nearly ran head-on into at least three cars, Dunavin said.

Dunavin was on the phone with a dispatcher for 10 to 15 minutes before her worst fears were realized.

The pickup, she said, drifted across the westbound lane and onto the shoulder, headed for the ditch on the north side of the highway as an ambulance approached at about 10:20 p.m.

Suddenly, the pickup's driver swerved back onto the highway going about 65 mph, Dunavin said, and straight into a Weeping Water Rescue ambulance transporting a patient to a Lincoln hospital.

“Pieces just flew off everywhere from the truck,” Dunavin said.

The pickup's driver, William Whitlatch, 24, of rural Syracuse, died at the scene just east of Elmwood.

Fifty to 75 rescue workers needed about two hours to extricate the ambulance driver, Robert “Bob” Hanes Sr., 51, of Weeping Water, said Mark Bonser of the Nebraska Line of Duty Death and Serious Injury Response Team.

A medical helicopter flew him to Bryan West Campus, where he died at about 2 a.m., Bonser said.

The medical helicopter also transported two emergency medical technicians — Melissa Hanes, 30, and James D. Flint Jr., 46 -- to a Lincoln hospital, Cass County Sheriff's Capt. David Lamprecht said. Elmwood Rescue workers transferred the original patient, Luther Gunnels, 50, of Weeping Water, to their ambulance and relayed him to the hospital.

Doctors treated all of them for nonlife-threatening injuries, Lamprecht said.

A hospital spokeswoman said Flint was in serious condition Wednesday. Melissa Hanes, Bob Hanes' daughter, was in fair condition.

Bonser said Flint suffered severe head trauma but was alert when he talked to him at the hospital.

Bob Hanes worked with kids down at the baseball field, shoveled the driveway of an elderly neighbor and helped cook steaks and burgers at the First Congregational United Church of Christ's barbecue fundraiser, Weeping Water resident Pam Taylor said.

“He was a super nice guy who did a lot for the community. He'll be missed,” Taylor said. “He'd do anything for anybody.

“That's the sad part; you lose the nice ones.”

Weeping Water Mayor Howard Stubbendieck said he knew Hanes for 25 years. They went to the same church and volunteered together.

“He was a kind and gentle man. He was just a wonderful person,” Stubbendieck said. “I never met anyone who didn't like him.

“You couldn't help but like him.”

For 32 years -- since he was 18 -- Hanes worked in the parts department at Pankonin's Inc. in Louisville, co-owner and manager Paul Pankonin said. He helped farmers find parts to fix their irrigation pumps and hooked up mechanics in the repair shop with the pieces they needed to get a customer's tractor humming again.

After more than three decades on the job, Hanes could figure out what was wrong with a piece of machinery and what he needed from a farmer's rough description in person or over the phone while out in the field.

Paul Pankonin, who was a toddler when Hanes started working for his dad, said that after listening to a customer's quandary, he'd turn to Hanes, who would rattle off the nine-digit number of the part needed.

“He was a walking parts book,” Pankonin said, pausing for a moment.

“Pretty much all of my memories of this place, he was here.”

Hanes' wife, Carol, was holding up “very well," Bonser said Wednesday, adding she knows her husband died doing something he loved -- helping people and serving his community.

“Bob's loss of life wasn't for nothing,” Bonser said.

At the crash site, Dunavin said she saw Melissa Hanes -- who initially was thrown from the ambulance -- get up and run to her father.

“The first thing I heard was she said, ‘Dad, are you OK?’”

Melissa Hanes would need surgery Wednesday on an injured arm.

“She didn’t complain at all other than to worry about her dad,” Dunavin said. “I think that was the most heartbreaking part of the night.”

Lamprecht said an autopsy was scheduled on Whitlatch, but results weren't expected for a few days.

 Robert “Bob” Hanes Sr. RIP


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