Do Not Amputate the Leg!

The four-door sedan swerved off the road somewhere between Barstow and Las Vegas and rolled over eight times. A dust plume marked the spot where it came to rest upside down on the hot desert sand. Several following cars pulled over to help, but no one expected to find any survivors in the wreckage.

The six occupants of the car were Mr. L.J. Foutz (61) and Mrs. L.J. (Klea) Foutz (49) of Salt Lake City, three of their sons, Stewart (24), Merrill (18), and Jerrold Foutz (7), and their daughter, Vera Jean Foutz (13). They were returning to Salt Lake City after a two weeks vacation in Hollywood visiting their daughter, Mrs. W. A. Stidd (28), the former Miss Kallie Foutz.

Friends and relatives who were familiar with the road from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City strongly advised that the trip should be made across the desert at night, getting the steep grade into St. George Utah finished before dawn or in the early morning before temperatures started to rise.

Sound advice which was ignored.

Instead of an early start-time the morning of the trip, the start was late, about nine or ten in the morning. Entering the desert at the top of the Cajon Pass was further delayed by a stop at a road-side stand at an orange grove in San Bernardino that advertized all the orange juice you could drink for 25 cents. We all tanked up on orange juice and bought a crate of fresh oranges to take home. With no room in the trunk containing our luggage, the crate  of oranges was placed on the back seat floor.

Stuart was driver, Merrill rode shotgun, and Jerrold sandwiched in the front seat between them. In the back seat Klea was behind the driver, then Vera Jean, and L.J.,  by the right window. The crate of oranges was on the right rear floor in front of L.J., who had to rest his leg on the crate — and later, out the open window to stretch it and avoid cramps.

The blow-out of the left front tire occurred when the car was going about sixty miles per hour. Stewart instinctively put his foot on the brake. Merrill, who had super fast reflexes and knew you should not brake when you have a blowout, dived down and across the seat and grabbed Stuart’s foot preventing braking. This action became a human seat-belt and pinned Jerrold to his seat, Stuart had hold of the steering wheel, and Merrill was wedged into the front seat well of the car.The car veered into the oncoming lane, missing traffic, hit the berm on the far side of the highway and started its eight rolls across the desert floor.

No one in the front seat was injured. Not so in the back seat. Klea Foutz had a wrenched back, Vera Jean had only minor cuts and bruises, but L. J. had his leg out the window and the car rolled on it eight times.

One of the following cars was driven by a doctor who grabbed his medical bag and ran to the accident. L.J., whose leg was broken in multiple places, was spurting blood with each heart beat from a damaged artery in his leg. The doctor applied a tourniquet to the leg while L.J.  was still in the car, probably saving his life. Otherwise he would have bled out before an ambulance could arrive. Others helped all the occupants out of the car. Others drove to a telephone and called an ambulance and the highway patrol. L.J. was laid out on the desert floor while the doctor worked on stabilizing the leg and administering pain killers. Others held a stretched-out blanked in the air shielding L.J. and the doctor from the oppressively hot sun until the ambulance arrived. The doctor told the ambulance drivers that L.J.’s leg was in serious shape and they should take him all the way to the main hospital in San Bernardino that had all the facilities necessary to treat his leg.

Oranges were spread out between the road and the accident. Jerrold and Vera Jean, otherwise ignored, kept themselves hydrated by picking up oranges and eating them.

Klea rode in the ambulance with her husband L.J. into the San Bernardino Emergency Room. Two of the helpers at the crash gave the rest of the family a ride into San Bernardino following the ambulance.

The doctors in the emergency room determined the the leg could not be saved and wanted to amputate it. L.J. wanted none of this and told them they couldn’t amputate until they had done everything they could to save the leg and he got a second opinion from doctors in Salt Lake City.

After they worked on the leg in emergency and transferred him to a hospital bed, we got to visit L.J. in his hospital room. The leg was in traction and a wound was open from the ankle to the knee on the front side of the leg. I think I remember someone saying something about the wound having to heal from the inside to the outside.

After visiting with L.J., the rest of the family in the accident returned to Salt Lake City by bus. Six weeks later, L.J. was taken by ambulance to the train station in San Bernardino and placed on the train to Salt Lake City where he was transferred to a hospital in Salt Lake City, and then home.

After spending several weeks on crutches, a shift was made to a cane, which L.J. used for several years until he had no more use for it.

“Do not amputate the leg!” turned out a better option than the doctor-recommended amputation.

Sources:

  1. Utah Digital Newspapers, Salt Lake Telegraph, June 19, 1940, “Comings and Goings Keep Society on the Go”
  2. Jerrold Foutz (81) memory, January 2014