Losing arm in train accident doesn’t compare to losing girlfriend

Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK — Samuel Frank can get a few fingers to wiggle when he channels his energy toward moving his right arm.

After four surgeries, the Kennewick man is less concerned with the possibility of losing his arm than with the agony of the loss of his soul mate, he said.

His girlfriend of three years, Melinda D. Williams, was killed Oct. 21 by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train in the same accident that almost severed his limb.

Last Sunday, a day before the latest surgery, Frank’s two 16-year-old daughters spent the day with him in his room at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to celebrate his 48th birthday.

“Whatever could happen to me has happened tenfold already,” Frank told the Herald before the surgery. “I don’t want to lose an arm. I am sure it would be painful losing an arm. But how could I be nervous when I lost a bigger part of me already?”

The 10-hour operation was successful, and doctors are “happier than hell” with how it went, Frank said. They took part of a muscle from his thigh and attached it to his arm.

He is scheduled to be moved this weekend to a rehabilitation center, where he will stay for at least three weeks.

Now that it looks as if Frank will be able to keep his arm, the challenge will be rehabilitating it. It still looks somewhat monstrous, he said.

“(Doctors) said I will have an arm, but they are not telling me how well I will be able to use it,” he said. “If I try really hard, I can move my fingers. That’s good. A lot of them I don’t have feeling in.”

The day of the crash plays over and over in Frank’s mind, he said.

He and Williams decided to take a different route to walk their dog, a boxer named Star, on a sunny afternoon. Normally they follow city streets on the way to shop for groceries at WinCo Foods on Clearwater Avenue.

But they decided instead to let Star run free near the railroad tracks along Canal Drive, something they had done only once before.

The couple — who were both hard of hearing — sat down on the tracks to smoke cigarettes and enjoy the weather, Frank said. They were talking when Williams turned and pointed.

“She goes, ‘I think the train’s coming.’ It didn’t even look like it was moving at all,” Frank said. “We were laughing and joking like, ‘Here goes the train.’ Next thing you know, we hear a honk and by the time it honked it was on top of us.”

They had only seconds to get out of the way. The crew on the train told BNSF officials the couple tried to move when they heard the horn. Williams’ family told the Herald she suffered from multiple disabilities that made it hard for her to get around and react quickly to things.

Frank is adamant that he and Williams were sober at the time. They have battled addiction problems in the past but have been clean for some time, he said. They simply did not get off the tracks in time.

As soon as the train hit them, Frank knew his girlfriend wasn’t going to survive, he said. He was able to walk toward Canal Drive, where a passing motorist, Joshua Durham, used a belt to apply a tourniquet to his arm.

Frank is not sure if Durham’s quick thinking saved his arm, but is thankful he stopped to help him.

“I know that it was something that needed to be done and there was no way around it,” he said. “I would like to meet him. There was also a nice lady there holding me.”

Durham said it took a week or so to start getting the images of the crash out of his head. He has been talking with people from his church and friends to make sure the emotions don’t stay bottled up.

Durham was shocked to hear the news that Frank’s arm could be reattached, he said. He hopes to speak with Frank or maybe meet him.

“I was numb the day it happened,” he said. “It didn’t hit me until later. The next couple of days were hard.”

Williams’ daughter, Briana Wakefield, said Frank is still having trouble comprehending what he saw on the tracks, and coming to grips with the loss of his best friend.

She talks to Frank on a regular basis and hopes to visit him soon in Seattle.

“He is getting the help he needs right now,” Wakefield said. “I heard a psychiatrist is seeing him. He is taking it really hard. He has never loved somebody as much as he loved her.”

Frank describes his relationship with Williams as something he never experienced in life before. She was the only person he could be himself around and not feel judged, he said.

Frank believes Williams’ spirit will stay with him as he tries to move forward in life, he said. He hopes to return to the Tri-Cities once he is done with some initial rehab and reunite with Star.

Although the memories of the crash will probably never fade, Frank finds comfort that he was able to spend the last minutes of Williams’ life by her side.

“I miss her so much and I can’t believe this happened to us,” he said.

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com

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