Nov. 21 could have been a tragic day for three families.
Instead it was the beginning of a long road to recovery and extended lives.
A Maricopa father credits two factors for that – the use of seatbelts and the professionalism of the first responders from Ak-Chin Fire Department.
That morning, a T-bone collision on State Route 347 and Papago Road sent five people, including two teens, to the hospital.
Steve Franklin, a single father, was working in Oklahoma that day when he received a call from an unknown number. He almost didn’t answer, but a “sixth sense or a parent-sense” told him to pick up. It was the Chandler Regional Medical Center telling him his son Clifford had been in a terrible accident and suffered serious injuries.
Clifford Franklin, a senior at Maricopa High School, had spent the night at the home of his friend Alex. In the early morning, Alex’s father was driving the boys to school in a 2010 Dodge sedan. He took Papago to SR 347. Alex was in the front passenger seat and Clifford in the back.
At the intersection, a stop sign was missed, and the car Clifford was riding in pulled into the path of a vehicle traveling north from Stanfield.
Clifford’s last memory of the incident is Alex’s father saying, “Oh, crap.”
The couple in the northbound vehicle had no chance to stop and plowed into the passenger side where the teens were sitting.
“It was a hell of an impact,” Steve Franklin said.
Franklin knows this not from his son but from studying the remains of the car itself and the accounts of the first responders from ACFD.
“They were amazed any passengers were alive,” he said.
As it turned out, everyone was wearing a seatbelt, and airbags deployed properly.
Seatbelt use was a habit for Clifford since he was very young.
“You train them until it becomes a natural instinct,” Franklin said. “Obviously, he sees it’s been validated.”
But, he said, his son did not necessarily need the reminder. In recent years, Maricopa teens Clifford knew have died in traffic accidents when seatbelts were not fastened.
“We’ve seen enough of it,” Franklin said.
The shoulder belt Clifford clicked that morning was a lifesaver, according to the trauma doctor who spoke with Steve Franklin.
Franklin was also in awe of the ACFD crew, noting the difficult situation in the near darkness. Assessing five patients, most with serious injuries, the first responders also had to determine if ambulances or helicopters would be the best call.
They opted for ground transportation.
Clifford suffered a concussion, lacerated liver, lacerated right kidney, badly bruised right lung, fractured pelvic bone, facial lacerations and the fracture of a ligament tying the pelvis to the spine.
As he was placed into an ambulance, it was sunrise, which often coincides with a visit from the Amtrak train. That morning was no different. The ambulances were alerted to the hold-up at the tracks and took the long route down Farrell Road to go around and back to SR 347.
“Everything was going against them, and they survived,” Franklin said.
Since the crash, Clifford has gone through intense physical therapy to get back on his feet. Learning the rescue crew from Ak-Chin Fire Department was on duty Christmas Day, he and his father took treats to the first responders to say thank you.