FREMONT — One of the last things Evelyn Hunt saw was a pair of headlights coming straight toward her.
At the last second, the 57-year-old Fremont woman apparently gripped the steering wheel of her pickup and jerked it to the right.
AUDIO: 911 wrong-way call
“She veered slightly to the right. ... It was not head-on, it was slightly at an angle,” said Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. Angel Burgos. “Her taking that evasive action at the last second could have possibly saved [her grandson’s] life.”
Mrs. Hunt took the brunt of the impact when a Kia Optima barreled into the truck Monday night in the westbound lanes of U.S. 20 where it runs into U.S. 6 in Sandusky Township.
Mrs. Hunt and the motorist who was driving the wrong way, Charles Starks, 61, of Fremont were pronounced dead at the scene.
Mrs. Hunt’s grandson, Zachary Zimmerman, 15, suffered “minor injuries,” said John Hunt, the boy’s grandfather and Mrs. Hunt’s husband of 39 years. “He had a concussion on his head. He’s doing OK. He’s hanging in there.”
The teen was taken to Fremont Memorial Hospital after the 7:24 p.m. crash, but was released several hours later, Mr. Hunt said.
At 7:22 p.m., drivers started calling 911 to report the wrong-way driver.
Lisa Keys wanted to pass the driver in front of her but as she shifted into another lane, she was faced with headlights.
Ms. Keys, 44, of Fremont braked and merged back to her original lane, blaring her horn hoping to get the wrong-way driver’s attention.
“I thought someone was going to get killed. Someone is going to get hurt,” Ms. Keys said.
Ms. Keys pulled onto the berm and called 911 — she watched headlights dancing behind her as cars swerved to avoid being hit head-on.
Troopers and deputies were looking for the reported wrong-way driver, although by the time officers reached him, it was too late, said Sergeant Burgos, who arrived at the crash scene “30 seconds” after it happened.
“I’ve been doing this 15 years, and every traffic fatality is difficult because these incidents change lives,” Sergeant Burgos said.
In the past several years, northwest Ohio has been plagued by wrong-way drivers, many ending in head-on collisions and loss of life. One year ago today, Juan Garcia, Jr., 26, was struck and killed by a wrong-way driver on I-75 in Toledo.
In another much-publicized crash, three sorority sisters from Bowling Green State University were killed when their Spring Break-bound vehicle was struck head-on on I-75 on March 2. The wrong-way driver was also killed.
State legislators have debated harsher penalties, like a one-year license suspension, for wrong-way drivers on divided highways, but a vote was never taken.
Last year, the Ohio Department of Transportation installed new “Do Not Enter” signs around the region, hoping they would better catch the eye of someone about to turn the wrong way onto a road.
Mrs. Hunt, who went by Kay, and the Zimmerman youth were on their way to Walmart to buy Mr. Hunt a Christmas present — a new computer, he suspects.
They had only been gone 15 minutes, and they hadn’t gotten far — maybe three or four miles, Mr. Hunt said.
Angela Fleming-Good, Mrs. Hunt’s oldest daughter of three, was on her way home — driving in the eastbound lanes of U.S. 20 on Monday — when she saw the aftermath of the crash: The car and truck were obliterated, and swarms of first responders were processing the scene.
“It was dark, and I couldn’t tell anything,” said Mrs. Fleming-Good, 37, of Green Springs. “All I could see was a car and a truck.”
She slowed down, she said, to show respect for the victims.
She knew her mother and nephew were headed that way and called Mrs. Hunt’s cell phone. No answer, but if her mother and Zachary were shopping, she wouldn’t expect an answer.
“When she didn’t answer a second time, I’m like, ‘OK, what’s going on here?’ ”
It wasn’t until she got a call to go to the hospital that she realized the crash involved her family.
“I don’t wish that on anybody for that to happen,” she said. “I’m thankful my sisters didn’t see it.”
Mr. Hunt was at home when his middle daughter, Michelle White, called him to say Zachary was in the hospital.
“I got over there and had no clue where Kay was at,” he said. “Finally a state police officer showed up and told me where she was at. It about killed me. It hurts.”
Sergeant Burgos said that Starks’ family told authorities they did not know where he had been during the day, nor where he was going or coming from.
Starks’ family could not be reached for comment.
Officials don’t know where Starks got onto the highway, although there is “adequate signage” to alert potential wrong-way drivers, the sergeant said. He also said alcohol could be a factor in the crash, although officials won’t know for sure until blood-test results are available in “the next few months.”
Mrs. Hunt, her husband, and three daughters moved from West Liberty, Ky., to Fremont in 1987.
Only a few months after relocating, Mrs. Hunt took a job at Bethesda Care Center in Fremont, where she worked most recently as a laundry and housekeeping supervisor.
“I asked her, ‘Honey, one of these days are you gonna retire?’ ” Mr. Hunt recalled. “She said, ‘Well, honey, I will probably work as long as I can go.’ She loved to work.”
Every weekday, Mrs. Hunt had a standing lunch date with her youngest daughter, Scottyee Barney, who works on the business side of the Bethesda operation.
“Everybody loved her,” Mrs. Barney, 32, said. “She was Mama Kay to them.”
Mrs. Hunt’s family plans to be together for Christmas and carry on the best they can — it’s what she would have wanted, they said.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” Mrs. Fleming-Good said. “Like she’ll be coming in the door any minute.”
Added Mr. Hunt: “I think we had a good life together, I just wish it had been longer. It wasn’t always hunky dory … but the last 26 years I think we got along real good. The first 13 was a little bit rocky, but we worked it out, and we stayed together.
“I really loved her, and I know she loved me too.”