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Highway worker lucky to be alive

Sara Noyes helps her husband, Doug Noyes, to a medical appointment at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford Monday. Noyes, a highway construction worker, was hit by a semi while working on the shoulder of Interstate 5 Nov. 6. [Mail Tribune/Jamie Lusch]

When highway construction worker Doug Noyes Jr. was hit by a semi Nov. 6 on Medford’s Interstate 5, it was almost immediately reported on social media that he was DOA — dead on arrival.

It was a good thing his wife, Sara Noyes, had already had a brief phone call with her husband.

“He called me, and he could barely talk. He told me he got hit by a semi. At first, I assumed he meant he’d been hit while he was in his truck. He was like, ‘No, it hit ME!’ And then he just kind of hung up,” said the wife.

On local social media sites, users were reporting based on emergency scanner traffic that the construction worker of 23 years had been killed and that the truck had not been identified or apprehended.

Part of the narrative — that the truck had not stopped or been identified after hitting Noyes — proved true.

Noyes, 45, was setting up a construction zone at milepost 29 southbound, a few hours after sunset, when the tractor trailer failed to move into the slow lane while passing construction vehicles. The Sams Valley resident and father of four was decked out in his usual reflective gear, following all safety protocols, he said, keeping his head “on a swivel.”

“It wasn’t quite a construction zone, I guess, because they hit me when I was setting up the very first sign for the closure. I’m there on the shoulder with my four-ways and my amber strobe lights on. We’re lit up like a cop car, but it’s amber colored,” said Noyes, recovering at home after being released from the hospital Friday.

“I had pulled over and got out. My passenger got his sign he was putting up. My sign was in a different location because it’s a different size. Unfortunately, I had to briefly turn my back to traffic, since I had to square up with my truck to grab the sign.”

Noyes said the last thing he remembers seeing, prior to sustaining serious injury to his back, including damaged vertebra and an open wound “the size of a small watermelon,” was seeing a pair of headlights coming his way.

“The truck driver almost hit a vehicle that was 300 feet behind me. They were sitting there as a pre-warning, also with strobe lights on. They came within inches of hitting the cab or our co-workers,” Noyes recalled.

“They just remember that it all happened a few seconds after they were reacting to, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy almost hit us.’ I guess immediately after that, he overcorrected and swerved almost into the fast lane and came back into the slow lane right at me.

“By the time I noticed what had happened, I was feeling it happen, so I never got a visual on the truck or any tags. He pinned me against the bed of my truck. I could feel the length of his trailer just rub down my back,” he added.

“It hit me so hard. As the last of the trailer hit me, it threw me onto the freeway in the middle of the slow lane. I tried to stand up, and I couldn’t. I kind of rolled toward the shoulder. As soon as I was onto the shoulder, a car drove right by, so I was just grateful that I was able to move … grateful there wasn’t another car right behind the truck driver.”

While his co-worker and friend dialed 911, Noyes felt a sense of worry that his wife of 21 years would hear of the accident and assume the worst.

Oregon State Police confirmed the 911 call came in just after 8 p.m. Capt. Kyle Kennedy said the “dynamics of the crash” were such that the truck driver “doesn’t even know that a person was struck.” Noyes said he had been told that one of the officers who responded to the scene still has the mirror from the semi, which has not been located, in the trunk of his patrol car.

Sara Noyes said the misfortune of friends and family reading on Facebook that her husband had been killed just added to the stress.

“Yep. Facebook was how my mom and sister found out that … that he was dead,” said the wife.

“I texted my friend, and I said, ‘If you see a post, don’t tell me about it because I’m here at the hospital waiting on Doug.’ I didn’t know what to think, so it was really scary. And they wouldn’t let me see him at first.”

Doug Noyes said his incident wasn’t the first accident, or near miss, he’s witnessed in a decade of doing road construction. This past Fourth of July, a car crashed into an existing “crash zone” while paramedics were tending to drivers in a previous accident, nearly hitting Mercy Flights workers.

Gary Leaming, spokesman for Oregon Department of Transportation, said the state’s “Move Over” campaign is geared at reducing the types of accidents that nearly killed Noyes.

“Working on the roads, on the interstate, is very dangerous work. Five hundred people are injured in Oregon every year in our work zones, and five of those are killed,” Leaming said.

“Just from everything we know, it sounds like he was really lucky to be alive. In general, working on the road on the interstate is very, very dangerous work. The whole point of the Move Over effort in Oregon is that if you see flashing lights on the road — police, fire, tow trucks or ODOT workers — you are required by law to either get over into the other lane or slow down. Things happen very quickly on the highway, and we want drivers to be focused, alert and not under the influence of their cellphone or any substances.”

While discharged from hospital care on Friday, Noyes said he’s required to go back every two to three days to have his wound cleaned out. He’s also using a “wound vac,” and doctors are waiting to see if his skin will grow enough to cover the opening.

“I ended up breaking two of my vertebrae, but I guess that’s kind of minor compared to the wound on my back. The trailer just went down my entire back and peeled my skin open. We’re trying to get the tissue to heal and grow back together,” he said.

“The doctors are saying there’s a pretty likely chance I’ll have to have another surgery. The part that stresses me out right now is I know workman’s comp will give me something, but I’m hearing it’s only a percentage. Not going back to work is really stressful for me. That’s what I do. I go to work to take care of my family. It’s a helpless feeling knowing that I won’t be able to do that for a while.”

Noyes’ sister-in-law created a GoFundMe to help the family. His wife was set to start a new job just after the accident occurred, but that has been delayed due to needing to be home to care for her husband.

“I’m just trying to stay positive. That’s the best way of looking at it because it could’ve been so much worse,” Noyes said.

“My co-worker that stepped up to help me, he was on the other side of the truck. I can’t help thinking that ... if the semi had hit our truck with more force, it would have pinned our truck against him. As it was, he still got plastered with glass and plastic.”

Noyes said he’s hopeful that anyone who hears his story will realize the importance of being alert and following traffic laws while driving.

“We see people all the time on their phones, driving distracted. Or they’re so entitled and just ignorant. We’ll have cones up, and they’ll try to drive around them,” he added.

“It’s not that hard to slow down and stay off your phone. It could mean the difference between life and death for someone.”

To view the gofundme page, see gofundme.com/f/support-the-noyes-family?qid=e1a2b2a97fb0fd6983d664fa1d69bee6 As of Wednesday evening, the campaign had raised $2,210 toward a $10,000 goal.

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.

Sara Noyes helps her husband, Doug Noyes, out of the car at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]