RALEIGH - A pair of N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles employees were honored by N.C. Transportation Secretary Joey Hopkins with an Extra Mile Award this afternoon during the N.C. Board of Transportation meeting for taking heroic actions in response to a 24-car pileup this summer.
What had been a typical day at work for several DMV employees quickly changed as smoke filled the air on Interstate 795 in northern Wayne County. Marleen Camara and Sheila Sloan both work in the Driver Services section of DMV and live in the Goldsboro area. They have been carpooling to and from work at the DMV headquarters in Rocky Mount each day for the last seven months.
Marleen was driving that day and as they crossed into Wayne County on I-795, she noticed wheat fields near the roadway were being burned. “I turn to Shelia,” recalls Marleen, “and I say ‘wow, that is a big fire.’”
Suddenly the wind shifted and “it was like a fog,” said Sheila, “you couldn’t see anything.”
“It was like somebody put a white towel over my windshield,” said Marleen. She barely missed running into a vehicle that was stopped in the middle of two lanes. She then glanced in her side mirror and saw another coworker’s vehicle strike the median barrier.
Michael Newsome, NCDMV’s Director of Driver Services, was also traveling home to the Goldsboro area at the same time. “I couldn’t even see the lines in the road,” he said. His vehicle was one of the first ones impacted in what ended up being a 24-car pileup. “I could hear the cars piling up.”
Marleen and Sheila safely pulled off to the side of the road and ran into the chaos to try to help those possibly injured in the wreckage, which included their coworker.
“I just ran into the smoke to go help people,” said Marleen. “It was a mess, cars piled up against each other, we saw two cars on fire.”
Director Newsome was not surprised two of his employees would take such action to help him and others, even at their own peril. “One thing I know is they would have done the same for anyone – employees or the public – because we are public servants.”
When asked about her actions that day, Sheila humbly responds, “Most people do come together to help one another. All you’re thinking about is ‘this person is in need, and I need to help them.’”
Ever the optimist, Marleen says, “There’s still good in humanity because everybody came together and was helping each other.”
Download a broadcast quality video of the interviews with the employees here.