Editor’s Note: Throughout the year, West Virginia University tells the stories of its students – the trials, triumphs and transitions that accompany college life. This piece tells the story of how three students came to the rescue of a hit-and-run victim, and others have responded in similar situations this semester, belying many popular stereotypes of today’s college students.
They heard the thud first, and then the laughter, loud and maniacal.
Zev McCarty, Ian Alpert and Paul Jones glanced at each other, startled for only a moment. It was after 2 a.m. on Halloween morning in Sunnyside, the part of town populated by West Virginia University students. Probably some kids playing a prank, they thought. They ignored it.
Until they realized the odd sound wasn’t laughter – it was terror.
“What the hell just happened?” they asked each other as they bolted up Beverly Avenue, toward the screaming.
There, in the woods between the Grand Central Business Station and Sunnyside Superette, lay Megan Collins, a WVU freshman who had been trying to walk home. The thud they heard was a car slamming into her body, picking her up off the sidewalk on University Avenue and hurling her 15 feet into the trees.
McCarty reached her first. He immediately propped his leg against her body, to keep her from slithering down the slope where she had landed, and wrapped his hands around her head, to steady her neck.
He could tell she was in bad shape. She’s been knocked out of her shoes. Blood ran out of her mouth and her nose and, when he touched her legs, she screamed louder.
“Talk,” he ordered her, trying to keep her conscious.
Alpert and Jones ran for help. They didn’t have their cell phones, but they found a group of students who did. They called 911. And they waited.
Megan Collins didn’t know it. McCarty, Alpert and Jones didn’t know it. But this to-the-rescue kind of benevolence would repeat itself in the WVU family in the months to come.
In November, students would call 911 for a man who stumbled onto the porch of their rental house after he’d been stabbed.
In December, three students would spend the night at the hospital, caring for the wife of a retired WVU professor who suffered a fatal heart attack while he drove home from a basketball game.
Students who could have turned their heads and walked away, ignoring what they’d seen or heard, instead sprang into action. Maybe it’s adrenaline, maybe it’s instinct, maybe it’s a Mountaineer spirit. But it’s not unusual, according to the University’s assistant vice president for communications Becky Lofstead.
“I’ve worked at WVU for more than 20 years, and have seen first-hand the incredible acts of kindness and compassion displayed by our students,” she said. “From coming to the aid of someone who is ill, to helping build a home for a needy family, to cleaning up flood-ravaged areas of our state, and raising money to purchase a wish for an ill child – there are countless ways our students reach out and give back every day.”
On that Halloween morning when police and paramedics arrived at the scene, Alpert says he his friends simply did “what we could.” They led paramedics through the woods to Collins and held back branches as they tended to her. She had broken bones in her face and legs. She had passed out at least once while McCarty held her.
But days later, when Alpert visited her at Ruby Memorial Hospital, emotionally, she seemed healthy. They talked about school and engineering (they’re both planning careers in the field). Alpert met Collins’ grateful parents. And he told her to keep in touch.
Though she had to drop most of her fall semester classes and she’s still in a wheelchair, she plans to return to campus in the spring and graduate to crutches to get around.
As for McCarty, Alpert and Jones, the three WVU seniors and US Air Force ROTC cadets will graduate next year and join the military where, McCarty figures, they might just encounter more situations like this one.
By April Johnston
WVU News & Information Services
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