Roush Speaks About Accident
April 27, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
But after a crash in an airplane nearly took his life eight days ago, Roush has been humbled. From a hospital bed in Birmingham, Ala., Roush made his first public comments via a teleconference with reporters.
Still under medication and in pain from the severe accident, Roush managed to crack a few jokes, thank many people and talk about his recovery.
But an emotional Roush also did his best to hold back tears when he made a halting description of the crash and of the man who saved his life, ex-Marine Larry Hicks.
“I guess if there hadn’t been this improbable set of circumstances …” Roush said, his voice stopping. “They say you have to be just on time to have an accident and you have to be surrounded by the right people and the right circumstances to survive it. I’ve certainly had that going for me.
“I’m certainly humbled by what happened. I don’t think anybody wears pride to the point of feeling immune to things.”
The crash happened April 19 on his 60th birthday. Roush flew his restored P-51 Mustang World War II fighter plane to some a birthday celebration near Troy, Ala. Some friends gave him the chance to pilot an ultra-light airplane, and Roush was at the controls when the crash happened.
“Since I have no recollection today, I can’t know if I had a problem with the aircraft or if I had a pilot problem or judgment in not seeing the wire,” Roush said. “But I ran into a wire that was by some estimation 75 feet off the ground and went into 8 feet of water across the pond from Larry Hicks’ house.”
Hicks is a retired Marine who works for Forestry Service, but he’s been trained in underwater rescue.
“His health hasn’t been good,” Roush said. “Life hasn’t been good to Larry Hicks. He’s suffering under nose and throat cancer. But he did have this training in his military life in his 33 years in the military. He was trained to go down and get pilots of out of airplanes that might have run off the end of carriers or the end airfields.
“Thank God for Larry. Larry Hicks. How could that be?”
Roush then paused to collect himself, perhaps to wipe away a tear.
“Larry Hicks told his wife that he loves her,” Roush said slowly, pausing again to hold back tears. “He said he’d do whatever he can, so he jumped in the water with this fool who just crashed his airplane upside-down in 8 feet of water with no telling how much high-octane gas was in the water. … He had to dive through it to get to me underneath.
“He got his boat first and paddled out there. He dives down once, doesn’t find anything. He dives down twice, and it’s a lot to ask. The third time he goes down, and he finds Jack … in a harness ... that he was familiar with, I guess. … he pulls Jack to the surface and pulls me up onto the wing, which is upside down, and executes CPR.”
Roush didn’t exactly say it, but Hicks saved Roush’s life.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do for Larry Hicks,” Roush said, “but we’re certainly got to think about him in our prayers.”
Roush was then taken to a local hospital and finally to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center. He had a broken left leg, a collapse lung, rib fractures and a head injury.
He was in bad shape, so bad that Dr. Samuel Windham said “that less than five people out of 100 would have survived similar injuries.”
But he did survive, though his memory was slow to come back. Roush said he doesn’t remember anything about the crash or of the next several days.
“My first memories are of the things that happened on the 25th,” Roush said. “The doctor can tell you, since he had contact with me, (emergency workers) had to tame and chain down the beast. They have some work to do, and they didn’t have time to put up with my foolishness. So they induced a coma. They reset my bone, and they kept my lung from being collapsed.”
Mark Martin, Roush’s first Winston Cup driver, visited Roush on Monday and told of Roush telling jokes and writing notes to him because he still had a tube in his throat. But Roush doesn’t remember it.
He did recall Martin’s second visit was certainly appreciative of all Martin has done through the years.
“He has been a partner of mine in building Roush Racing,” Roush said. “He’s been a pillar. He epitomizes, like Richard Petty does, what people would like to think their drivers would be.”
Windham said Roush still has some recovery work to do. The leg fracture will take two to three months to heal, with his lung, head and rib injuries should take four to six weeks.
“He’s very far ahead,” Windham said. “We’ve all been very impressed with his speed of recovery in overcoming these injuries. Certainly, he’s very tough, he’s had wonderful support.”
Roush said he still has gasoline and water parcels in his lungs that he’s trying to clear. But he feels “pretty good actually. … On a scale of 1 to 10 I’m about an 8 right now.”
Roush wasn’t sure when he’ll be back at the race track.
“I’m sure it’ll be based on the pain throttle that’s working on me,” Roush said. “I’d hoped to make it to Richmond, but when the get the schedule of rehab on me, it’ll probably be too busy for me. When I get into the serious rehab and what things they can give me away from the hospital, I’ll have a better idea if it. I don’t know if it’s three days, three weeks or three months. I’m hoping in a month to be in the hospital a couple times a week.
I’m going to need some help getting around. I’m gonna be a wheelchair a while.”
Roush said the crash won’t take away his passion for flying.
“I’ll still fly, as soon as they’ll let me, as soon as they decide my leg’s OK,” Roush said.
He misses being at the track, joking that he misses getting beat up in the NASCAR hauler.
“I haven’t been up in the NASCAR trailer for more than two weeks now,” Roush said. “That means one side of my head or the other is not hurting. Either I beat my head against the wall or I go up there and get beat up.”
He plans on watching Sunday’s race. “if the local FOX affiliate cooperates.”
As for the crash itself, Roush blames no one but himself, saying he “got outside of my zone of comfort.”
“I was out of my element, and I ran out of time out of my element,” Roush said. “I had no options. By whatever means I got into that wire, that wire, at that time, interrupted the airplane’s ability to fly. The airplane went upside down, and I went into the water with fuel, with a hot engine.”
“Risk management was my flaw here. Whether something went wrong or I made a mistake, I can’t be sure. I’ll probably never know. I need to get back into a zone of not making leaps of faith from where I am to things I might do or might be that have been a standard for me all of my adult life.”
He’s been through a lot in the last week or so, and he’s thankful he still has plenty of life left in him.
And he’s especially thankful for Hicks, who he hasn’t seen since the crash. But he’ll see Hicks soon.
“I’ve got a big hug for him,” Roush said.