ILA, Ga. ---Taking an employee of the year award is a big honor for anyone.
But for Madison County EMT Randy Saye, winning the Madison County Emergency Service Department's annual David "Pete" Fitpatrick Memorial Award is much more than a nod for a job well done.
It's a kind of redemption, and a milestone on a personal journey that began nearly 15 years ago, on March 2, 1993, when Mr. Saye was 24.
Married just 18 months before, Mr. Saye was driving a dump truck on rain-slicked U.S. Highway 29 south of Hull on a misty winter day. Ahead of him was a Jeep, and when the Jeep suddenly signaled and quickly slowed, Mr. Saye hit his brakes, which he had realigned just the day before.
Mr. Saye steered right toward the shoulder, then over-corrected, and the dump truck crossed over into oncoming traffic.
The truck plowed into a van carrying a group of senior citizens home from a church outing. Five of the 15 people in the van died on the scene, and two more died later, Mr. Saye said.
Mr. Saye saw some of the bodies tumble out of the van, and when he picked himself up off the floor of the truck's cab, the scene was "like a war zone," he said.
He wanted to help, to do something for the people strewn by the highway, but he didn't know what to do.
"I was helpless," he said.
That was the beginning of an agonizing personal odyssey for Mr. Saye.
"I went into depression, of course," Mr. Saye said. He couldn't work for a year.
"There's no telling where I might be today" if not for the support of his mother and his wife, Renee, he said.
He got counseling and took medication for years, Mr. Saye said. Mr. Saye had a hard time talking about that wreck, and it's still not easy today.
"It's always there. It's always in my mind," he said.
But he didn't hide.
Mr. Saye went to the hospital to see the survivors. He visited the families of all the people who died in the crash, and the people who survived it, he said.
"If it hadn't been for my pastor going with me, I don't know if I could have done it," he said.
The families didn't condemn him or hate him, but instead were warm and caring, Mr. Saye said.
"I never had a negative comment out of anybody," he said.
But Mr. Saye heard plenty of criticism from inside. He couldn't work for a year, couldn't drive.
"My wife basically forced me to get behind the wheel," Mr. Saye said. "One day she told me, 'You're going to drive, or we're not going.' "
He found a way to make a living when he built three chicken houses (now expanded to six) on family land north of Hull.
Mr. and Mrs. Saye also started a family.
"This is my life right here, these two," Mr. Saye said, sitting between son Austin, 11, and Heather, 7.
After all the support people gave as Mr. Saye put his shattered life back together, he felt more and more that he owed something.
A friend, Wesley Chandler, suggested he join the Ila Volunteer Fire Department, and Mr. Saye did.
"I felt like I was giving something back to the community, something that helped me," he said.
His fellow firefighters urged him to go further and get paramedic training.
"They just kept on, kept on," until Mr. Saye said, "All right, I'll try that," he said.
He took courses to be certified as an EMT, he started to work part time in 2004. In June, he will finish his third year as a full-time Madison County EMT.
In that time, he's seen some nasty wrecks.
But now, Mr. Saye can do something to help.
Mr. Saye doesn't do it for the money, said both Mr. Saye and his boss, Madison County Emergency Services Director Dwayne Patton.
"Randy, after (the 1993 wreck), pretty much devoted his life to making a difference. It's really in his heart to care for his fellow man. He wanted to do something so if anything like this happened again, he'd know what to do," Mr. Patton said. "I'm just proud of him. He's a very genuine, caring individual."
"I do this because I want to, not because I have to," Mr. Saye said.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
WHAT HAPPENED? Randy Saye was involved in a multiple-vehicle accident in 1993 in which several people died after his truck entered oncoming traffic.
WHAT DID HE DO? At the time of the accident, Mr. Saye said he felt helpless. Later, he chose to visit victims and their families in the hospital. But he sank into a depression.
HOW HAS HE RECOVERED? After going to counseling and taking medication, Mr. Saye listened to the suggestions of friends to join the volunteer fire department. He then received paramedic training and became an EMT.