Originally created 11/08/97

Prisoner rescues officers after crash



CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Prisoner Joseph Hall had a chance to flee when the patrol car he was riding in crashed down an embankment in heavy rain, injuring the two Georgia deputies taking him from Kentucky to Georgia.

Instead, he broke his foot kicking out a window so he could get to the interstate and find help.

"I told the officers, `I'm going to get help. Please believe me. I promise I'll be back as soon as I can,"' Mr. Hall told WTVC-TV in Chattanooga.

That promise may have saved the lives of Fayette County, Ga., Deputies Bill Cooper and Steve Borders, who were in stable condition Friday at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga.

Mr. Hall, 23, was in jail in Carrollton, Ky., for driving without a license when officers ran his name through a national crime database to see if he had other pending charges. They found he was wanted for theft in Fayetteville, Ga.

Deputies Cooper and Borders picked up Mr. Hall early Thursday and were near the GeorgiaTennessee border when their patrol car hydroplaned near the split of Interstates 24 and 59 about 8 p.m. Thursday.

Mike Borders said his brother, Steve, recalled little about the accident.

"All he remembers was they were on the guardrail, then they were airborne, and then he saw the trees coming toward him. He said he thought that was it," Mike Borders said.

The car, driven by Deputy Cooper, rolled down a 150-foot hill and stopped at a 45-degree angle, Mr. Hall said.

"It didn't seem like we were ever going to quit rolling," said Mr. Hall, a back-seat passenger. "I smelled gas and knew I had to get out of there."

Mr. Hall said he kicked out a back passenger window and crawled through. He reassured the trapped deputies, who were barely conscious, and climbed up the briar-covered embankment to get help.

Mr. Hall, who was not handcuffed and was wearing only a Tshirt and jogging pants, walked about a quarter-mile in the dark and rain, trying to wave down a motorist.

Someone called 911 from a cellular phone and authorities dispatched an ambulance. Mr. Hall flagged down the ambulance and led them to the car.

"He was their guardian angel," Georgia State Trooper James McConathy said. The car wasn't visible from the road so, without Mr. Hall, any rescue might have arrived too late, he said.

Deputy Cooper, 54, underwent surgery Friday on his broken arm. His family went back to Fayetteville after spending the night in Chattanooga and was not available to comment.

Deputy Borders, 47, suffered a concussion and severe swelling to the right arm and left eye, his brother said.

Mr. Hall, of Cynthiana, Ky., about 30 miles north of Lexington, said he and Deputy Cooper rode in the same ambulance and the deputy "kept on telling me thanks."

Mr. Hall was taken into custody by Dade County, Ga., sheriff's deputies, who held him until two more Fayette County deputies could pick him up on Friday.

Escaping never crossed his mind, Mr. Hall said. He said the charges against him weren't serious enough to do it, and he couldn't abandon two injured people.

And, he doesn't consider himself a hero.

"I'm just glad I got them out of there safe," he said.

Mr. Hall said the theft charge stemmed from an incident about a year ago when he took some tools from a former employer who wouldn't pay him.

"He got all his tools back," Mr. Hall said, but an arrest warrant was issued after Mr. Hall failed to appear in court on the charge.

Mr. Hall faces one to five years in jail. Fayette County Sheriff Randall Johnson said he will try to make sure Mr. Hall receives credit for assisting the deputies.

"For helping us out, we'll probably try to talk to the people about his case," he said. "He done a good deed."