Pinned by a tree, Gastonia man wants to talk to his wife, so 911 operator connects them

Willie Vanover, 54, was trapped inside his house after an old tree fell.
Willie Vanover, 54, was trapped inside his house after an old tree fell. WBTV

One moment Willie Vanover was in his mobile home, sitting in his recliner, and talking with his mother on the phone. The next minute he was wondering whether he would live.

“All I could see coming right down in front of me was just gray. That was it,” Vanover told WBTV. “Then I felt – basically never-ending pain it seems like.”

The 54-year-old Gaston County man was trapped inside his house Friday afternoon after an old tree fell, split the mobile home, and pinned him underneath the tree, which landed across his legs.

“I did say a few words I can’t repeat right now, and I started screaming for help,” Vanover recounted, a day after he was released from the hospital.

Vanover said after he called 911, a young neighbor rushed over and waited until paramedics arrived. It would take about 40 rescuers more than an hour to cut the tree and maneuver around the unstable house to get to Vanover.

“They were just trying to keep me calm and trying to keep me from going into shock,” he said. “And explaining the whole way what they were doing.”

Vanover said once emergency personnel arrived on scene, he believed they would get him.

Dianne Vanover, on the other hand, couldn’t get to her husband.

Her mother-in-law called her and told her what happened. And after Willie called 911 for help, the operator patched him through to Dianne’s cellphone so he could talk to her.

She knew a tree landed on him. She knew he couldn’t move. She wanted to see him.

Dianne Vanover said when she arrived at the house, off Scott Drive in Gastonia, police and paramedics stopped her as she reached the halfway point of their driveway.

“I’m begging them to let me see him,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me see him.”

Dianne Vanover said she remembers crying. She remembers neighbors, whom she had never met, comforting her.

Paramedics kept updating her. Then rescuers got Willie Vanover.

“That they were going to medivac him, that they had to give him two units of blood,” Dianne Vanover said. “And that he went into cardiac arrest but they had him stable.”

Willie Vanover was flown to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Dianne Vanover said there was more waiting before she finally saw her husband.

She said doctors told them Willie Vanover had hairline fractures in some bones “in his thigh, tibia and also in kneecap.” He also had nerve and ligament damage in his foot.

“It was trial and error because of the way I was under the tree. I was stuck. They couldn’t see, so it was trial and error to get me out from under it,” Willie Vanover said. “In some ways it did hurt. I can understand that, but it was a very brave effort what they done.”

While time and medicine will patch him up, the Vanovers’ mobile home is lost.

“We have been given permission to go in and retrieve anything we can,” Dianne Vanover said, but the challenge is navigating the scene without crossing the tree.

The tree crash is forcing the couple to start all over with barely anything. They’re now renting a house in Belmont.

“I’m just thankful I still got my husband,” she said. “Material things can be replaced.”