Valdosta Daily Times

April 4, 2013

Farmer shares safety advice

Brush with death teaches life lesson

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Valdosta farmer Gary O’Neal has a message he would like to spread to the farming community — be careful on the highway!

O’Neal’s relatively new $40,000 Kubota 9000 tractor was totaled Monday afternoon when a van rear-ended him, snapping the rear axle in two and twisting the body beyond repair.

O’Neal, 60, was moving the tractor from his farm on Highway 84 to another piece of property less than two miles away, he said. He had his flashers on and was trying to be as safe as possible.

“We usually have someone follow in a truck behind me, but we didn’t have enough people to do that that day,” O’Neal said. “And usually if I see someone is coming fast, I get off the road.”

O’Neal was nearing Agri Supply when a car passed him on the left, and a van that was following closely behind the car slammed into the back of the tractor, he said.

“It about cut the tractor in two,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal’s head hit the top of the tractor, and he remembers the tractor flipping over at least once before coming to rest, he said. He was thrown from the tractor and landed in the grass off of the shoulder, relatively unscathed.

The van came to a stop about 200 yards further down the highway, O’Neal said, shedding parts into the highway. There were children in the van with the driver, and none of them were injured, he said.

O’Neal went to the emergency room for a CAT scan and to check for internal injuries. He plans to return to the hospital soon to double-check that the aches and pains in his abdomen aren’t serious.

Apart from a sore neck and lower back, O’Neal was moving around his farm with relative ease Wednesday evening.

“I’m very fortunate I didn’t get killed,” O’Neal said. “I’m really lucky; no, not lucky—blessed.”

As he was flying through the air, O’Neal recalls the sensation of being caught by an unseen force and laid carefully down, he said.

“The Lord saved me,” he said. “I thank God I’m still here. My life was was saved for a reason.”

Perhaps that reason is to tell drivers to slow down, pay attention to the road and watch for tractors, and to tell farmers that it’s much safer to move the tractor to the next field using a trailer.

“I just hope when other farmers see this, they’ll think twice about getting their tractors out on the road,” O’Neal said. “I won’t ever go out on the highway again. It’s easy to cut the flashers on, but it’s safer to use a trailer.”

O’Neal has been driving his tractor down the highway between his farms since 1978, he said, but “the world is so fast now,” it has become simply too unsafe.