A Sussex County paramedic and an 82-year-old patient were killed early Tuesday when the ambulance they were riding in swerved to miss a deer and smashed into a tree.
"We are having our worst day," said Glenn Luedtke, Emergency Medical Services director, while choking up Tuesday and nearly unable to speak. "We are a family."
Killed were paramedic Stephanie L. Callaway, 31, and patient Betty J. Hall, both of Lewes. Callaway was in the rear of the ambulance attending to Hall.
The ambulance, based at the Mid-Sussex Rescue Center near Millsboro, was heading east on Del. 24, taking Hall from a Long Neck-area nursing home to Beebe Medical Center in Lewes. Its lights and sirens were on.
When a deer darted out into the road about 2:40 a.m., the ambulance driver swerved and the right wheels left the pavement and went into soft dirt, state police said.
The rear of the 2005 Ford ambulance struck a tree, creating a large gash on the right side of the vehicle before it hit other trees.
Hall and emergency medical technician Brice H. Hickman, 47, of Dagsboro, were thrown from the vehicle. Ambulance driver Michael E. Wissman, 34, of Frankford, also was injured.
Hickman and Wissman were being treated at Beebe Medical Center.
The area is heavily wooded and known for deer running across the road.
Police don't yet know how fast the ambulance was going. State police Maj. Randall Hughes said the weather was not a factor.
The crash occurred near a Lewes and Rehoboth joint fire company substation. An ambulance on the way back from another call was first on the scene.
Counselors were on hand at paramedic headquarters to talk with co-workers, and duty assignments were being adjusted to accommodate medics who had been close to Callaway.
Two staff members have been assigned to help Callaway's family with whatever they need, Luedtke said.
County flags were at half-staff until further notice. Luedtke wore a black band around his paramedic badge Tuesday.
Callaway began her career with the Kent County paramedic program in 2001, and joined Sussex County in 2003. In addition to her paramedic duties, she was a field training officer and public information officer.
A Georgetown native, she attended Delaware Technical & Community College and recently earned her bachelor's in emergency medical services management from George Washington University.
She is survived by her husband, Steve, a deputy state fire marshal, and two young children.
Funeral arrangements had not been set Tuesday.
Her colleagues said Callaway was easy to talk to and always kept on the sunny side of things. Luedtke called her a mentor for younger paramedics.
"Stephanie was the type of person, no matter the situation, who would smile and respond, 'It's all good,' " said fellow paramedic Joseph P. Hopple.
Sussex County has received offers of aid from paramedics in New Castle, Kent, Caroline and Worcester counties and from Ocean City, Md., Luedtke said.
Bill Tobin, president of the Sussex County firefighters association, said emergency responders were up all night dealing with the crash and aftermath.
"It's been a very sad morning," Tobin said.
The crash occurred near the end of the EMTs' 24-hour shift, from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m., Luedtke said. But Callaway was working a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, he said.
Officials did not know if Callaway had been wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, Luedtke said. Paramedics are required to be strapped in when not working with a patient.
"Some of the time you're strapped in, and some of the time you're not," Luedtke said. "We've all been thrown around in the back of these at one time or another."
Tuesday's crash was the second fatal accident in Sussex County involving an ambulance in six months. In January, three emergency medical workers were injured when an SUV struck the side of their ambulance near Angola. The driver of the SUV was killed.
One member of that ambulance crew, Sussex County paramedic John R. Schmitt, was thrown from the vehicle. Also injured were Millsboro Fire Company EMTs Frank DeFord and Mercedes Berry.
"It's a dangerous profession, whenever you get into a vehicle that has lights and sirens on," Luedtke said.
News Journal reporter Damian Giletto contributed to this story. Contact Dan Shortridge at 856-7373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.