When E.J. Brown left his office on Joor Road to head out for a maintenance call on Monday morning, the sky was clear.
But the storm came quickly.
“I went down Government (Street), took a left on Nicholson (Drive) and it was sprinkling,” said Brown, a maintenance manager for LSU’s bus service Tiger Trails. “I made it past the Chinese restaurant and then it looked like it was midnight.”
He said three minutes had passed from when the weather went from perfectly safe to apocalyptic.
A tree had fallen ahead of him, blocking traffic, and he was stopped at the corner of Nicholson and Van Buren streets. The rain started to pour and the winds picked up.
And then a massive oak tree came crashing down on his car, peeling off the roof and breaking all of the windows of his Ford Fusion.
“In those situations, you first think to yourself ‘I’m OK, I’m OK,’ and then I realized, ‘I’m definitely not OK,’ I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move,” he said.
When no one came to his assistance, Brown said, he had no choice but to find a way out of the car. He struggled with his seat belt for a few minutes and then twisted himself out of the passenger window — an opening made significantly smaller under the crushing weight of the oak tree.
Eventually, someone got out of their car and helped him call his wife and work to tell them about the accident. He said he waited several minutes in the pouring rain before an ambulance took him to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
Brown, who spoke with a reporter by phone from his hospital bed Monday evening, said he fractured five vertebrae and was still in tremendous pain. But he said he feels lucky to be alive. If he had been a few inches back, he said, the tree would have either killed him or knocked him out so that he couldn’t have pulled himself out of the car.
“A policeman told me that I needed to go to a church or a casino because I’m a very lucky person,” he said.
Brown lives with his wife of five years, Amber, in Lutcher, with their two young children, Abigail and Evalynn. Amber Brown, a Gramercy Elementary kindergarten teacher, was trapped in her school with her students when she got her husband’s phone call.
“He could hardly talk, he just said ‘I got hit by a tree,’ ” she said. “I broke down and started crying and ran to the office.”
Amber Brown couldn’t leave because her school was on lockdown during the tornado warning. She said she had to keep a level head because she was watching over scared young children piled into the hallways with their hands over their heads.
As soon as the tornado warning passed, her principal drove her to the hospital.
Brown said she was in disbelief over her husband’s injury, especially because she was in a car accident last year that damaged her own vertebrae. She said she had her final back surgery in September.
“He just got done nursing me back to health,” she said.
But ultimately, she’s just glad her husband is safe.
“We’re just glad he’s alive at this point,” she said. “Looking at those pictures, well I can’t hardly look at them. God is good. He’s beat up but he’s definitely alive.”