- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - “. Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night

Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”

Hank Williams sang it.

Steve George claims to have lived it.

He was 18 when the horrible accident happened 45 years ago, about 8 p.m. the night of Dec. 3, 1970. He was driving his dad’s 1965 Chevrolet Impala south on Leonard Springs Road, down a hill approaching a T-intersection with May Road.

George put his foot on the brake pedal. It went to the floor, not even slowing the car, which kept gaining speed. He put the car in reverse, then in park in a desperate attempt to stop, before it crossed May Road, soared 40 feet through the air and then down an embankment into a water-filled quarry hole as George shouted for his passengers to roll down their windows.

There was no guardrail.

The four-door Chevy landed upside down 20 feet below the surface on a stone ledge. Panic ensued as the four teenagers inside the car struggled to get free. “Everybody was screaming. It was so dark, I couldn’t see anything. I just remembered crawling out a window in the back seat.”

Stephen Robbins, a 20-year-old Indiana University student and son of a quarry worker, was playing basketball in the driveway of his May Road home when he heard the crash, ran over and fished 18-year-old George out of the frigid water. George had a gash on his head and was in shock.

George’s 16-year-old brother, Billy Joe George, was a passenger in the car that night. He drowned. Twin sisters Diana and Deana Patton, who lived with their parents and siblings on May Road, drowned, too. They were 15, attended Grace Baptist Temple and left behind three sisters, a brother and their parents, Robert and Ruth Patton.

Steve George somehow survived. Indiana State Police divers Tom Cox and Forrest Cooper retrieved the bodies of the 16th, 17th and 18th traffic accident fatalities for that year.

The front page of the Dec. 4, 1970, Herald-Telephone newspaper (now The Herald-Times) featured Bloomington High School yearbook photos of each of the dead students and a picture from the scene showing the car hooked to a crane cable and being lifted out of the quarry. In the background, a man lights a cigarette.

A few days after the accident, Wayne George took his son, Steve, to the lot where the car had been towed after it was salvaged from the quarry to show him the busted brake cylinder. It hadn’t been his fault. Mechanical failure was the cause.

“Then he said, ‘Son, show me how you got out of the car.’ And I said it was through that back passenger side window that was about half way down and he said there was no way I could come out through that window. I said, ‘Dad, God must of pulled me out, that’s all I know.’”

They left it at that. At the time, the 18-year-old was full of grief and remorse, the weight of the death of his brother and the Patton girls almost more than he could bear.

“After it happened, I wanted to commit suicide. I told my grandmother, we called her Granny, that I wanted to die and to be with my brother. I felt guilty - how come my brother and the twins died and I didn’t?”

Lola Harmon held her grandson’s face, a hand on each side, forcing him to look her in the eye. “‘No, no you won’t. We’ve lost one, and the Pattons have lost two. No.’ And she told me I would have to face this all again some time in my life. And now, I have.

“I have seen heaven’s light.”

The details, he said, revealed themselves over time as his attempts to keep the incident in the past slipped. Now, 45 years later, George wants to relate what happened that night.

“I think God wants me to tell my story,” George said. “A lot of people will say I’m full of it. And they won’t believe me.”

And that does not concern him.

Worshippers at Linton’s First Christian Church thought they were watching a staged event one recent Sunday when George walked up to the front of the church and climbed the four steps to the pulpit area. He had something to say, a testimonial to offer to God.

“I tried for seven weeks to go up and give my testimony, but I never could. Then one Sunday, I was standing in the back, and I walked up with a Bible in my hand, before the preacher could even get started with his message,” George said. “I interrupted, and I told him I was sorry, but that I had to speak.

“I told them how God got ahold of me under the water that night. I had water in my lungs and water in my mouth and I just gave up and I knew I was going to die and I accepted that and prayed to God that if I should die that night to let my body float up to the surface so they could find us.”

He recalls hearing a voice.

“He told me to open my eyes, and I did, and I saw the most beautiful light you ever saw, and I knew it was the light to heaven. And then it all went black.”

After the church service, Pastor Archie Ellett assured people that George’s testimony was genuine and unrehearsed. “People were asking if that all was staged,” George recalled, “and he said, ‘No, no, that was from the heart,’ that God had walked me up there.”

George is 63 now, and got on with life after the quarry accident. He moved to New Mexico and made good money working in the oil fields there. Family members followed for the steady work and high wages. His father died in New Mexico and his mother, Frances George, still resides there. George and his wife, Rita, moved back to Indiana and settled in Greene County in 1991, more than a decade after he was injured in an oil rig explosion.

He has four kids, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Wednesday afternoons are spent volunteering at the Son Shine Shop thrift store in Worthington. “I get seizures from the explosion, but I take it easy and try to do what I can,” he said.

George is easy to spot there at the store. He’s the guy wearing the Jesus baseball cap.

___

Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1THa2R5

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