LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - One Lufkin man is using his extraordinary tale of survival to help others in need.
Charles Smith, 60, has not only survived one tragedy, but three. Jokingly, he admits he has nine lives, but his story is far from funny, he said. Yet, it's one, he hopes will inspire others.
"I just remember the lights and then the next thing I remember is a ringing sound. I really didn't know what hit us. All I knew was that things were different," Smith said.
On November 28, 1997, Smith was traveling back to a family members house in Crowley, Texas, which is in Tarrant County right outside of Dallas, when he noticed an erratic driver on the road.
"We got about halfway and I looked up not to the far off distance and saw a car, or a vehicle of some sort. I couldn't tell what it was that was driving very erratically," Smith said. "I remember trying to figure out what the car, again vehicle, was trying to do. It was driving from lane to lane on their side and then decided to come across into our lanes."
He had nowhere to go, he said, because he was sandwiched between other cars and couldn't leave his lane.
"I couldn't go to the left because I had traffic in that direction. I couldn't stop because I had traffic behind me and then I couldn't go to the right because there was traffic to the right of me," Smith said.
The next thing he knew, his body was wrapped in a sheet of metal.
"The dashboard was wrapped around me and it took a second before the magnitude of everything hit me. I looked off to my right and I saw my wife there," Smith said. "I tried to turn to the right to see if I could see the other ladies behind me and I felt a twinge in my leg and I knew something wasn't right. I called for my mother-in-law and I didn't get a response. I called for my sister-in-law and I didn't get a response."
Smith's wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law died in the accident, and he said at first, he didn't have much time to react to the realization that he was now alone.
"I heard somebody in the distance say 'the car's on fire.' I didn't know if it was or not, but I knew I needed to get somebody's attention," Smith said. "So I pushed on the door and the door didn't require much effort to open up. I pushed it open and with my left hand, I just signaled for someone to come over there."
Smith was rescued by two men who pulled him out of the wreckage. He said while he waited for an ambulance a young woman sat with him.
"The things that started going through my mind at the point, was of all things, I thought of my sister [Jackie].That all throughout my life, I had been injured and she was always there to take care of me," Smith said, " and I thought 'wow. You really did it up big. Probably the worst incident in your life and she's no where around."
Luckily, his sister was there in a way, Smith said, because the girl who stayed with him had the same name as his sister: Jackie. It was a moment, Smith said, where he felt some hope despite the fact that he had a broken hip and a leg injury that kept him in the hospital for a week. After that, his entire life changed.
"I was now a single father--had two teenage daughters at home to deal with. The only comfort I got with it was that my wife had done such a wonderful job on raising them," Smith said.
The year went by slowly, Smith said, as he had to relearn how to walk and adjust his life. Several years later, fate showed him a little happiness when he remarried.
"I thought my life had taken a new direction and little did I know that it had," Smith said.
His dream with his earlier wife was to take a cruise to Alaska, Smith said, so for Christmas of 2006, his new wife surprised him with cruise tickets to Alaska.
They were supposed to leave that coming May, but unfortunately, Smith's health took a turn for the worse. One night, Smith said he began to feel a burning sensation in his head. After several days of extreme pain, Smith went to go see a doctor.
"He comes in, takes one look at me, and looks at my eye and says 'you've got to get to Houston right now,'"Smith said.
He later found out that he had a brain aneurysm that was behind his left eye.
"I really didn't know if I was going to live or die. It was from all indications a pretty serious situation," Smith said.
The recovery process started all over again, he said. Until two years later, life dealt him another blow, a tennis sized tumor was found on his kidney. He said the news was terrible especially since his brother had died from cancer. Yet, he pulled through and is now leading a happy and healthy life. But, the tragedies he has faced, he said, have reminded him how important family is.
"The good Lord has got some reason for keeping me here. He keeps throwing me back when by all other indications I should've died," Smith said. "I believe it's to be able to share with other people that in the face of whatever troubles may beset you, that there is hope and there is reason for keeping on.
If you have a survivors story, or know of someone who has overcome a life challenge, email Michelle Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.