Wrestler, coach injured in fiery crash; mother puts out fire - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Wrestler, coach injured in fiery crash; mother puts out fire with Gatorade

The Branch family SUV burst into flames after it crashed near Frankfort. The Branch family SUV burst into flames after it crashed near Frankfort.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A Louisville mother came rushing to the rescue, saving her husband and two sons after the SUV her husband was driving crashed along Interstate 64 near Frankfort, Kentucky.

The crash happened just after midnight Sunday as the family was driving home to Louisville from Mount Sterling after the statewide middle school wrestling championship. Police say Jeff Branch, the assistant wrestling coach at Fern Creek High School,  lost control of his SUV and hit a semi truck.

"After hitting that tractor trailer, it cut across the median, and caused a second collision with another tractor trailer that hit virtually head-on," said Pat Melton with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department.

"His life is geared toward wrestling. He loves the sport," said lifelong friend and Fern Creek High School Head Wrestling Coach Mark Hitchings.

It's that sport that brought Hitchings and Branch together when they wrestled in high school.

Now they coach the Fern Creek team and Saturday marked a bright spot in their coaching career when it comes to Jeff's son Jared.

"Jared's hard work paid off. He was the middle school state champion," Hitchings said.

The Branch family had traveled to Mount Sterling for the statewide middle school championship.

Saturday night they were on their way back to Louisville, but at the Frankfort exit, police said Jeff lost control of his SUV. A fire then broke out after the SUV struck two semi trucks.

Jeff's wife was in another car right behind her husband and saw it all unfold. She came rushing to help while her husband and two sons were trapped inside.

"She couldn't get the doors open. Jeff, Derrick, and Jared were unresponsive and the car was on fire. She said she threw some snow, but there wasn't enough snow to put it out and she grabbed Gatorade bottles out of their cooler and poured Gatorade on the fire and put the fire out," Hitchings said.

The jaws of life had to be used to open the vehicle. Jeff had to be air lifted to a Lexington hospital.

"None of us knew if Jeff was going to live through this. We knew he had been put on the helicopter. There had been no indications that he was responsive or frankly alive and it was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of my life," Hitchings said.

Jeff turned the corner and gained consciousness, but suffered a broken nose, ribs, bones, and other internal injuries.

His two sons were treated and released.

"Thank God we're not here talking about a man who's dead," Hitchings said.

The crash remains under investigation.

While Coach Branch recovers, the Fern Creek High School wrestling team gears up for its regional meet on Saturday.

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