Seven years and 50 surgeries later, Carly Morgan brought together dozens of individuals who saved her life after a harrowing crash

Once she could walk again, Carly Morgan began looking for the people who saved her life.

Morgan's life changed forever late one night in November 2012. It was then, while driving home from work in North Tampa, that a Ford F-150 truck slammed Morgan's Volkswagen Jetta head on. The truck's driver was drunk and ignored a stop sign.

The Volkswagon Jetta that had to be cut away to rescue Carly Morgan in November of 2012.
The Volkswagon Jetta that had to be cut away to rescue Carly Morgan in November of 2012.
The Volkswagon Jetta that had to be cut away to rescue Carly Morgan in November of 2012.

The men and women who jumped into action following the brutal crash are responsible for Morgan's survival and, later, for giving her the chance to thank her rescuers.

This story is part of Hillsborough County’s 50-for-50 Series, a historic review of some of the memorable events, dates, and people in the history of Hillsborough Fire Rescue, which was born on Aug. 27, 1973. Want to know more? Read additional stories that show the growth, bravery, and specialized operations of Hillsborough County’s largest department.

First-class rescue
Within minutes of the crash, Hillsborough County's 911 dispatch center took multiple calls reporting the crash. Just before midnight, the fire engine from Station 40 was dispatched to the scene, the first of many responders who rushed to Morgan's aid.

The engine and rescue truck (ambulance) from station 40 were first to arrive, but soon they were joined by crews from two more fire engines, a heavy rescue truck, a battalion chief, and a ladder truck designed for complicated extrications.

Battalion Chief Brian Muldowney, an acting captain at the time, was on Engine 40. "It was the most difficult extrication I have ever been involved in," said Muldowney, who had 17 years in fire service at the time of the crash. Morgan's car had crushed around her in a way that forced her rescuers to carefully separate her from metal pieces of the car as they slowly peeled it away.

"We had to bring in lots of additional resources," Muldowney said. A typical extrication can be done with one piece of extrication equipment (sometimes called the Jaws of Life). This extrication required four extrication devices all working in concert, he said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies and a medical helicopter crew also came to Morgan's aid at the scene that night.

Once Morgan was cut out from her crushed car, she was flown by helicopter to a local hospital. There, a team of doctors and nurses worked to address a slew of life-threatening injuries. Morgan suffered from broken forearms, ribs and a collarbone, shattered femurs, a crushed ankle, a fractured neck, and severe cuts and abrasions.

Carly Morgan in the hospital in the weeks after the crash that almost claimed her life.
Carly Morgan in the hospital in the weeks after the crash that almost claimed her life.
Carly Morgan in the hospital in the weeks after the crash that almost claimed her life.

She was bedbound for over two months after the crash. Once she was well enough to move, Morgan used a wheelchair for six months. From there, she worked with a team of physical therapists and surgeons. Morgan underwent 50 surgeries in the following years to correct the damage from the crash, and her work toward full recovery continues to this day.

First-class thank you
Morgan credits a multitude of responders for saving her life that night. Almost exactly seven years later, in 2019, Morgan organized a special event to get the individuals who helped her in the same room where she could thank them in person.

Morgan tracked down most of the people who came to her rescue at the crash site and those who cared for her afterwards. Over 50 guests accepted her invitation to a reception she organized in their honor.

Staff from Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Fire Rescue's Emergency Dispatch Center, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office attended. Helicopter medics, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) members, and others also came to the gathering.

Morgan recalls that some of the people she had reached out to were amazed she had survived the crash at all.

"We all presumed she died later," Muldowney said. "You rarely get to learn the outcomes, but in that case, we did not think she made it."

Morgan continues to be in awe of the expert aid she received and the care she was shown that horrible night so many years ago.

"They all had to do their job to the best of their ability and beyond in order for me to end up alive after all that, which is crazy," Morgan said. "So many pieces have to fall in the right direction for the end outcome to be for someone to survive and to be given a chance to start their life again."

Daniel Fagnan was on Engine 41 that night in 2012 and his role was limited to dropping off additional supplies for the rescue team. He didn't even see Morgan's car at the scene. He came to Morgan's event, though. "I honestly felt like I didn't belong [at the event]," he said. "I hardly did anything."

But that was Morgan's point all along. Without Fagnan's delivery of additional lights and cribbing (large professional wedges and blocks to help stabilize the vehicle during the extrication), the rescue may have failed. Morgan wanted to include all of the people who contributed, and the team that delivered the supplies that helped save her life were on the list.

Making a difference
Today, Morgan's health has come a long way. Though she continues to undergo physical therapy and will need additional surgeries, she stays active and advocates for preventing impaired driving.

For several years, Morgan has discussed the impacts of drunk driving at MADD events. She also gives presentations to incoming first responders with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. She knows that by telling her story - and sharing how so many responders simultaneously came to her aid - she is inspiring a new crew of heroes to work together to save lives.

Image Caption: Carly Morgan visits with first responders who all contributed to her rescue. She credits them with saving her life.
Last Modified: 11/21/2023, 4:00:34 PM

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