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Rep. Barry Loudermilk looks back on two life-threatening events in one year

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Barry Loudermilk

Barry Loudermilk

Between nearly being shot at a GOP softball team practice in June and a horrific car wreck this September, Congressman Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, has plenty to be thankful for this holiday season.

“My first thought goes back to a scripture in the Bible that says God will give you life more abundantly, and we’ve had an abundance of lifetime experiences this year, that’s for sure,” Loudermilk said with a laugh, “from highs to lows. Coming into the year, beginning my second term with a new speaker of the House, with a new vision, new committee assignments... and then experiencing even these two incidents.”

The first of the two “incidents” Loudermilk referenced happened about 7 a.m. June 14 during a practice of the Republican baseball team at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia. James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old man from Illinois, fired on GOP congressmen. Among those critically injured was House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

On the afternoon of the shooting, Loudermilk said had Scalise not been on the team, the event would not have had the benefit of Scalise’s two-person security detail and “would’ve been literally a bloodbath, because they were the only two returning fire” in the early moments of the incident.

Hodgkinson ultimately injured four in the incident before being shot by police after a 10-minute shootout. He died later that day.

More than six months later, Loudermilk still remembers being so close to the shooting.

“I could hear the bullet go by my head, seeing bullets hit around me and watching as I thought one of my teammates (Scalise) dying in front of me. Thankfully, he lived, which really has been a highlight of it,” Loudermilk said. “Everybody who was on that field is still here today — only the shooter is gone.”

Wreck

While the shooting was a close call for Loudermilk, he and his wife, Desiree, were injured three months later in a car wreck.

This was the scene in September when Congressman Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, and his wife got into a wreck outside Knoxville, Tennessee on their way back to Washington, D.C. Their car was hit from behind, causing the Loudermilks’ car to leave the road and flip several times.

“I’d go through two more baseball shootings before I do this again,” Loudermilk said. “This, I had no control.”

The crash occurred early Sept. 12. A day earlier, the storms of Hurricane Irma traveled through Georgia. The Loudermilks left from their home in Cassville late Monday in an effort to get back to Washington, D.C., Tuesday night.

“I told my wife, ‘Let’s just drive to Knoxville and get a hotel and spend the night, and that way we can beat the Knoxville traffic the next morning and make it to votes Tuesday evening,’” he said. “It was just after midnight. I’m in the right-hand lane on I-40, just east or just west of Knoxville, (and) I never saw or heard anything, I knew I was doing 60 because I set the cruise control and the speed limit was 65 ... all of a sudden, we just got launched from the air, somebody impacted us from the rear, the car immediately went sideways and started flipping.”

The impact of the two vehicles caused every airbag to deploy, Loudermilk said, preventing him from seeing anything happening, though he knew their car had flipped and rolled.

“That was definitely the most horrifying thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” he said.

The pair had to be pulled out through the top of their car. The crash gave Loudermilk back and neck injuries, while his wife suffered a fractured sternum.

“She’s had some back and neck issues as well, but that healing of the sternum was the biggest thing. You have to get over that before you can start working on the other issues, but both of us are tremendously better,” he said earlier this month. “I’m back to where I can start working out again, I go running in the morning, which I couldn’t do for a while. But the doctors have said an incident like that, as much trauma as we faced literally flipping down the interstate doing 60 mph when the car started flipping, that’s just a lot of trauma to your body and it could take up to a year to actually get over all of it.”

Being able to walk after the crash, however, is something Loudermilk considers a miracle, and a welcome one at that.

He and his wife spent the Christmas holiday with their three grown children and two granddaughters.

“We’re just thankful we’re here,” he said. “Especially around Christmastime, so thankful that we’re still there to be with our children and our grandchildren, and know that God apparently still has a purpose with my life, because He’s definitely intervened several times this year.”