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UPDATED: Doctors hopeful as Tonya Murrell fights to recover from crash that claimed her husband, two others

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Murrell

Tonya Murrell and her late husband, Rick, dancing during happier times.

REIDSVILLE — Beloved teacher and mentor Tonya Murrell had improved enough on Tuesday to undergo a vital surgery after a July 9 car crash in Browns Summit left her with life-threatening injuries and claimed the lives of her firefighter husband and two others.

Murrell's three children, Lilly, 21, Kathryn, 19, and Levi, 17, have been at Murrell’s bedside at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro this week, stoic and praying she'd be deemed strong enough for doctors to perform surgeries to mend multiple injuries, a family member said.

And through it all, the kids have mourned the fresh loss of their father, Rick Murrell, 58, a Reidsville native and 32-year veteran of the Greensboro Fire Department where he was an engineer.

Murrell, 50, sustained breaks to both femurs, broken ribs, brain bleeds, dislocation of both hips and a serious injury to one arm during the rainy day accident, said Lisa Moore of Reidsville, a family member.

Doctors are hopeful

Over the past 10 days, doctors used sedation to keep Murrell in a medically-induced paralyzed state to help her tolerate the ventilator that now provides her with about 40% of her oxygen, Moore said, explaining doctors are slowly weaning her off of the breathing support. In the first days after the accident, Murrell relied on 90% supplemental oxygen, by contrast.

Murrell’s medical team this week is also lifting her sedation and feels hopeful that Murrell will improve, Moore said.

More surgeries to come

Before Tuesday's hip replacement, Murrell had already undergone two surgeries to repair damage to her femurs, Moore said.

Plans for surgery were stalled over the weekend, when Murrell's blood pressure plummeted and the lower portion of her left lung failed to function properly.

So Tuesday's greenlight for the operating room heartened family and friends, they said.

Murrell, a front seat passenger in the Jeep Cherokee driven by her late husband, will require more procedures in the coming weeks, including possible treatment of brain bleeds, according to friends and family.

How the accident happened

Alexio Lattero, 16, a junior volunteer with Fire District 28 in Gibsonville, was traveling north on N.C. 61 during an afternoon rainstorm that Saturday when he lost control of his 2012 Dodge Charger and struck the Murrells who were traveling in the opposite direction.

The tragic incident occurred around 4:50 p.m. on N.C. 61 near Turner Smith Road in Guilford County, according to the Highway Patrol.

The Charger caught fire, trapping a 15-year-old passenger from Kernersville and Lattero’s sister, Anna Shyann Lattero, 26, of Reidsville. Both died at the scene. Authorities have not released the identity of the teenage passenger.

The State Highway Patrol Crash Reconstruction Unit determined that the primary contributing factor in the crash was exceeding a safe speed for the conditions of the roadway (rainy and wet), a Highway Patrol spokesperson said by email Monday.

Alexio Lattero, whose injuries also were considered life-threatening, was released from Moses Cone Hospital last week, officials said.

He was charged with three counts of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, exceeding a safe speed and driving left of center. He has a valid N.C. Graduated Driver’s License that has a restriction 17 (limited provisional/level 2 license), authorities said.

A spokesperson for the Highway Patrol said Lattero is scheduled to appear in court at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 12 in Greensboro.

A mentor like a mother

News of Tonya Murrell’s plight inspired campers and co-workers from Mountain Top Christian Camp in Pinnacle, N.C., to talk about the mentor they credit with buoying their lives with her generous leadership as their counselor.

“I met Mrs. Tonya last year at Mountain Top Youth Camp,’’ said Marianna Vandergriff, a camper from Pinnacle. “I didn’t know anybody, and she took me under her wings and made me feel comfortable. Mrs. Tonya, for me, is like a “cabin mother” rather than just a camp counselor. She was a huge blessing for me at camp last year and showed me the love of God while I was there. She was my safe place while at camp.’’

Camper Marcy Cox met Murrell six years ago and said “she has been like a second mother figure in my life, always taking care of me at any medical needs I requested at camp.’’

Murrell’s caring was guided by faith, said Cox of Thomasville, N.C. “Tonya truly takes every child in as her own and shows the love as Christ would. From age 12, to now being 19 years old, we have kept in contact. And any time I am struggling I can find her there always by my side.’’

Camper Anna Money said Murrell gave her crucial guidance.

“She was there for me when I needed someone the most,’’ Money, of Liberty, N.C., said. “She helped me navigate a really difficult time and was happy to be of help. She’s just a genuine and kind person.’’

Murrell was warm and welcoming to campers and staff members alike, said camper Corinna Cullens of Lexington, N.C. “She is passionate about Jesus and strong in her faith and was available for any camper who wanted to talk!’’

Meredith Long counts Murrell as a major mentor in her life and was assigned Murrell as a counselor during her first summer at Camp Mountain Air.

“She helped me through a difficult situation. She prayed with me, sat with me while I cried and comforted me,’’ Long, of Cape Carteret, N.C., said.

“She reminded me God is in control, and he knows the plans he has for all of us. Mrs. Tonya was one of the reasons a family member of mine got saved at camp. Although we only spent that short time together, she made a lifelong impact on me. I hope to learn from her so I may encourage others the way she encouraged me.’’

Kailey Bullins said she had the good fortune to grow up close to the Murrells in Reidsville.

“When I was younger, I always went over to their house and would do essential oils with (Murrell) and then eat and go to church, Bullins said of the woman who served as her Sunday school and Bible study teacher during middle school.

“As I got older she became my counselor at MTYC in the older girls teen cabin,’’ Bullins said. “This past year at camp I always got up before everyone else, and I ended up sitting on the back deck and talked (with Murrell) about the Bible and what we learned and even just life,’’ Bullins said.

“I still remember dancing with her on her birthday to pirate music. She has always been such an amazing, upbeat, fun person. I have so many more memories of her and all the kindness and love she has shared to others.’’

To keep up with Murrell’s progress, visit: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/tonyamurrell.

Greensboro firefighters have also launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the Murrell family: www.gofundme.com/f/rick-murrell-gfd.

Funeral arrangements for Rick Murrell have not been finalized, and Wilkerson Funeral Home in Reidsville issued a recent statement:

“In consideration of the family circumstances, funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time. The children and their extended families request your continued love, support and prayers as they navigate the recovery for their mom, Tonya, and the future plans to honor and recognize their dad.’’

Condolences may be sent to the family at www.wilkersonfuneral.com.

Contact Susie C. Spear at sspear@rockinghamnow.com, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.

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