By SHIRLEY BOATMAN
Just months after his wife’s death, mid-afternoon, Memorial Day weekend, Roderick Phillips was mowing at the farm when a section of ground gave way and the tractor slammed into a tree, pinning his lower body against it.
“I had just topped off the fuel and the tractor was running. I had to turn off that ignition somehow or the next problem would be a fire. I got hold of a tree branch and heard my ribs popping as I pushed the key off,” Phillips said.
He had to hold his upper body up while trapped so that he could breathe. Luckily, he had his cellphone on him and he called 911. “So I prayed. I knew (my daughter) Stephanie was my only hope,” he said.
Stephanie Phillips-Taggart had tried to call her dad on the landline at the farm. Their three children were asleep and she was getting into bed with her husband, Joe, when that “voice” told her she needed to go to the farm. Joe was concerned because it was late and there was a storm brewing. “I have to go, Joe. I have to!” Phillips-Taggart said.
During the 45 minute drive, she experienced heavy fog and strong winds. The farm was dark. She called her dads name several times. Frantic, she sped off to the neighbors for help.
She roused Tim and Cindy Knaur. Phillips-Taggart called 911 and Joe. Knaur grabbed flashlights, and the three raced back to the farm and headed out on foot to search.
Finally, a voice. “Steph!”
“Dad, where are you?” Phillips-Taggart yelled.
A tiny light began glowing in a distant grove of trees. As she ran toward it, Phillips called out, “Get help.” Knaur went to direct the EMTs in.
The tractor was on its side, and Phillips’ body was crushed against a tree.
Weakly, he told her, “I’m trapped.” She propped him up to help ease the pressure on his chest. He took the first deep breath he’d taken in several hours.
“You’re the best daughter I’ve ever had,” Phillips said. It was an old joke between them. “I’m the only daughter you’ve ever had,” Phillips-Taggart replied, laughing and crying at the same time. She saw his cellphone glowing, the light that had guided her to him.
Life Flight couldn’t land because of the storm. Joe and his father, neighbors and first responders arrived at 11:30 p.m.
A chain was hooked onto the tractor and a come-along (a tool used to pull objects) onto the tree.
An EMT pulled Phillips-Taggart aside, asking her if she’d said her goodbyes to her dad. Shocked, she answered, “Why?”
The EMT told her that when they “release him, the buildup of potassium in his body from having that pressure on it for so long, will probably release – and go straight to his heart.”
Phillips-Taggart felt a great sense of peace envelop her. “That won’t happen,” she said.
Phillips spent three days in the hospital for observation and attention to the 12 broken ribs on his right side. Soon after, he was back to work at Conagra and back to his inventions.