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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 05:16 am

The Guardian of Lawrence Avenue

Gym owner responds to accidents at dangerous intersection

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Tom Fisher, 60, has responded to about a dozen automobile accidents as a civilian. He runs Studio West Fitness, which is located near one of Springfield's most accident-prone intersections.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

Countless cars whiz through the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Lawrence Avenue every morning and evening, each driver urgently heading to the next stage of the day. At that infamous intersection, yellow lights are often seen as signals to speed up, and red lights are interpreted as negotiable.

When a driver miscalculates – perhaps trying to squeeze through a gap in oncoming traffic or failing to heed the red light’s admonishment – the shrill sound of squealing rubber fills the air, often followed by a sickening metallic thud and the tinkle of shattered glass falling to the pavement.

The first person on the scene is usually Tom Fisher. A certified personal trainer, Fisher owns Studio West Fitness, a small gym located at 1016 W. Lawrence Ave., just west of MacArthur. When he hears a collision from inside his business, he rushes to check on the drivers.

Fisher, an energetic 60-year-old who looks younger, says he has responded to at least a dozen crashes at that intersection. He has CPR and first aid training as part of his personal training certification, and he keeps ice packs and other supplies handy in his gym. When he approaches an accident, he checks the vehicle occupants for injuries and keeps his eyes peeled for smoke that might indicate an impending fire. In one accident, he pulled an injured driver from her smoking vehicle before it burst into flames.

“The most important thing is not to panic,” Fisher says, describing his mindset when approaching an accident. “You can’t think straight if you’re panicking.”

Fisher grew up with six siblings in Marceline, Mo. He says he’s been interested in physical fitness his entire life.

“When I was 10 or 12 years old, I got a little plastic weight set for Christmas,” he says. “It was like someone had given me a million dollars.”

Fisher says he has “done a little bit of everything” in his career, including working for a railroad and as a truck driver. He sustained a major back injury about seven years ago that ended his truck-driving occupation, and he decided to earn his personal trainer certification as part of his recovery.

In the five years that Fisher has owned his gym on Lawrence Avenue, he has seen a child on a bicycle smacked by a car, calmed a newly licensed teenager upset at his first accident and helped stop a wrecked drunk driver from intimidating his victim.

Fisher says responding to accidents is simply his civic duty.

“I’d give somebody the shirt off my back if they needed it,” he says with a smile. “It’s not something I even think about. It’s just a natural instinct for me. I hope that if I was in that situation, that someone would go the extra mile to try to save me.”

The intersection of Lawrence Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard is one of the most dangerous in Springfield. There are usually between 20 and 30 accidents there in a given year, and the Springfield City Council has long debated controversial solutions like widening the intersection and adding turn lanes.

Fisher says the best solution is for drivers to be more attentive and patient.

“If people don’t slow down and pay attention, it doesn’t matter what kind of lights you put up there,” he says. “The root problem is people would rather take that chance – two seconds to get across that intersection – than slow down and wait for the light to turn again. It’s not worth the result.”

Fisher says when drivers become upset about an accident, he tries to offer them some perspective.

“Your car is just stuff, and stuff is replaceable,” he says. “You, on the other hand, are not. Your life is a precious gift.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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