by: Greg Suskin Updated:
CHERAW, S.C. - A candle glows inside the bay at Sandhills Ambulance Service in Cheraw, S.C. A light illuminating the bright smile of a woman who dedicated her life to saving other lives.
A year ago, 43-year-old Gale Rivers and ambulance driver Cory Brown were in Monroe about to pick up a patient. They had just finished lunch when Brown accidentally pulled out into traffic on Highway 74. An 18-wheeler struck them, killing Rivers.
On Wednesday, her former co-workers remembered her with a memorial set up in the ambulance bay at Sandhills. Meg Norton runs the small company with about twenty five employees. Losing Rivers left a big hole in their family.
"Even though she's gone, we all think about her every day," Norton said. "We won't forget her."
In the days after her death, hundreds of emergency workers, police officers and firefighters showed their support at her funeral.
The people at Sandhills were left to cope with a personal tragedy. Mike Hutson went to calls with Rivers two or three times a week. He said it still seems unreal at times.
"I know some mornings we come in, and we're waiting for her to come in through the door," Hutson said.
The memorial is covered in pictures of rivers, her family, and a tribute to her love for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Last year, Sandhills added a decal to the hood of all their vehicles. It says they drive in memory of Rivers.
Norton said after the accident, she focused more on safety, and making sure ambulance drivers are always paying attention to traffic, and working together with EMTs as a team. She said the lessons weren't new ones, but the impact was.
"The EMTs, when they get in their trucks, they think, 'That could've been me,'" she said.
Coworkers tell Channel 9 they try to be more cautious now on the road, but that's far from Rivers' only legacy.
"She went the extra mile to take care of her patients, and treat 'em like they were part of her family," Hutson said.
He said Sandhills employees looked up to Rivers and respected her as one of the older team members there. It's one of the reasons they miss her now.
Brown, who was driving the ambulance, was cited for a misdemeanor. Norton said he recently had surgery related to the crash, and is taking a course to become an EMT. She doesn't don't know if he'll come back to work at Sandhills.
"Sometimes people forget about him, but it's been a hard year for him too," she said.