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How 3 seconds on Midlothian Turnpike forever changed his life: 'Like starting all over again as a child'

Hughes: 'I remind the kids in three seconds... you can change a life and in three seconds you can change your own life'
 Brad Hughes
Posted at 3:02 PM, Mar 20, 2024

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Whenever he speaks in front of students, parents, or whoever — Brad Hughes imparts wisdom about how quickly life can change. It is a wisdom he has lived with for ten years now.

“Three seconds is what I remind people about every single day," Hughes said. “It took three seconds for me to lose my life, not once, but three times, to lose my legs, to lose the thought of what was going to happen to my life moving forward.”

A cold, icy day meant everyone was on the road in Central Virginia on March 17, 2014. Hughes was working as a special police officer and had helped a Chesterfield officer respond to a disabled vehicle. After that call wrapped and Hughes drove east on Midlothian Turnpike, he heard another call for a wreck.

“Turned out to be a 17-car crash," said Hughes, who turned around and drove back to find the officer was hit as well. Hughes pulled over his vehicle to begin helping out. Seconds later, his life changed.

 Brad Hughes
Brad Hughes

"A Chevy 1500 pickup truck hit three vehicles to the left of me and then crashed into me, pinning me between the back of my buggy and the front of his truck. And then we eventually hit another vehicle," Hughes said. "I lost my legs, and my legs were sitting in the middle of Midlothian Turnpike.”

“It was almost like starting all over again as a child. I look back on it, and I know how strong I was then, and how it’s made me stronger now. I take all of that, which is not negative energy, I take positive energy behind that and I push it forward to the reality what’s in front of me with the people I speak to," he continued.

What's in front of Hughes now is his advocacy for safe driving habits — including not driving distracted and moving over for emergency response vehicles, per state law.

 Brad Hughes
Brad Hughes

“We've got to make sure drivers, when they’re driving, drive their car," Hughes said. “So when people are sitting at the street light and they’re looking at their phone, what they are doing is taking their attention away from what’s in front of them.”

Hughes, who is now a deputy with the Powhatan Sheriff's Office's community engagement team, speaks weekly to public school or community groups about his story and the dangers of distracted driving. He estimates in the past decade, he has spoken to more than 40,000 students in Virginia and beyond.

"So I remind the kids that in three seconds you can change a life and in three seconds you can change your own life," Hughes said.

 Brad Hughes
Brad Hughes speaks to students.

On the 10th anniversary of the wreck, Hughes said he tried not dwell on what happened — instead focusing on the people who helped him survive. People like crews from Chesterfield Fire Station 24 or a woman who pulled up on the scene.

"Without [the emergency crew's] skills, abundance, and quick reaction, I wouldn’t be there today," Hughes said. "There was this one lady, she came over to me and grabbed my hand just as I was getting ready to pass out. And she told me to say the Lord’s Prayer. Tens years strong, this lady sends me a card every month to remind me that I matter.”

To help advance that portion, Hughes is starting a scholarship fund to support the continued education of someone dedicated to service.

 Brad Hughes
Brad Hughes

Driving a 3,000-pound metal box down the road might, at times, feel like a passive, automatic part of daily life, but driving is of course far from that.

"You are considered the master of your fate when you’re behind that vehicle. So the best thing to do is, if you think smart and be smart, you’ll come alive," Hughes said.

The greatest moments, for him, come when a young person or parent approaches him in the community and repeats two simple words.

"They’ll come straight up to me and tell me, 'three seconds,'" Hughes said. “I'm the happiest man in the world, to know that my words, my actions, can lead to someone being productive in this world and being very safe in this world."

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