MIAMI – Sen. Bill Frist, a surgeon who has been tapped as the Senate's next majority leader, helped paramedics and off-duty firefighters tend to five survivors of a highway accident that killed an 11-year-old girl.
The Republican lawmaker from Tennessee stopped minutes after Wednesday's accident, helping to stabilize the survivors until rescue crews arrived.
"The Senate majority leader was really instrumental in helping us treat the victims," said Todd Leduc, Broward County's Fire-Rescue assistant chief.
Frist was about 35 miles from Miami and heading east to a family vacation home when a sport utility vehicle going in the same direction rolled over after one of its rear tires blew out.
At least three of the six passengers were thrown from the vehicle, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. John Bagnardi said. Police said the girl died at the scene.
Fire-Rescue Capt. Jeff Andrews said he knew the man helping him treat a severely injured woman was a doctor, but had no idea it was Frist until much later.
"She had a very difficult airway to manage," Andrews said, with a lot of blood and other fluid making it hard for her to breathe. The senator, along with two of the other Samaritans, a nurse and an off-duty paramedic, helped open her airway and suction it out, he said.
They treated the victims for about 20 minutes before paramedics arrived. Lt. Allison DeMarco said it was possible more victims would have died without their assistance.
Three of the injured, one of them a 14-year-old boy, were in critical condition Thursday, and the two others were in fair condition. Their names were withheld pending notification of next of kin.
"As a doctor, my first instincts are to help, and I was privileged to offer my assistance today at the scene of this horrible accident," Frist said. "My heart goes out to this family which must face the start of the new year with this terrible tragedy."
Frist's spokesman said the senator would have no further comment out of deference to the family.
A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Frist is a heart surgeon who founded Vanderbilt University's organ transplant center. He keeps a white doctor's coat in his car and dispensed medical advice during the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill.
Frist offered medical assistance to Strom Thurmond when the then-98-year-old senator collapsed on the Senate floor in 2001, and in 1998 rushed to aid victims of a gunman who opened fire in the U.S. Capitol.
In 1995, Frist revived a 60-year-old man who collapsed inside a Senate office building.