Sept. 15, 2019, was another normal night in Wilkes County for Trooper Jonathan Barnes as he drove his marked N.C. Highway Patrol Dodge Charger south on N.C. 115 in the Broadway community.
It was 10:12 p.m., just a couple of hours before ending his shift, and less than a month before marrying his fiancé, Kayla Adams.
Then the whole world changed for the 31-year-old trooper.
The driver of a 2005 Buick Lacrosse sedan, Luis Castillo, 37, lost control, went left of center and slammed into Barnes. The trooper and Castillo both suffered terrible injuries. Barnes was trapped in the wreckage.
Castillo was later charged with habitual (felony) impaired driving, felony aggravated serious injury by motor vehicle and driving while license revoked. Before the wreck, he had four prior convictions for DWI.
Barnes and Castillo were taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. Barnes underwent immediate surgery to piece together his broken foot and ankle and his shoulder, which was broken and torn out of its socket.
Since being released from Baptist, Castillo has been housed at Central Prison in Raleigh, awaiting trial.
After two weeks, Barnes said he was transferred to Baptist’s Sticht Center for intensive physical rehabilitation. He next came home in a wheelchair.
Barnes married Kayla in a small ceremony on Oct. 2, 2019, at Cub Creek Baptist Church. After the ceremony, his bride pushed him down the aisle and out of the church in a wheelchair. The big wedding the couple planned for Oct. 13 was not to be, but they were married.
“As soon as (the wreck) happened, I got a terrible feeling I might not be able to do it again,” he said of his career as a trooper. Monday, he did just that, putting on his uniform, getting in his patrol car and checking on duty. “F-236 is 10-41,” he radioed to the Highway Patrol Communications Center in Newton.
Barnes said he is grateful for emergency personnel who quickly came to the scene of the crash, including Wilkes Rescue Squad members, first responders from the Broadway Fire Department, Wilkes Emergency Medical Services paramedics and his fellow troopers. “I couldn’t have asked for any more,” he said.
“I was in a wheelchair through the winter” at home in and splitting time between painful physical therapy in Wilkes and Winston-Salem. He made progress and eventually was able to return to light duty at the Troop F, District II Highway Patrol office in Wilkesboro, though not in uniform.
Barnes said he is appreciative for the outpouring of support he received from Wilkes residents. “I’ve had people come out of the woodwork to help.”
Chickenques were held at the Broadway and Millers Creek fire departments, with all proceeds donated to Barnes and his wife. Oakwoods Grocery put on a breakfast fundraiser, raising about $2,000.
An 11-year-old boy, Austin Burgess, sold sweet tea at a gas station in Ferguson and raised over $600 for the injured trooper. Barnes gave the youngman the Highway Patrol campaign hat that was inside his vehicle when he wrecked, minus the official hat badge.
“This could have happened to anyone” on the highway that night, Barnes said of the collision. “They guy was suddenly wrecking” and there was no time to miss him.
“You don’t expect it, but that’s why we’re out there” for the Highway Patrol, he said. Many people get away with driving while impaired, but the idea is to stop as many as possible before they hurt someone, he noted.
After 10 months, “it feels good to be back on duty. I’m excited,” the trooper said.