Chance Encounter Reminder of Freak Accident in 1963

By PAMELA HITCHINS | December 30, 2011

A lot of people who have heard the story over the years still don’t believe it, Wallace Goza says of his surviving a fall from the top of an electrical pole 48 years ago.

Now an unlikely epilogue has been added to the tale – Goza’s chance encounter in a Jackson hospital waiting room with a man he’d never met but who knew just about every detail of his story except his name.

Goza, 78, was visiting his cousin at St. Dominic Hospital in Miss., a couple of months ago when he was introduced to his cousin’s pastor, the Rev. Geoffrey Joyner of First United Methodist Church in Brandon.

The name rang a bell with Goza, and not because Joyner spent nine years in Vicksburg as the minister at Crawford Street United Methodist.

“Are you kin to Brother Oliver Joyner?” Goza asked.

“That was my dad,” Geoffrey Joyner told him.

Talking, the two realized Geoffrey Joyner’s father, the Rev. Oliver Joyner, had been an important part of Goza’s recovery nearly half a century ago – which in turn had become a significant part of Oliver Joyner’s ministry.

The elder Joyner had been pastor of the Northview United Methodist Church (now Morning Star Adventist Church) where Wallace Goza and his wife, Janice, were members in January 1963.

Wallace Goza was a 29-year-old lineman with Mississippi Power & Light, and he and Janice had a 9-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

One morning, he and five crew members were performing routine maintenance on a line. In those days, the men climbed the poles using hooks on their boots and a safety belt, and that day one of the men talked Goza into using his new safety belt to “hobo up the pole.”

“I didn’t need it – I had my own – but he was so generous, and his looked newer than mine, so I took it,” he recalled.

When he got to the top of the pole, “it pulled apart, just like you’d take a piece of gum and pull one end and the other,” Goza said. “It was a clean break.”

He fell nearly 55 feet, suffering a broken back, two broken legs, a crushed ankle, a broken arm, cuts on his face and a body so bruised it hurt and was discolored for two years.

On the way down, he had time to think, and remembers praying, “Lord, help me, this could be it,” he said. “But when I hit the ground, I never ever thought about dying again.”

Goza’s crew did what they could, pulling off his boots and trying to tend to him, although they all thought he was dying, he said. One ran about a mile to get to a phone and call an ambulance.

“There had been a wreck that day, and the people had been taken to Mercy Hospital. The ambulance was still there. Dr. (Richmond) Sharbrough was also at the hospital and he jumped in the ambulance and came with them,” Goza said.

An 8-foot-long two-by-four – the only thing available – was grabbed from the back of a truck, and the doctor used it to splint his right leg.

“They put me in the ambulance and the ambulance door wouldn’t close,” Goza said, so Sharbrough rode in the back holding onto Goza with one hand and the ambulance door with the other. “Then when we got to the hospital, they wheeled me into the elevator and the elevator door wouldn’t close.”

A maintenance man was called to bring a Skil saw to cut the board so they could get Goza into the elevator and up to surgery.

The doctors operated for seven hours, he said. Oliver Joyner was called and stood by during the entire surgery.

Janice Goza, who had been at work at Westinghouse (now Cooper Lighting), was told “he had a little accident.” She got to the hospital in time to see him arrive with the two-by-four sticking out of the back of the ambulance.

“I was in shock,” she said. “I couldn’t believe he was in the shape he was in.” Doctors told her the next 72 hours would be critical to Wallace’s survival.

Over the next eight months, including nearly three spent at Mercy, Goza recovered. Oliver Joyner visited him 85 out of the 87 days he was at Mercy.

“It was not a big part, but it was the biggest thing to me,” Goza said.

MP&L paid all of his medical bills and held his job open for him, he said. Before his first day back, he made a point of climbing another electrical pole even though he still had braces on his legs, just to make sure he could do it.

“I had to feed my family and I didn’t know how to do anything else,” Goza said. “Plus I loved my job.”

He has steadfastly refused to find self-pity in the accident and its painful aftermath.

“I could have sued somebody, but I didn’t,” he said. “They could have given me a million dollars and I don’t know where I’d be today, but I didn’t look at it as a tragedy. I just accepted it and went on with my life. I had a good job, I made good money. I have no ill feelings about it.”

The Gozas went on to have another son, and in the 1990s Wallace Goza retired from MP&L after 43 years with the company.

Oliver Joyner, who died in 1994, served at Northview for just three years before moving on to another church in the Delta, but the accident was an object lesson he often called upon in his ministry, his son said.

“I must have heard that story 100 times,” he said. “Daddy would always preach about putting our faith and confidence in the right place. He would talk about the lineman from the power company that he had known who had a brand new safety belt, and the brand new belt let him down – but God didn’t. That was the way the sermon was preached.”

If he had known Wallace Goza’s name, he would have looked him up when he was at Crawford Street from 2000 to 2009, he said.

“That was a freak accident that happened,” said Janice Goza, and she was not talking about her husband’s fall. “It just goes to show you, the world is not as big as you think it is.”

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