PERRY COUNTY — Sirens blasted across Perry County on the evening of Jan. 13, as a square, box-style, ambulance led the fleet, which consisted of police cruisers, firetrucks, civilian vehicles and more ambulances, southward along Hwy. 15 from the County Line Church to Maggard’s Mtn. View Chapel. The ambulance leading the way carried the body of Tonya Whitaker Pratt en route from Frankfort.
The motorcade spanned the length of each straight-stretch along the highway, including the one at Grapevine. Flashing lights of the emergency vehicles strobed like lightening on the horizon. Throughout most parts of the nation, such a spectacle is typically reserved for government officials or high ranking dignitaries. In Hazard, however, nobility is measured on a different scale. Those, who tirelessly serve the people, are the ones the people respect with the highest regard. Thus, Tonya Whitaker-Pratt received a queen’s reception, as she ventured down Hwy. 15 on her final run.
Only one day earlier, Pratt lost her life during a severe bout with pneumonia. According to the preliminary report from her autopsy in Frankfort, Tonya suffered from a cardio-respitory affliction, which not only caused the pneumonia to develop quickly, but also made its impact devastating to the point of taking her life at the tender age of 33. Pratt, a citizen of Ary, worked 11 years as an EMT for Perry County Ambulance.
“She helped a lot of people,” Perry County Ambulance Director Jason Taylor said of Pratt, “She was respected by every first responder in Perry County.”
The respect from first responders, as well as love from her family and many friends, was shown, not only during her escort to the funeral home, but also during the procession leading to the cemetery following her funeral on the afternoon of Jan. 16. During the funeral, minister Joseph Engle, also a first responder with the Hazard Police Dept., highlighted Pratt’s devotion to saving lives and helping others in the community.
An ambulance, instead of a hearse, carried Pratt to the cemetery. Once again, firetrucks and police cars flashed their lights and blared their sirens, behind the vehicles of Pratt’s family and friends, in a procession that lasted five minutes from beginning to end. On the road, leading away from the funeral home, the procession passed beneath an American Flag draping from an arch two firetrucks had created with their ladders.
Police officers, stationed at each intersection, saluted as Tonya’s ambulance passed. There was no need for the officers to stop traffic because, as is customary in Southeastern Kentucky, vehicles pulled to the side of the road and parked to show respect. The funeral procession followed an alternate route to the cemetery, so Pratt could pass by the Perry County Ambulance Station one last time. EMS workers waited outside to say goodbye. Black ribbon draped from the top of an ambulance in the parking lot to show mourning.
Before her burial, Perry County Ambulance gave a last call over the radio for Tonya Whitaker-Pratt. Numerous coworkers expressed their sadness and agreed that she will be missed at the Ambulance Service for many years to come.
Tonya Whitaker-Pratt is preceded in death by her paternal grandparents: Jasper and Lola Whitaker and maternal grandmother: Gladys Pennington. She is survived by her father: Gary Whitaker and stepmother: Janice Whitaker; mother: Patricia Ann Pennington Whitaker; one sister: Jennifer Whitaker; three step sisters: Maggie Couch, Rebekah Neace and Carrie Baker; maternal grandfather: Elisha Pennington; paternal grandmother: Carmen Kirby; special nephew: Preston Garrett Tyree, along with five nieces and three nephews.
Tonya Whitaker-Pratt also leaves behind one son: Chase Zion Stidham and one daughter: Serenity Skye Faithann Whitaker, as well as a multitude of other family members, friends, colleagues and people she helped heal through her work.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.