SAMPSON COUNTY - A black bow donning the front of a fire engine, a white one on the door and flags flying at half staff signified a day of sadness Wednesday at the Vann's Crossroads Fire Dept. Chief Jamey Jones greeted countless mourners and phone callers who paid their respects to a fallen comrade.
Junior volunteer fireman Phillip Stephen Hulen lived his 19 years to the fullest, according to friends. An outstanding young citizen, his life was tragically cut short when he was killed in a single-vehicle accident just north of Newton Grove.
"He was a very outgoing and energetic young man," Jones said, with a noticeable lump in his throat. "We will miss him dearly."
The wreck occurred Tuesday at approximately 7 p.m. on U.S. 701 near Stewart Road in Johnston County.
Hulen lost control of his 1997 Ford sport utility vehicle, ran off the road, overcorrected and then ran off the other side of the road where he struck a tree. No one else was involved in the crash.
According to the Highway Patrol, Hulen was traveling 65 mph in a 55-mph limit zone and struck a road sign before swerving back on to the road.
The report did not indicate if he was pronounced deceased at the scene or first transferred to hospital. The report said he was not wearing a seat belt. Alcohol is not thought to be a factor.
Well on his way to becoming a decorated member of the fire brigade, he joined the force at age 18. He had already completed 238 hours of training to become a full-fledged member, although only 36 hours were required.
"It's going to be tough dealing with a loss like this," Jones said. "When you were the first one here and were waiting on some more help, nine times out of 10, you were waiting on Phillip to be coming; he'd be on his way. It's going to be tough.
"We're extremely thankful for the thoughts and prayers from the community, and we hope they continue in the days to come."
Prior to graduating from Hobbton High School in 2002, Hulen was a member of the Future Farmers of America and was hoping to one day matriculate at N.C. State University. According to principal Tommy Macon, he was a very well-liked and trustworthy.
Hulen, who was attending Wayne County Community College, was an assistant manager at Smithfield's Barbecue in Newton Grove, and worked part-time at East Coast Agri-Tech. He was also very active in church ministry. Hulen graduated from Hobbton High School in 2002.
He is survived by his parents, Stephen Lawrence and Belinda Sinclair Hulen, and his brother, Matthew, among other family members.
In addition to Hulen's family funeral services held on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at Salemburg Baptist Church, the Sampson County Fireman's Association is also planning a full honor fireman's memorial at a date and time to be determined.
Jones asked that in lieu of flowers, to please send donations to the Sampson County Fireman's Association, c/o Vann's Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department, 4550 Church Rd., Newton Grove, N.C. 28366; or to Brown's Baptist Church, c/o Marie Pope, 124 Boykin Dr., Clinton, N.C. 28328.