More Fatal Car Crashes on Thanksgiving Day: Advice That Could Save Your Life


Tanya was on her way to help out with a Thanksgiving Day run called the Turkey Trot.

"Of course she was in a hurry. She was always in a hurry," Sean said.

Just two miles from home, Tanya came to a hill she'd traveled hundreds of times, but this time, there was a patch of black ice. The car skidded across the road, hit a barricade and tumbled 300 feet to the bottom of a canyon, where she and Andrew were ejected from the car.

But no one saw them.

When the race ended and they didn't come home by 1 p.m., Sean became worried. The sheriff tried to help, but no one could find them. Finally, Sean saw the tire marks on the barricade. Looking into the canyon, he saw a piece of the car.

"I ran to the bottom and that's when I found them," he said, adding that they were both barely alive and hypothermic. "I ripped my son's clothes off of him and put clothes around him, and he died. I gave him CPR, and he came back around again."

Neighbors came out to help, but the helicopters couldn't land in the bad weather. It would take hours for the ambulance to get there.

The hospital was able to keep Andrew alive, but Tanya died in Sean's arms. Both had brain injuries, but the hyperthermia helped keep Andrew's brain from fatally swelling, crushing itself against his skull.

Now 12, Andrew is back at school as the star pitcher on the baseball team. He lost his mother, spent two weeks in a coma and has problems moving his left side because the right side of his brain was affected, but he's about 90 percent back to normal, Sean said.

Sean said he doesn't know what he would have done without his tight-knit community, family and friends over the last two years.

According to AAA, 67 percent of all fatal accidents happen in rural areas, in part people are less likely to wear their seat belts there. But people also die because it can take a long time for help to arrive after a crash.

Nelson said the "golden hour" refers to the need for trauma patients to receive care in the first 60 minutes to increase their chances of survival. But in rural areas like Bonners Ferry, medical care and fast treatment can be harder to come by because hospitals are farther away.

Advice to Travelers

Even Dill, with his ER career, said he's been at fault for making the wrong decision during holiday travel.

One Christmas, with his pregnant wife in the passenger seat, Dill was speeding and drove off the road on the way to dinner. He and his wife were shaken because they could have died, but everyone was fine.

"I was rushing to get to her folks' house," Dill said. "I'm a pretty safe, cautious person who knows people can get hurt in cars."

He said he realized that people don't recognize how the holidays can make them drive too fast for the road conditions. His accident was a wake-up call, and it's something he tells his patients about because they sit up and pay attention.

"Just because you're late for meal, slow down because you'll be a lot later if you'll get in a car accident," Dill said.

Dill and Nelson reminded drivers to buckle up because they can't control other people on the road, but they can drive the speed limit and be vigilant.

"You have to drive knowing that you're going to be passing people who are impaired, who are rushing, who are intoxicated," Dill said.

Sharma said the best advice for anyone who has been in an accident is to stay still until help arrives unless the car is on fire. Neck injuries can be made worse by moving, so one of the first things first responders do is immobilize crash victims with a back board.

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