Victim of I-94 crash is in induced coma
A community is hoping and praying that a 20-year-old Stillwater, Minn., woman will recover from the serious head trauma she suffered when her small pickup truck plunged from a freeway overpass in Hudson.
Marissa Anne Saad was eastbound on Interstate 94 Wednesday morning, Jan. 28, when she came upon another pickup truck that had slid into the center median wall at Exit 1.
Saad lost control of her 2000 Ford Ranger when attempting to avoid hitting the other truck. Her vehicle vaulted over a guardrail, sailed through the air and plunged nose-first onto Front Street, which passes beneath the freeway.
Dan Krusell, who lives just south of the accident scene, was driving north on Front Street when he saw Saad's truck spinning out of control on the freeway above. He stopped his vehicle and, along with his 10-year-old son, Kevin, witnessed the crash 80 feet in front of him.
Krusell said the Ranger landed on its hood and came to rest on its wheels.
"I mean, she was flying. It was just a terrible crash," said Krusell, who hours later was still shaken by what he had seen.
"I can't get that image out of my head, really," he said.
Krusell was the first to reach Saad's vehicle.
He said he opened the door and turned off the vehicle's engine, which, amazingly, was still running.
Saad was unconscious and didn't respond to his voice when he tried to awaken her, he said. She was alone in the vehicle and wearing a seatbelt.
Krusell said two other people who had witnessed the crash from I-94 then arrived at the truck, removed Saad from it and began to perform CPR on her.
One of the Good Samaritans, a woman, was an emergency medical technician, Krusell said, and the man also knew CPR.
Meanwhile, Kevin Krusell had called 911 to report the crash.
"They were there like real quick," Krusell said of Hudson's St. Croix Emergency Medical Services.
Saad was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
Tyler Westphal of Hudson, Saad's boyfriend, said from the hospital Tuesday morning that he had just been told that Saad was going to be put into a chemically induced coma to relieve swelling of her brain.
"They don't say too much," Westphal said of what he had learned about Saad's condition from the hospital staff.
"She's still hanging in there strong. She's made it this far. She's going to pull through this, I hope," he said, then added, "she will."
Westphal said Saad's loved ones were told immediately after the accident that she wouldn't live.
Westphal's mother, Evett Westphal of Hudson, is hopeful about her chances of recovery, however.
Evett Westphal spent eight months in Regions 10 years ago recovering from a similar traffic crash injury.
Evett said Saad's eyes moved when her grandfather talked to her, and that she coughed when a tube was put down her throat and reacted reflexively to having her teeth brushed.
"Her chances, according to the doctor, are against her. But it was unbelievable that she was doing all these baby steps," Evett Westphal said.
Noting that Saad was put on a feeding tube and underwent a procedure to protect against blood clots in her brain, Evett said, "They wouldn't do all of this if they didn't think she had some kind of a chance."
An outpouring of support
The Star-Observer's Web site, www.hudsonstarobserver.com, was bombarded with traffic as visitors logged on to read about the Jan. 28 morning rush hour crashed on I-94.
Friends and family members posted comments testifying to her warm, joyful personality. Many indicated they are hoping and praying for Saad's recovery.
"Everything," Tyler Westphal replied Tuesday morning when asked what he likes about Saad.
"She's always smiling. She's just a blast to hang out with," said Westphal, who has left Regions only briefly to shower since Saad was taken there.
"I love everything about her. She's a beautiful young girl," he said. "It's a waiting game and I'm going to wait for her."
Westphal met Saad at the St. Croix Beach Freedom Valu Center on Hwy. 95 in Minnesota, where he is the assistant manager and she works part time. They have been dating for the past four or five months.
Evett Westphal said Saad likes to wear bright colors and has a personality to match them.
"It always reminded me of a rainbow," Evett said of Saad's clothing, "and to me she is a rainbow with a heart of gold."
A Freedom employee
Saad was on her way to work at the Freedom Valu Center on Coulee Road in Hudson when the accident happened at about 7:45 a.m.
Ron Campbell, manager of the Coulee Road Freedom, said Saad is well-liked by customers and her fellow employees.
"She's really good with people and really a great worker - really dependable," Campbell said.
He said customers have been coming to the store to ask how she is doing since learning about the accident.
Slippery bridge decks
Rosalee Diane House, 38, of Forest Lake, Minn., was driving the eastbound 2002 Toyota Tundra pickup truck that first spun out of control on an icy I-94 overpass the morning of Jan. 28.
House, who also was wearing a seatbelt, suffered minor neck and leg injuries, according to a Wisconsin State Patrol news release. She was taken to Hudson Hospital by St. Croix EMS.
At about the same time as the House and Saad accidents, another vehicle crashed on westbound I-94 at Exit 1, causing a two-mile backup of commuters on their way to work in the Twin Cities.
An officer at the scene said drivers blamed the crashes on a large patch of ice that had formed near the base of the hill.
A couple of readers posting comments on the Star-Observer's Web site said they have encountered icy conditions on the Exit 1 bridge decks and the St. Croix River bridge in the past.
The county highway department is responsible for winter maintenance of I-94 in St. Croix County.
St. Croix County Highway Commissioner Tim Ramberg said a maintenance worker had passed through that stretch of the freeway at 7 a.m. on the day of the crashes and determined the pavement to be in good driving condition at that time.
Asked whether the county truck spread any salt or chloride, Ramberg said, "I'm sure there was, but I would have to check the records on exactly what material was put down."
Salt and chemicals aren't effective at melting ice in the extremely cold weather we've been having lately, he added.
Ramberg said a localized snowfall occurred along the St. Croix River from Somerset to Hudson the morning of Jan. 28 that made the bridge decks slippery. The "crystal-like" snow fell after the maintenance truck passed through Hudson at about 7 a.m., he said.
"Every now and then Mother Nature doesn't want to help us out," Ramberg said.
He urged motorists to slow down when they see wet pavement and not to use their cruise control during the winter.
A Caringbridge Web page has been set up to provide updates on Marissa Saad's condition and to give people an opportunity to extend their support to her loved ones. The address is www.caringbridge.org/visit/marissaANNEsaad.