Clear thinking and a strong will to survive kept 19-year-old Lillie Young of Marysville alive two weeks ago when her car went off the road and down the embankment at McPhee Bridge.
Lillie is recovering at home now, after a week at East Kootenay Regional Hospital, with injuries including a broken back, severe bruising, cuts and abrasions.
The accident occurred just after midnight on February 18, 2013.
Lillie spoke to the Townsman/Bulletin this week about her experience.
“I was at my friend’s house in Cranbrook and driving home just after midnight, maybe 12:30,” she said. “Right before McPhee, I skidded off the road.
“I don’t remember going down the bank. I don’t remember crashing or rolling. I woke up in my car. I got that my car was upside down, but I didn’t know how I got there. I remember crawling out. I squeezed out and my back was hurting.”
The airbags had deployed and Lillie was wearing a seatbelt. She has injuries from both, but realizes it could have been much worse if she wasn’t belted in.
“I looked at my car and then I tried to find my phone but I couldn’t find it. It was so cold out.”
Lillie says she had a vague idea where she was — she could see the bridge and figured out she was down the bank. At the time she thought she was on the east side of the bridge, though she would realize later she was on the west side.
Her car left the road just by the old entrance to Shadow Mountain and came to rest on a shelf above the river.
She couldn’t hear any traffic, and given the time of night she didn’t think there would be any.
“I knew no one would find me.
“I went back in my car. I was still trying to find my phone. The lights didn’t work, nothing worked.
“And I just thought, wait for morning. My mom always made me keep a blanket in the car. Thank goodness for that.”
Wrapped in the blanket, Lillie went to sleep and woke early in the morning with almost frozen fingers.
“I started to hear cars around 6:30 in the morning,” she said. “But I knew they wouldn’t see me. I would have done anything to get up that hill. It was so scary. I was thinking, ‘I’m going to die and no one will find me’.”
It was at that point, Lillie says, that her survival instinct kicked in.
“You’ll do anything to survive,” she said. “It’s weird to feel your pain go away — just get out, get up that hill, find help.
“I was on a shelf above the river bank. I just went. I didn’t look back at my car when I went up, I didn’t want to see. I didn’t think. I was monkey climbing, scrambling with hands and feet. I had cuts on my knees, my fingernails were embedded with dirt, but I couldn’t feel it because my hands were so cold.
“I don’t know how I did it. Shock got me up that hill. I knew I’d be dead if I didn’t go.”
She did make it up to the roadway, where she thought her ordeal would be over. As it turned out, several cars didn’t stop, though she was trying to wave them down from the side of the road.
“I tried to stop cars. They wouldn’t stop. I was on the side of the road first, then I stood in the road.
“I think I collapsed on the side of the highway,” she said. “I had two black eyes, I was scratched from the airbag, there was blood from my nose. But these cars just drove right by me.
“I expected people to at least unroll their window and ask if I needed help. I’m not a very big person. It made me really sad no one would stop.
“I’m just standing there on the side of the highway and so many people drove by me. It made me super sad.”
As it turned out, someone did call the police about a girl being on the bridge, but no one got out to help her.
Until a young man named Doug, on his way to work from his Wycliffe home, pulled over.
He assisted Lillie into his car and wanted to take her to the hospital. She just wanted to go home.
“He said I should go to the hospital and I finally agreed. He went and found my phone. I can’t believe I asked him to do that, but he did.
“I called my parents, and I said, ‘Don’t be mad, I crashed my car’.”
“She called at about 7 a.m.,” said her dad, Alan Young. “We didn’t realize she wasn’t home because she does sometimes come in after we’re in bed.
“She was so lucky. We were all very lucky.”
Both Lillie’s parents, Alan and Julia, say they are saddened that no one stopped sooner for their daughter, but realize that incidents such as the car jacking near Yahk late last year leave people wary.
“Still, you think a few more might have slowed down, rolled down their window and asked if she was okay,” Alan said. “Maybe it was because they couldn’t see her vehicle.”
The entire family remains grateful to Doug for stopping. They have all spoken with him to thank him.
Lillie is now recuperating at home. She broke her L4 vertebrae and has had surgery. She will be laid up for about two more months.
Lillie says she knows she will get behind the wheel again eventually, but not now.
“When we drove past the bridge when my dad brought me home from the hospital, I cried,” she said. “But I’ll drive again, just not now. It will be scary, but I’ll do it.”