MOUNT VERNON — Life is starting to get back to normal for the Smith family. As much like normal as it can be, anyway.
“It’s a new normal,” laughed Pete Smith, in referring to the adjustments he and has family have made over the past few months.
A family vacation was embarked upon July 9 when Pete, Linda, daughter, Abbey (16), and son, Will (12), departed for north central Colorado as they were renting a cabin at Estes Park. Traveling with them were Linda’s sister, Connie Ricker, and her husband, Brad. Other children in the family are Emily who was staying behind at home and Thomas who was spending the summer at Purdue University. The events that unfolded that night would prove to be life-changing.
While traveling overnight into Nebraska, the family RV was suddenly struck in the rear by a semi-truck. The impact of the strike violently shook the RV, followed by explosions as the truck was grinding along the left side of the RV. After the truck driver over-steered and crashed into the front left side of the Smith RV, the vehicle finally came to a stop in the middle of Interstate 80 with the trailer bed of the jack-knifed truck now crushed into the engine compartment and bunk over the driver’s cab. The truck had mounted a guard rail over the Platte River, causing its fuel tanks to explode. With the RV now on fire, Connie and Brad safely escaped, and Linda had sustained a broken left leg, broken arm, shattered elbow and a nearly-severed left thumb.
The rear compartment where Abbey and Will were sleeping was now torn away from the truck impact. Pete frantically searched in the darkness for his two children among the debris in the highway, first finding Abbey unconscious but breathing. Will was then found among the wreckage, and Pete feared that Will’s injuries were life-threatening as he had head abrasions and blood trickling out of his ear.
Rescue units arrived from nearby Cozad and Gothenburg to tend to Linda and Will. “We were in the care of some wonderful people,” said Pete. “I just felt we were in really good hands. These people were very passionate about what they did, and they seemed to be trained to the highest level. I believe this gave me the confidence that Will was going to live.”
Abbey was more fortunate than Will, suffering only from road rash.