U.S. 50 nightmare has a miracle ending for local victims


That four people walked away from Nikki VanWart?s car with only minor injuries is all the more unlikely given the damage that occurred in the Feb. 16 accident.

Imagine driving down the highway at 65 mph, your sister beside you, her boyfriend and your child in the back seat.

Suddenly there?s a flash of red in front of you, a scream beside you, and the crunch of steel on steel.

This was the experience of the VanWart family of Hillsboro on Monday afternoon, Feb. 16, when a trip to Wichita turned into a waking nightmare.

Nikki VanWart, 28, had just turned from Indigo Road onto U.S. Highway 50 headed west at about 5 p.m. when the trip took a horrific turn.

?All of a sudden there was a little red car right in front of me headed right at me,? VanWart said.

Her younger sister, Roxi Suffield, 18, also of Hillsboro, screamed, ?There?s a car in our lane,? as VanWart took evasive action.

VanWart swerved enough so that only the side of her car was hit by the oncoming car.

?I remember the sound of her car hitting my car,? VanWart said. ?It was the loudest, most terrifying sound I?ve ever heard?besides Haley screaming bloody murder.?

VanWart?s quick maneuvering changed what could have been a horrible accident into an accident that, although serious, resulted in minor injuries for most of those involved.

VanWart suffered lacerations to the face from broken glass, as well as bruising. Her daughter, Haley Plenert, 8, suffered only bruises across her shoulder and abdomen, where her seatbelt held her firmly in place.

Suffield suffered leg pain after her shins hit the dashboard and her boyfriend, Jake Cochran, 19, escaped with aches and pains only.

The driver of the red car was transported by medical helicopter to Wichita, but authorities at the crash site reported she was ?doing fine.?

VanWart said she was amazed at the courage of young Haley after ?the initial freak-out.? When VanWart exited the car, through the driver?s side window, she found her daughter in an unexpected place.

?She was running toward the field (at the side of the road) screaming, ?Please let this be a dream, please let this be a dream,?? VanWart said.

About the time everyone had calmed down, one of the most amazing parts of the experience began.

?The first thing I remember is that suddenly Becky Hanna from (Hillsboro) was there,? said VanWart.

Hanna, who works at The Spritz Hair Salon, sat with and held them until emergency crews arrived.

Haley was too frightened by the blood on her mother?s face to be comforted by her, so Hanna?s presence was a godsend for the young family, VanWart said.

?I thought that my mom wasn?t going to survive,? Hayley said.

VanWart said she was glad to come through the crash so well.

?I?m alive?I?ll take a scar,? she said. ?I survived a pretty bad wreck.?

While the victims waited for emergency crews, a minivan stopped and gave the family a white blanket. Other passersby offered blankets, too.

?There were blankets everywhere,? said VanWart, who called the response ?amazing.?

?All these wonderful people gave me blankets and I just wish I could say thank you,? VanWart said.

Once emergency crews arrived, the passengers of both cars were taken to the hospital, the VanWarts to Newton Medical Center.

Haley rode in the front seat of the ambulance and was given a teddy bear by the Newton emergency responders.

A week after the accident, VanWart, Haley, Suffield and Cochran are all beginning to recover from the shock, aches and pains of their ordeal.

But they say they?ll always remember how a probable deadly collision became a miracle of courage and compassion.

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