Monday, March 15, 2004

In the creek, dark and alone

Prayer answered after 6 hours

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BRIGHT - Joan Weaver was driving home from Dillsboro on rural Salt Fork Road early Saturday morning when she blacked out because of her diabetes.

When she came to, the office manager and single mother of one was upside down in her cherry-red 1995 Pontiac Grand-Am. Water was rushing in.

All she thought about was her 11-year-old son. For hours, alone with the water and her fears, Weaver prayed she would be able to hold her son, Matthew, again.

map "I just kept praying that an angel would come and help me," 32-year-old Weaver said Sunday, a day after spending six hours nearly submerged in the chilly water of Salt Fork Creek. "And I really believe I have a guardian angel over me."

By Sunday, police determined how she ended up in the icy-edged creek: After she blacked out shortly before 1 a.m., Weaver's car swerved left, then went off the right side of Salt Fork Road in rural Dearborn County, drove over the guard rail and flipped into the creek.

It was the second such accident in as many days in Greater Cincinnati.

Charles Hickman, a motorist who flipped his car into Little Duck Creek in Fairfax on Friday morning, was upgraded Sunday from critical to serious condition at University Hospital.

Emergency workers joined three passersby in helping get Hickman out of his submerged, upside-down Ford Contour around 11 a.m. Friday near the intersection of Watterson and Bancroft streets.

Weaver was released from University Hospital Sunday afternoon after doctors treated her for frostbite, covering her feet in what Weaver called "mummy-wrap" but not amputating anything. Family members gathered around her hospital bed and thanked God for answering Weaver's prayers.

Weaver recounted the six hours in frigid water as air temperatures stayed below 30 degrees and sent her to the burn unit for hypothermia treatment.

After she awoke from the crash, water was creeping past Weaver's legs, her waist, and up to her neck. She pulled her cell phone from her soaked coat pocket.

The phone didn't work.

All was dark. From above, no one could see her car, with all but its tail end submerged in the creek.Fearing the car would keep filling with water, Weaver tried to climb out the car's broken-out back window but got stuck. She grabbed the spoiler, and she held on for hours to keep her head above water.

"I was more afraid of drowning than I was of hypothermia," Weaver said.

Every time she heard a noise or saw car lights, Weaver screamed to attract attention. For hours in the dark, no one answered her call. Her hair froze; she lost feeling in parts of her body. She clutched two photo negatives - picturing her two sisters - in her purse.

Eventually, the sun peeked up over the horizon and she knew someone would find her soon as people began waking up and as light shone on her car in the creek.Around 6:55 a.m. - more than six hours after Weaver blacked out - a passing motorist spotted the car's tail end in the creek. Stay calm, the man yelled to her, we're getting help.

He flagged down John Cooley of Lawrenceburg, a postal worker on his way to work.

"The hood was caved in, and it looked like she was trying to get out the back window," Cooley. "You could hear her moaning."

After arriving shortly after 7 a.m., firefighters took about a half-hour to extricate Weaver from her mangled car. AirCare took her to University Hospital as workers pulled Weaver's car from the creek with a wrecker.

"She was talking and everything," said Dearborn County Sheriff's deputy William Wagner. "Hypothermia was the biggest problem."

On Sunday, Weaver's mother, Merrilee Stano of Richmond, looked at Weaver's healthy pink toes and knew her daughter's prayers had been answered. Weaver says the experience makes her appreciate life.

"It just makes me want to slow down and really enjoy life," Weaver said. "Just remember what's important."


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Margaret Ebert Anderson, 69, worked as insurance agent