Speed a factor in wreck

By Katherine Sather

Mercer Island resident Beth Knight was awakened at 2:30 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 6 by what she thought was a girl's scream.

Knight, the mother of Ava, a toddler, climbed out of bed to find everything was alright in her Butterworth Road home. As she returned to bed, she heard what she thought were large barrels ``the size of Texas'' rolling down the street outside of her house.

She opened the window in her second floor bathroom, which faces the intersection of S.E 53 Place and East Mercer Way, to see a SUV on its roof in the street -- the result of a rollover accident that severely injured one Mercer Island High School student and also sent two others to the hospital.

Eleventh grader Alex Thomas was driving a newer-model Range Rover with three other junior boys and a sophomore girl when it flipped and rolled three times, finally landing on its roof on S.E. 53rd Place, roughly 25 yards from the intersection with East Mercer Way. Police said speed was a factor, though Sgt. Dennis Wheeler said he wasn't sure of the exact speed.

``It was fast,'' he said.

Mercer Island police were the first to respond, followed by 20 firefighters from Mercer Island and Bellevue early in the morning of Nov. 6. Battalion Chief Chris Tubbs of the Mercer Island Fire Department said it was drizzling outside.

``It was wet, with leaves on the roadway,'' he said.

Colin Buchanan is the most seriously injured and is being treated at Children's Hospital in Seattle. He spoke very briefly to the Reporter last week. Alex Wickizer was taken to Overlake Hospital where, according to his father Tom Wickizer, he was treated for a broken nose and five spinal fractures. There is no permanent neurological damage, his father said. Sophomore Jessica Pohl was treated at Overlake for whiplash, back and neck injuries, and cuts and bruises on her leg.

Thomas, and Veljko ``Pepe,'' Kopjar, who was in the passenger seat, were not injured in the crash,

The police investigation is pending. Last week police said there was an indication that alcohol was involved in the wreck, but Wheeler said that the department won't know until results from breathalyzer tests are back from toxicology.

He said many high school students have stopped by the police department for a look at the Range Rover, which is partially-crushed and covered with mud.

The group of students in the accident were headed home from Kopjar's house, Pohl said. Kopjar, Thomas and Wickizer wanted to go out for breakfast, but first agreed to give Buchanan a ride home and take Pohl to her friend's house, she said.

One of Pohl's friends also with the group, called Saferides for a ride home. Saferides is a volunteer program that provides car rides home to teens on Friday and Saturday nights. Pohl, however, opted to go with the junior boys.

``That was a bad decision,'' she said.

Pohl described the events that led to the accident this way: On the second curve on 53rd Place approaching East Mercer Way, the SUV veered off the pavement, ran over a fire hydrant, and some brush on the left side of the road. The vehicle hit the embankment and flipped into the air, rolling three times before it came to rest on its roof in the middle of the roadway.

In her house, Knight said she heard the SUV roll down the hill, and for a moment thought a transformer had blown until she looked out her window. She then called police.

She also noted that hip-hop music blared from the SUV.

``It was so loud, as if you had a stereo right next to your bed,'' she said.

When the music went off, she heard Pohl start screaming.

``She starts screaming that she's pinned,'' Knight said. ``She started yelling that her leg hurt.''

Pohl, who sat in the backseat between Wickizer and Buchanan, was pinned inside by the steering wheel, Tubbs said.

``The steering wheel had trapped her at the ankle and was applying pressure on her ankle,'' he said. ``It was caught between the roof of the vehicle and the steering wheel. There was no way to pull her out without causing more injuries.''

Firefighters freed Pohl with the steering wheel's release button, which is used to control its height.

Thomas and Kopjar were able to climb out without help, Pohl recalled. Wickizer also freed himself, but required immediate medical attention. Firefighters had to open up a side of the vehicle to remove Buchanan, who was taken to Harborview Medical Center.

Police said the newer-model Range Rover with side airbags probably saved the students from further injuries.

Wickizer, 17, was released from Overlake on Tuesday, Nov. 8, said his father. He'll wear a brace for three months, but doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

``He only remembers when they hit, and the impact broke his nose,'' Thomas Wickizer said of his son. ``He doesn't remember much past that.''

Both Wickizer and Pohl hoped to return to school earlier this week. Kopjar has already returned to school.

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