Al Ash, 66, had never broken a bone in his body. Neither had his mother, Betty, 93. That — and their lives — changed when they got into an accident June 19 while vacationing on the West Coast.
After extended time at a Reno hospital and multiple surgeries on Al’s arm and neck, the Ashes are back home in Marion.
Traveling between 60 and 65 mph on I-80 near the California-Nevada border, Al, who was driving his truck and towing a 30-foot camper, approached a crest.
“When I reached the top, I could see the cars in front of me were braking and skidding in all directions,” he said. “I had to make a split-second decision.”
He didn’t know what had happened in front of him. Road conditions were fine. He applied the brakes and swerved to avoid traffic.
“If I had continued going straight, I know I would have killed someone,” he said.
The vehicle careened into an object beside the road — Al speculated it was a mountain — and Al lost control. The vehicle went off the other side of the road, making 2¼ rotations as it fell down a 35-foot embankment. At some point, the camper, which the Ashes had just finished paying off, became detached. It was destroyed.
His truck was crumpled, too. Inside were Al, Betty, Al’s wife, Gloria, and their dog, Jackie.
Gloria recalled seeing her mother-in-law and her husband both battered and bleeding. She did what she could to help, putting pressure on a head wound Betty had sustained and talking to Al, who was weaving in and out of consciousness. Al’s left arm was crushed, and he lost a lot of skin from it.
As responders came to the scene, Gloria and the dog were able to escape where a rear tailgate window had been. Gloria was bruised but otherwise unhurt. Jackie stepped on a piece of glass while exiting the car and still sports a gauze wrap over her injured foot.
Al and Betty, who were in the car’s front seats, required the Jaws of Life to be extracted from the vehicle. It was about 90 minutes before they were freed and taken via helicopter to an emergency room.
“It was my first helicopter ride,” Al said. “Mom’s, too.”
After a few days in the hospital, Al began complaining of neck pain. After an MRI June 25, doctors told him he would need surgery on his neck that evening. His sixth and seventh vertebra had been severely dislocated. His left shoulder hung two inches below his right.
The surgery was successful, and Al said he’s had little pain since then.
Al is involved with many community efforts, including Kiwanis and the hospital auxiliary. He plans to continue in all those organizations.
“I’m too ornery to stay down,” he said.
The accident has given him a new lease on life.
“I’m amazed that I’m alive right now,” he said. “I just praise the Lord for that. And if anybody had to have the worst of the accident, I’m glad it was me.”