Those who were there: Stories from the bridge

Ahnalese Rushmann

>Nicole Kopari & Missie Wayne, fourth-year medical students

While residents and curious onlookers gathered near the Interstate 35W bridge collapse site wearing expressions of disbelief and fear, it was a different story for the rescuers, who had little time to act shocked or scared.

For two fourth-year medical students, their role in the rescue effort was a combination of quick decision-making sparked by an inherent nature to help others.

Roommates Nicole Kopari and Missie Wayne were at home eating dinner when Wayne’s mother called to see if they were safe.

“We saw the fire on the bridge (on the news),” she said. “I looked at Missie and said, ‘Should we go?’ “

Kopari and Wayne, clad in scrubs and tennis shoes, headed to the scene and spotted fellow medical student Heather Nelson, near the Metrodome. The two hitched a ride to the site with Nelson and looked for where they could help, Kopari said.

They rode in a rescue dingy across the river to the north side, where firefighters and police officers were pulling people from rubble and laying them on the ground, Kopari said.

“We knew we could go check vitals, simple stuff that firemen wouldn’t have had to worry about,” Wayne said. “If we can help, great. If not, we tried.”

Kopari estimated they helped approximately 10 people whose injuries ranged from back pain to broken bones.

One person at the scene was critically injured, and others required pain medicine and IVs, Kopari said.

After helping victims near the bridge, Kopari and Wayne checked with the American Red Cross and Hennepin County Medical Center to see if they needed help, Kopari said.

A woman at HCMC later informed them the critically injured patient was in better condition, Kopari said.

Deborah Powell , dean of the medical school, wrote in an e-mail that she was proud of the students’ actions.

“They dropped what they were doing to go help,” she wrote. “Based on their education and experiences in medical school, (they) were able to contribute to the team of people who stabilized and calmed the victims of the 35W bridge tragedy until they could be transported to hospitals.”

When asked if the experience had affected their feelings toward their future careers in medicine, Kopari, an aspiring surgeon, and Wayne, who wants to go into pediatrics, felt confident and reassured.

“We’ve learned that not only did we go into the right field, but there are incredible people out there,” Kopari said. “In this tragedy there are so many miracles in it. My heart goes out to the families that have lost loved ones.”

Ahnalese Rushmann

Eric Neumann, fourth-year marketing student

Eric Neumann rode over the bridge minutes before the accident, on his way home from his Target Corporation internship. His corner Florence Court apartment overlooks 10th Avenue and what was the Interstate 35W bridge. He had plans to meet up with family around 6:30 p.m., he said.

Neumann heard the collapse and initially thought the noise came from the construction work on the bridge.

“We felt and heard a huge crash,” he said. “The whole apartment was shaking for a few moments, the electricity went out. It was crazy. Within moments, the sky was filled with dust.”

Neumann looked out his kitchen window and saw what happened.

“I saw 10th Avenue, didn’t see 35W,” he said. “I looked up and saw a piece of 35W sticking straight up in the air.”

Neumann called his family, while they were driving from Coon Rapids, and warned them not to take the 35W bridge.

Neumann, who is a trained Wilderness First Responder, ran to the scene, still in his work suit. Wilderness First Response training is similar to Emergency Medical Technician training, Neumann said.

After making his way through the gathering crowds, Neumann came across two injured construction workers clearly in need of medical attention.

“Their faces were really bloody,” Neumann said. “They had actually gone down with the bridge. The one guy had tried to catch his buddy as he was falling but both ended up falling. Somehow they got split up but they managed to get out of the rubble with each other OK.”

Neumann said their injuries were stable, but they had suffered distorted joints, potential broken bones and a facial injury caused by a metal toolbox hitting one worker in the face as they flew in the air.

Neumann tended to the construction workers for nearly two hours until an ambulance came, he said.

Around 8 p.m., Neumann was able to meet up with his mother on the crowded 10th Avenue bridge. The rest of his family members were waiting at his apartment.

Ensuring the construction workers made it to an ambulance and reuniting with his family and friends gave Neumann a little peace of mind, he said.

Fellow University student, Eric Noll , also a Wilderness First Responder, rushed to the south side of the bridge, Neumann said.

“As I was there, it was amazing to see the amount of volunteers and people helping out, doing whatever they could,” Neumann said.

Ahnalese Rushmann, Mitch Anderson contributed to this report.

Chrissy Kummer, Inver Hills Community College senior

Images of Chrissy Kummer’s white Toyota Corolla perched near the crumbling edge of what used to be the Interstate 35W Bridge have peppered news reports since last Wednesday’s disaster. The Inver Hills Community College senior escaped the scene unharmed.

Kummer was driving on the bridge when she felt her car suddenly jump up and then drop down. She found herself staring down into a gaping hole of rubble where a pickup truck was split in half, she said.

“I was screaming bloody murder and everyone around me was dialing 911,” Kummer said. “It reminded me of a movie. It’s not something that’s supposed to happen in real life.”

When she looked beside her, she said a truck was rolling down the bridge into the hole, moments after people had gotten out of the vehicle. She had apparently put on her car’s emergency brake, though she didn’t remember doing it.

“I guess I put the emergency brake on because I thought if I took my foot off the brake, (my car) would roll down into the hole,” she said.

Kummer called her father from inside her car and tried to explain what had happened. It was all happening so fast though, she doesn’t remember what she said.

“The guy next to me was saying ‘get out of your car.’ Then I said to my dad, ‘I gotta go’ and I hung up,” she said.

“I’m fine now,” Kummer said. “I’m a little sore and shook up, but I’m fine.”

Ahnalese Rushmann, Marni Ginther contributed to this report

Jimmy Hanson, Psychology Senior

The details surrounding the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge are still hazy for Jimmy Hanson .

“It’s all a bit blurry right now,” he said. “It feels like a dream sometimes and I’m not sure what parts are a dream and what parts are real.”

Hanson was coming back from a day spent chaperoning children from the Pillsbury United Communities program when the bridge collapsed.

Hanson was sitting in the middle of the bus full of children, returning from the field trip to a water park, as it crossed the bridge.

He looked up and saw a semi-truck honking its horn and thought it was going to veer over and hit the bus.

“As soon as I heard the semi honk its horn, that’s when the bottom fell out from under us,” he said.

During the fall, he hit his chin on the seat in front of him and flew back in the bus, landing on his back and shoulder.

He bit his tongue hard enough to make it bleed, chipped some teeth and believes he suffered a concussion, though it has yet to be diagnosed by a doctor.

“I kind of have a memory of being at the back of the bus and grabbing a couple of kids and setting them down,” he said. “I remember seeing the bus driver’s daughter and she was like, ‘My mom is still on the bus.’ She said that I ran up and got back on the bus to get her out.”

Others told Hanson he helped clear survivors from the area and carried children to the Red Cross center.

“I remember there were a couple of kids on the ground who were crying and scared,” Hanson said. “I remember going up to them Ö there’s a couple of kids I have inside jokes with, and I tried to make them laugh and feel better.”

It wasn’t until several hours later that Hanson received medical attention. He had no serious injuries and, after some X-rays, was discharged.

Because his cell phone was broken in the fall and he never registered at the hospital when doctors saw him, some co-workers had no idea he was alright until he showed up for work the next day. When he checked his voicemail the next day, he had 70 messages from friends and well-wishers who had seen his name on TV.

Mitch Anderson