A woman walking along U.S. 93 South near Somers Thursday morning watched in horror as a vehicle accident unfolded right in front of her.
“I’m surprised they didn’t hit me,” Lauren Miller said Friday as she recounted the crash involving two sport utility vehicles that left one driver with serious injuries.
Miller was on her way to work at the Daily Inter Lake on Thursday morning when she ran out of gas.
As she walked south toward the White Oak C-Mart shortly after 7:30 a.m., two sport utility vehicles sped past her, traveling side-by-side southbound on the four-lane highway.
In a split second, the vehicle in the passing lane struck the other from the side. Miller heard a crunch and watched as the closer vehicle rolled into the ditch a few dozen yards away from her. It appeared that the vehicle in the left lane, driven by a 25-year-old Polson man, had attempted to merge into the right lane before fully passing the other vehicle.
Miller immediately called 911 and ran to the rolled vehicle.
“I thought I was going to walk up to a dead driver when I approached that car,” Miller said. “I was pretty worried for her.”
Through a cracked windshield, Miller could see an unconscious driver, who later was identified as Tara Trotter, 52, of Kalispell.
“I was kind of panicking,” Miller said. “I didn’t want to get too close because I was scared.”
The Polson man pulled his vehicle over and approached Trotter’s SUV, which was passenger-side down in the ditch. Trotter was buckled in by her seat belt, and it was the other driver who actually removed her from the vehicle.
Other passers-by stopped and provided blankets to cover Trotter, who had lost her shoes and wasn’t wearing a coat. Miller held Trotter’s hand and tried to talk to her while responding paramedics grabbed supplies with which to treat her.
“The response was very quick,” Miller said. “I was impressed by their professionalism, the calmness of the medical personnel. It was very cohesive and I was impressed by that.”
Miller managed to find an ID badge with a photo of Trotter and gave Montana Highway Patrol troopers her name.
Trotter was rushed by ambulance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where she underwent surgery Thursday. On Friday, she was listed in stable yet critical condition, according to hospital representative Allison Meilicke.
Trotter is a school-based therapist at Somers and Lakeside schools, according to her biography on the Lakeside Elementary School website. She has two sons and coaches eighth-grade girls volleyball, according to the website.
Parents in those schools received voicemails Thursday informing them that Trotter had been in an accident and that the children had been told about it. Other counselors were available for the students to speak to if needed.
Miller has since visited Trotter’s family in the hospital and kept in contact with them about her condition.
Miller is still waiting to hear how Trotter improves and hopes to maybe meet her one day under better circumstances.
“I feel pretty darn lucky that I wasn’t hit,” Miller said, admitting that she was very shaken by witnessing the accident.
Trooper Thomas Manz of the Highway Patrol said that toxicology tests involving the Polson driver have been sent to the State Crime Lab in Missoula to determine whether drugs were a factor in the accident.
The Somers/Lakeside Fire Department, Lakeside Quick Response Unit and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Montana Highway Patrol. The accident was cleared and the one affected lane of traffic reopened shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday.
(NOTE: Based on incorrect information, an earlier story reported that both vehicles involved in the accident had rolled. In fact, only Trotter’s vehicle rolled.)
Reporter Brittany Brevik may be reached at 758-4459 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.