Issaquah woman reclaims life after Interstate 90 crash

February 22, 2011

By Dan Catchpole

Rachel McNaul (above), almost fully recovered from being almost killed by another driver in a 2009 accident, is once again able to get behind the wheel and shape her own life. By Greg Farrar

On Dec. 15, 2009, Rachel McNaul left her home in North Bend headed to Bellevue Honda. Near the Preston exit on Interstate 90, what should have been a 30-minute drive turned into a journey that McNaul is still on. A car driving in the wrong direction slammed head-on into her car.

The accident nearly killed the aspiring physical education teacher. McNaul, 24 at the time, suffered 19 broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. The other driver was seriously injured.

One year and 10 surgeries later, McNaul, who now lives in Issaquah, is nearly fully recovered. She still suffers from lingering effects from the accident and is still in physical therapy. But she is determined not to let the accident shape her life.

“Bad choices were made that day on her part,” McNaul said, referring to the other driver, Janet Bumgardner. But “her decisions are not going to get me down.”

Death rattle’

McNaul could easily be stuck on the accident that put her in the hospital for nearly four months and required physical therapy that is ongoing. Just a couple of years ago, she was playing shortstop and batting cleanup for the softball team at Central Washington University.

The day of the accident, Bumgardner was driving eastbound on I-90 at about 12:30 p.m. Even before the accident, her driving had caught the attention of another driver, who called 911 to report her erratic driving.

The witness said she saw Bumgardner cross all lanes of travel, drift back and forth between the right and left shoulder multiple times, almost strike multiple vehicles, leave the roadway, and cross up and over the median.

The median where Bumgardner crossed from I-90’s eastbound to westbound lanes is about 40 feet wide and 11 feet taller than the roadway.

The 53-year-old Newcastle resident swerved to avoid hitting a semi and slammed head-on into McNaul’s car.

Rescuers pulled Rachel McNaul from the gnarled remains of her Honda Civic after a December 2009 crash. Contributed

Emergency responders quickly arrived. They found McNaul unconscious in her car, which had spun around 180 degrees. Bumgardner was conscious.

An off-duty Snoqualmie police officer who was driving by stopped and began giving McNaul first aid. He later told her she had been going through the “death rattle” — what emergency responders call the point when a person’s body wavers between life and death.

In Bumgardner’s car, Washington State Patrol officers found a travel cup with what smelled like wine in it. A field test came up positive for alcohol.

Both women were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Based on the cup they found, troopers had Bumgardner’s blood drawn. She had no alcohol in her system, but there was a prescription sleeping drug, over-the-counter allergy medicine, oxycodone and morphine.

Bumgardner’s dog, which had been in her car, was taken to an animal hospital, where it had to be euthanized.

At the hospital, doctors performed emergency surgery on McNaul, including drilling a hole in her skull to monitor swelling in her brain.

‘Completely helpless’

McNaul said she doesn’t recall the first few weeks after she regained consciousness. Her doctors’ initial prognosis was not optimistic. Her legs were broken in multiple places. Part of her small intestine and colon were removed. During the first couple weeks, her speech was partially baby talk, and laced with expletives and strings of numbers, family and friends later told her.

“I was completely helpless. I couldn’t even feed myself,” she said.

But McNaul didn’t dwell on what the doctors told her.

“What were they going to do? They’re not going to promise me something they can’t control,” she said.

McNaul’s family and friends were positive and encouraging. Community members offered their support. Safeway — where she had worked since she was 15 — and QFC held fundraisers for her.

After a month at Harborview, she was transferred to Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. Two former teammates from when McNaul played on Mount Si High School’s softball team came to visit and brought her mitt. With McNaul in a wheelchair, the three slipped outside and played a quick game of catch.

McNaul has loved sports since she was a little girl. She loves the competition, the physicality.

Most of all, she loves softball. She loves batting, challenging the pitcher and feeling the bat connect with the ball.

“When it’s gone, you know it’s gone,” she said.

The support from family, friends and community members helped McNaul focus on recovering.

“I kind of had it in my mind that everything was going to be like it was before,” she said.

Lingering effects

McNaul said she has been surprised by the speed of her recovery.

“I don’t get it, but I’ll take it,” she said.

Everything isn’t entirely back to how it was before the accident, but she said she figures she’s about 85 percent of where she was.

McNaul has lingering pain in her knee where doctors put in metal pins. She has a slight limp when she walks without tennis shoes on. And she can’t completely straighten her left arm. When she goes through the drive-thru at Starbucks, she can’t hand the cashier money with her left arm; she has to turn her body instead. It’s a minor inconvenience she said she is happy to live with.

Being on her feet for long stretches is painful. She has built up her endurance to about four hours, but she had to quit her job at Safeway, which kept her on her feet for most of her eight-hour shifts. Now, she sells cruises for Costco’s travel department.

Moving on

In early January, McNaul, attended Bumgardner’s sentencing in King County Superior Court to put the event in the past.

Bumgardner pleaded guilty to vehicular assault in late November. She has a history of driving under the influence, including a conviction in 2001 and two deferred prosecutions, both in 1993. In 2003 and 2004, she was convicted of disorderly conduct, malicious mischief and twice for telephone harassment.

In return for her guilty plea, the prosecuting attorney asked for six months; Bumgardner has been sentenced to six months in a work-release facility, and she must pay $2,612 in court costs and fees.

McNaul doesn’t mind that she only got the minimum sentence.

“I have no control over what happened or what she got,” she said.

Instead, she said, she is focused on the future and finding a job teaching P.E.

Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or editor@snovalleystar.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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