‘Other driver’ says Jan. 19 fatal accident is still a blur

BurkheadImageUseThisOneCarla Slagle was about a mile from Meeker, having driven from Rangely the morning of Jan. 19. She was bringing her two dogs — both white schnauzers — for a grooming appointment at Arlene Estes’.
Carla stopped at the corner near the Kum and Go and steered her 2008 Chevrolet Impala onto Highway 13 for the two-mile drive into town.
She doesn’t recall much about what happened next.
“The only thing I remember is having a vision of a car in front of me. Then I didn’t wake up until about a half hour later,” she said.
Carla was involved in last week’s fatal accident that resulted in the death of 9-year-old Stone Martin, who died from injuries he sustained in the crash. His older sister, Alahna, 12, who was in critical condition, was airlifted to a hospital in Denver.
The children were passengers in a 2004 Dodge Caravan driven by their mother, Vanessa Martin. They were on their way to Grand Junction to celebrate their mom’s 30th birthday when the accident occurred, shortly after 7 a.m.
“I’m not sure what part (of the van) I hit,” Carla said. “I didn’t have time to think. I was just steering down my lane of the road.”
Because of the weather the morning of the accident, Carla said road conditions were slick.
“The roads were icy (in the area where the accident occurred),” said Carla, who had left Rangely at 6 that morning. “It was just a fine layer of ice with a fine skiff of snow on top of it. There’s kind of a wind tunnel in that section (of the road), so it stays cold right there.”
Carla said the thermometer inside her car registered the outdoor temperature at 37 degrees when she drove past Rio Blanco Lake. She said the temperature had dropped to 32 when she arrived at the intersection of highways 64 and 13, moments before the accident.
Interviewing Carla on the phone Sunday, her voice was hoarse. The result of stress and trauma caused by the two-vehicle accident she was involved in last week, she said.
Carla said this was the first time she was involved in a car accident. She sustained multiple bruises and continues to suffer from double vision and dizziness.
“I have double vision, that’s the worst thing,” she said. “I went to an eye specialist, and he said it might be six months until that comes back.”
Despite the double vision and bruises, Carla is thankful she and her dogs survived. “They were pretty traumatized,” she said.
Her dogs were taken to the Vet Clinic in Meeker, where they were treated for a fractured pelvis and vertebrae, as was the Martins’ dog, a rottweiler, which had been riding in the family’s van.
“I am very sore, but lucky to be alive,” Carla said. “So I can live with sore. I was saved by my airbag and seat belt. It did exactly what it was supposed to do.”
Carla said her heart goes out to the Martin family over the loss of their son.
“I’m just happy to be alive. I’m grateful for that,” she said. “But I feel really sorry for that family. They are definitely in my thoughts.”
The Martins used to live in Rangely; however, Carla said, “I don’t know them, but a lot of people here remember them.”
Carla said she didn’t see the Martin children at the crash scene. They both were airlifted to hospitals, Stone to Grand Junction and Alahna to Denver.
“No, I didn’t see the kids,” she said. “I was just trying to stay out of everybody’s way. A lot of the time they had me sitting in the back of a highway patrol car, because it was warm.”
Carla said Paul Martin, Vanessa’s husband, who was at work at the time of the accident — he is an information system analyst for White River Electric Association — checked on her at the crash scene.
“He came up and asked how I was doing,” Carla said of Paul, who is also pastor of the Church of Christ in Meeker. “He was very concerned.”
Immediately after the accident, Carla called her husband, Fred.
“Everything was just so numb. The first thing I did was, I thought I should call Fred,” Carla said.
When Fred arrived at the scene, he drove her to Meeker’s Pioneers Medical Center, where she was treated and released.
“The people at PMC were wonderful,” she said.
Both Carla and Vanessa Martin sustained what the accident report called “moderate” injuries. Vanessa, it was discovered later, suffered a broken arm, and like Carla, multiple lacerations and bruises.
“I’m really bruised, almost from the middle of my back on the left side, all the way to my right hip is black,” Carla said. “Mainly from the seat belt.”
While the accident itself is a blur, Carla said that may be a good thing.
“I think emotions are in shock for a long time,” she said. “I think everything is. I think our brain is really good to be protective of us. I’m just happy to be alive.”
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Meeker Cafe is planning a benefit dinner for the Martin family.
“We are currently putting together a meal for Tuesday, Feb. 2, with all of the profits from the meal going specifically to the family,” said Vicki Cross, who, along with her husband, Phil, are general managers of the Meeker Hotel and Cafe.
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When Ernie Garcia of Meeker entered the U.S. Army during World War II, he did so as a conscientious objector.
“I did my duty,” said Garcia, 86, and a decorated veteran. “I didn’t have to have a gun.”
Garcia, who was a medic during the war, was honored last week at a ceremony at the Fairfield Center, where he was re-issued a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as well as a Combat Medical Badge, a World War II Victory Medal and an honorable discharge button.
Garcia received the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle and the Bronze Star for gallantry.
“It is for heroism in the field. Only those guys exposed to fire (receive the Bronze Star),” said Joe Dungan, a veterans service officer for Rio Blanco County. “They (medics like Garcia) took a lot of risks. They were like moving bullseyes.”
Garcia was 19 when he was drafted. He was wounded 17 days after landing in Normandy, France, when he was hit by shrapnel. He had gone ashore just days after the D-Day invasion. After being wounded, he was sent to a hospital in England, where he recuperated for six weeks or so.
“Then I went right back to my outfit,” he said.
Garcia is proud to have served, but he had his reasons for being a conscientious objector.
“I didn’t want to kill anybody,” he said. “I don’t believe in having wars.”
Being a medic, though, didn’t mean he wasn’t a target.
“I didn’t carry a gun, but they shot at us anyway,” he said.
Even though he wasn’t armed, Garcia had German soldiers surrender to him.
“They knew I didn’t have a gun, but they were ready to surrender,” he said.
Garcia was discharged from the Army in 1945. He was glad to come home alive.
“You bet,” he said. “There were some guys who didn’t.”
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Growing up in Glenwood Springs, Andrea Harmon of Meeker attended school with Scott McInnis, who could become Colorado’s next governor.
“It was a small school back then. There was only one elementary, one junior high and one high school, so you went to school all the way through with the same kids. My graduating class was like 81 or 82 (students). Scott was five years ahead of me,” said Harmon, who graduated from high school in 1977. “So I would have been in eighth grade when he was a senior. But, back then, the junior high and high school shared the same buildings, so it would be safe to say we matriculated together.”
As far as what she remembered of McInnis and if she could have imagined him being governor someday, Harmon said, “He was more of a jock back then.”
McInnis, a Republican candidate, is considered a frontrunner for the Republican nomination. In another local connection, McInnis is married to the former Lori Smith, who is from Meeker.
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Speaking of local connections, Sarah Balloga, a 2003 Meeker High School graduate and a student at Loyola University’s School of Medicine in Chicago, recently assisted in a surgery performed by Pegge Halandras, a 1991 MHS graduate, and an assistant professor at Loyola in the division of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy.
“That was amazing. Two Meeker girls in the same operating room performing surgery. Sarah (a third-year medical student) was allowed to help with retractions and throw a few stitches,” her father, Steve, said.
Pegge has been on the faculty at Loyola’s School of Medicine since September.
“Everything is great. I’m getting settled and I’m really enjoying Chicago,” Pegge said. “I’m really happy with the move, except for the cold.”
Of her fellow Meekerite, Pegge said of Sarah, “She’s scrubbed two times with me, and both were really long surgeries. She did a great job. She’s an excellent student.”
After learning where Pegge and Sarah were from, someone in the operating room asked if they hunted.
“We both hunt. We’re Meeker girls,” was their response, Steve said.
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Local talent was on display Jan. 20 during auditions for the Meeker Chamber of Commerce annual banquet, set for Feb. 11.
There were 14 entries for the audition. The judges were Mayor Mandi Etheridge, Shana Holliday and Anna Todd. Matt Holliday was emcee for the program.
According to chamber director Shondah Otwell, the local acts chosen to perform at the chamber banquet are: Kevin and Annelise Amack, guitar and vocal duet; Loran Casias and Delenn Mobley, dance; David Cole, viola; Evan Edwards, drums; Bob Eggebraten, vocal with saxophone; Stephany Joos, vocal, McKenna Kummer, vocal; Legit, hip hop dance group; Krystal Otwell, piano and Bronwyn Schindler, Hawaiian dance.
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Kai Turner, Rio Blanco County commissioner, is a new appointment to the Northwest Resource Advisory Council, a citizen group that advises the Bureau of Land Management. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the appointments Jan. 21.
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A wild game dinner was held Saturday as a fundraiser for Colorado Northwestern Community College’s student newspaper, the Spartan Times.
“It went really well,” said Heather Zadra, who is the faculty adviser. “We only had about 55 or 60 people, partly because there was another benefit dinner at the Catholic church. But we raised something like $1,300, so the people who did come were more than generous.”
The wild game included buffalo, bear, mountain lion, wild boar, goose, pheasant, antelope, deer and elk.
“All of the game was donated by people in town,” Zadra said. “It’s pretty great.”
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Rio Blanco County’s Health Department held “meet and greets” in Meeker and Rangely this week. Besides refreshments, free H1N1 vaccines were offered.
“It is still the primary circulating flu virus,” Kim Long, county public health director, said of the H1N1 virus. “We haven’t seen the numbers lately, but we expect a second wave in early spring.”
She added, “We have plenty of vaccine, and it’s still free of charge.”
To make an appointment to receive the H1N1 vaccine, call the Meeker health office at 878-9520 or the Rangely health office at 878-9525.
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According to the Web site ColoradoGasPrices.com, “Average retail gasoline prices in Colorado moved just 0.3 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.54/g today (Jan. 25). This compares with the national average that has fallen 2.9 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.70/g.
“Including the rise in gas prices in Colorado during the past week, prices today are 88.1 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and are 12.7 cents per gallon higher than a month ago. The national average has increased 10.4 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 87.7 cents per gallon higher than this day a year ago.”
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Congratulations to Rob and Melissa Winn on the birth of their son, William Boyd, who was born last week in Steamboat Springs. He was 8 pounds, 7 ounces. Rob is principal at Rangely Junior/Senior High. The Winns have a 3-year-old daughter, Emma.
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Last week’s fatal accident affected the entire community, and was a sobering reminder of how quickly our lives can be forever altered.
Speaking as a father of four, I have to think any parent’s worst fear is the loss of a child. While hurting for the Martin family — it is difficult to imagine what they must be going through — it has been reaffirming to see how people in both Meeker and Rangely reach out during times like this. We also celebrate the progress being made in Alahna Martin’s recovery and are grateful both Vanessa Martin and Carla Slagle were not more seriously injured.
I’m reminded of the people interviewed for the weekly “Home of” feature in the newspaper who, when asked what they like about living in Rio Blanco County, invariably, one of the things they say is, it’s the caring communities.
I couldn’t agree more.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.