Nurse doesn't know how she survived 75-foot fall from bridge

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FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Many things aligned to make Angela Weir's survival from a 75-foot accidental fall from a bridge miraculous, she said.

"I'm still processing that," she said. "Every minute, I thank God for being alive."

Weir, 47, fell from the I-70 bridge over the Monocacy River on Aug. 3, as she was running to help victims in a crash that involved a tractor-trailer and a dump truck. Her injuries weren't serious, she said Friday from her New Market home, where she is recovering until she can return to work as a nurse at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

The river was deeper than normal because of recent rain, deep enough that her fall did not result in serious injury. While the area around where she fell has rocks and there are many branches and trees, she didn't hit anything on the way down.

"I didn't die that day," she said. "I don't know why. I hope I figure out why."

The Weirs had just been on vacation and to a few weddings. Angela and her husband, Chris Weir, had started a diet and wanted to get back to the gym.

Angela usually wouldn't go to Crossfit of Frederick on days she worked. But that Wednesday she and Chris were motivated, so they tried to go before her shift began at 7 a.m.

Chris was driving west on the I-70 bridge about 4:30 a.m. when they saw brake lights and a "huge ball of fire" in the lanes ahead of them, Angela said. Chris pulled over to call 911.

Angela ran to the scene to help. She said her first thought was to avoid getting hit by a car, which has happened to patients she's had who tried to help crash victims.

"My second thought was, 'There's a lot of fire,'" she said. "I'm looking at all this fire, and there's debris scattered across the entire highway lanes that were all chunks of things burning."

She also thought the tanker was carrying fuel, so she hesitated to get close. But she saw the dump truck upside down and thought the driver would need immediate assistance.

As she ran toward the dump truck, she decided to get on the other side of a Jersey barrier to her left to protect her from the flames.

"Being focused on getting to the truck, I had no realization that I was on a bridge," she said. "So I just did a hop."

She fell an estimated 75 feet, hitting nothing. She was sure she was going to die, she said.

"There was time to realize that I was falling far," she said. "I didn't know what I was heading toward. In my mind, I thought I was heading toward another road."

'It's like everybody's nightmare'

She remembers everything except the initial impact, which police later told her was in water about 12 feet deep. From the bruises on the left side of her body, including her rib cage, hip and leg, and on the inside of her right leg, she figures she hit the water on her left side.

Surprised she was alive, she said, she started to swim. There was no way she could get up the muddy bank. Fearing a potential spinal cord injury, she stayed still and started shouting to the bridge, unable to see anything above.

About 15 minutes after Chris left their Jeep, he started walking back to it. He realized he hadn't seen Angela but assumed she was in one of the ambulances, helping patients.

"And there was a woman standing on the westbound bridge in the middle and she's pointing over and she says, 'There's someone down there,'" he said. "I put my phone and keys on the barrier and I leaned over. I mean, you can't see anything. It's pitch black. And I heard (Angela). And I was like, 'What the hell are you doing down there?'"

The last time he had seen her was after he turned their Jeep's LED lights on to help illuminate the scene as she ran toward it.

"As I got out of the car, I could see her running to the dump truck, and the last thing I saw was her putting her hands on the Jersey barrier, and I was like, 'All right, I know where she is,'" he said. Like Angela, he didn't realize they were on a bridge.

Angela said the Jeep's lights were the last thing she saw before she fell.

Chris told a Maryland State Police trooper that his wife was in the water. Troopers and emergency personnel went to find her.

Angela estimates it took about 15 minutes before Trooper Jonathan Deater made it to her. He and others got her to a helicopter to fly her to the shock trauma center, where her co-workers met her. She arrived minutes before her shift was to start.

"Knowing what I was in for when I got to shock trauma was just comical," she said. "I was like 'five minutes before they cut my clothes off,' and these are my co-workers. That's all I was thinking about, 'OK, who's going to see me naked today.' Not your average day. It's like everybody's nightmare when you're at work and naked in front of your co-workers. It happened," she joked.

He co-workers were shocked when test after test for injuries came up negative.

She was released and home by 1:30 p.m., she said.

'All the priorities shift'

Angela, who previously had a fear of bridges, said she had anxiety going back over the bridge where she fell. She had a dream she was at the accident scene.

Now, two weeks later, she said she has gone over the bridge many times. She has gotten over the anxiety in two counseling sessions that used light therapy to separate the memory from her physical response.

Although she has post-concussive effects and tailbone pain that may not go away for a year, she said she is lucky and better off than many people she has treated in the hospital who had not fallen as far.

She has been removed from the schedule at work until Labor Day and has had a lot of support from the hospital and her co-workers, all the way to the top management, which is allowing her to take more time off if she wants.

The most overwhelming part, she said, is the reaction from friends and strangers.

"To me, the well wishes that I've gotten from people far and wide have been the best," she said. "Really, the kindness is so refreshing. It's going to change how I interact with people for the rest of my life, for sure."

The day before the fall, she had told her sister she could not take one more thing going wrong. She faced financial challenges. Her husband had not had full-time work for a couple of years. There were other challenges that come with raising four children.

"Something has to start going right," she said she told her sister at dinner on Aug. 2.

"In a way, it was a huge blessing because it just changed a negative outlook that we've had for so long," she said. "You know there's always going to be a struggle of some sort in your life, or multiple struggles. ... And then when you realize that you see the sun come up the next day and know that that was not potentially going to happen, all the priorities shift."

Weir, who studied communications at Seton Hall University, said she is going to start a blog focusing on this experience. She wrote a blog in the past that was popular in the Crossfit community, she said, but she lost interest.

After she graduated from Seton Hall, she worked at WHAG in the advertising department, then wrote news for the KEY 103 radio station, before she realized she wanted to be a nurse.

She went to Frederick Community College for the nursing program and started working at the shock trauma center in 2003. She said she is going to pursue further degrees later.

"I've taken care of people on the other end of this my whole career," she said. "And I'm trying to go by my own advice that I've given to other people right now, and that's a little challenging: taking time. It goes forward, it moves backward, and that's sort of how my recovery has been. Two steps forward. Two steps back."


Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post,