ONTARIO – As soon as she got off work that Saturday, Karlie Nutter didn’t feel well.
She couldn’t pinpoint the root of the unease so she initially brushed it off.
She was tired. Her day as a manager of Ruszoni’s Pizza in Weiser was long and she wanted to go home and take a nap. On this April 23, her two children, Rowan, 5, and Parker, 10, were set to go to a rodeo with her ex-husband.
Before she left for work, Nutter carefully laid out clothes for her boys for the rodeo.
Her anxiety, though, magnified when she reached home. The clothes she laid out for her boys were untouched. There was no sign her ex-husband or the boys had been in the house. That was strange.
“I felt really off then. I laid down to take a nap,” said Nutter.
Not long after, her cell phone rang. Her ex-husband, James Umphrey, told her there had been an accident.
A bad one.
And that Rowan was seriously injured.
“He said Rowan was being lifeflighted,” said Nutter.
Nutter, 31, said she “lost it.”
“I was just hysterical,” she said.
Then she pulled herself together and rushed to her car to get to the accident scene on Oregon Highway 201 just outside of Ontario.
Earlier that day, James Umphrey, 39, along with his parents, Bob and Connie Umphrey – both 64 – traveled to Fruitland in their black Toyota Prius for Parker’s soccer game.
After the contest, they picked up an ice cream cake for Parker’s upcoming birthday. They departed Ontario and drove down Oregon Highway 201 and were near Chester Road when they stopped behind a Ford Focus. The Focus was preparing to turn off of the highway.
In the back of the Prius was Rowan – in a booster seat – Parker and Connie Umphrey. Up front was James and Bob Umphrey. All wore seatbelts.
That’s when a Chevy pickup police said was operated by Waylon Duffy, 29, Nampa, pulling a large trailer slammed into the back of the Prius at high speed. The collison knocked the Prius off the road, landing upside down into an irrigation ditch.
“They were in eight inches of water. James kind of came to. Rowan and Connie were hanging upside down, unconscious,” said Nutter.
Parker Umphrey, though, was already out of the vehicle and trying to free his younger brother and grandmother, said Nutter.
“James went to get Rowan out first. When he got him out he had to climb the ditch. Rowan was unconscious. He was bleeding from both ears,” said Nutter.
Rowan took a few deep breaths and then became unresponsive.
Across from the irrigation ditch people who were attending a birthday party ran toward the crash.
“They ripped the doors off the Prius and got Bob and Connie out,” said Nutter.
Miles away on Interstate 84, Oregon State Police Trooper Ashley Johnson was moving through a normal day on patrol when she heard a call break over the radio about the crash. She immediately raced toward the scene.
“I arrived on the scene and had some guys, bystanders, tell me this little boy needed help,” said Johnson.
Johnson said as soon as she saw Rowan her training kicked in.
“He wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t feel much of a pulse,” said Johnson.
She asked Umphrey to place his son on the ground and then Johnson began to do chest compressions on Rowan.
“I did CPR until medical arrived. I let them (paramedics) know that we needed LifeFlight,” said Johnson.
Johnson said she acted instinctively.
“You don’t think about anything else. In that moment I was completely focused on what I was trying to accomplish. I walked up and saw the boy in his arms and I began to assess what I was seeing,” said Johnson.
Johnson put several bystanders to work.
“I had one of them run and get my medical kit. Another person, I told them to find some scissors in the med kit while I was giving chest compressions. While I was giving compression, he helped me cut the boy’s shirt. There was a lot of help,” said Johnson.
Rowan began to breathe again.
A Lifeflight helicopter arrived and Rowan was whisked away to a Boise hospital.
Johnson focused on helping other OSP officers who arrived on the scene and put the incident behind her. Later, though, she gradually began to review her actions.
“I always go back and critique myself. Then you start thinking, wow, this could happen to anybody,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the incident made her think about her own children, ages 8 and 3.
“It makes you very grateful to be able to go home and give love to those kinds,” said Johnson.
Nutter picked up her ex-husband at the accident scene. Bob and Connie Umphrey were on their way to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario. Bob Umphrey had minor injuries but his wife suffered five broken ribs and a fractured lower back.
James Umphrey emerged from the crash with minor scratches and bruises.
On the way to Boise, James Umphrey told Nutter what happened.
“He was very traumatized. This was our biggest nightmare so we just made it through the drive, kept it together,” said Nutter.
As they drove, Umphrey received a call from Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
“Originally they lifeflighted him to St. Al’s. That is where the trauma unit is. They stabilized him there and told us they were taking him to St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center,” said Nutter.
It was then the parents learned of Rowan’s injuries.
“A skull fracture and a brain contusion,” said Nutter.
When they arrived at St. Luke’s Boise, medical personnel guided the two parents to the emergency room. Their son was behind a curtain and they watched as doctors and nurses worked.
“That’s where it gets kind of blurry,” said Nutter.
Nutter remembers doctors talking to her and her ex-husband.
“They were telling me that he was essentially unresponsive. They wanted to be totally upfront. They said his brain was essentially dead,” said Nutter.
Nutter said she “froze up.”
“All the doctors and nurses were very compassionate. They were just telling us, there is just very little response,” she said.
Along with the brain contusion, Rowan suffered multiple fractures to his skull. That, in turn, triggered swelling of his brain.
The next day, though, after a CT scan, there was a glimmer of hope, said Nutter.
“He was more responsive. His brain wasn’t as bad as they thought. That was a big relief,” said Nutter.
Through the week, doctors would lower the amount of sedation and did a series of the tests on Rowan, who was still in a coma.
“And physically he was responding with, like, arm movements. For a while one side of his body wasn’t responding as well as the other. The trauma was on the left side of his brain so his right side was not initially responding,” said Nutter.
Despite the long odds, Rowan continued to make small, but crucial improvements.
“Each day when they turned his sedation low, there was a little more movement and responsiveness,” said Nutter. “Everything was essentially healing on its own,”
Rowan’s breathing tube was removed, and he began to respond even more to the tests doctors performed.
Eventually, Rowan came out of his coma and the ICU. A few weeks ago, he traveled to Salt Lake City for pediatric rehabilitation. Progress, said Nutter, has been slow but steady. He can communicate through hand squeezes and head nods, said Nutter, and he recognizes his parents, his big brother and can understand them.
“He has a long road ahead of him. Now it is just a matter of time,” said Nutter.
Johnson doesn’t see her actions as heroic. She was just doing her job.
“We are all given the same training. Whether it’s me or whomever from the office shows up, I think anyone would have assessed the situation and jumped into action,” said Johnson.
She said it took “a couple of days” to process the crash and her actions.
Sometimes simple things – like holding her daughter – elicited a memory from that day.
“The squish of her belly brought me back to that moment of doing those chest compressions. That took me off guard,” said Johnson.
Johnson said memories of the incident still linger in her mind’s eye.
“I think about it every day and I think about the little boy and his family and pray for them and his safety,” said Johnson.
Then Johnson paused.
“It is hard to go to something like that. It makes me very grateful for the things we sometimes take for granted,” she said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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