Two women were returning from a snowboarding trip Jan. 31 when a patch of ice near Kyburz left the passenger injured and the driver with a broken neck.
Eighteen-year-olds Mattie Alleva and Ashley Voll, both of Folsom, were returning on Highway 50 from a day of snowboarding when it started to snow, said Alleva, the driver of the car. She lost control of the car on an icy patch and swerved into oncoming traffic, hitting another car before rolling down an embankment. A tree stopped the car.
“My seatbelt broke off,” Alleva said, but both she and Voll were trapped in the car.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Investigators Dave Stevenson and his partner Jim Applegate were returning from a joint arson investigation with Cal Fire investigator Tom Oldag in the South Lake Tahoe Basin, a press release from Stevenson stated. Stevenson and Applegate were followed by Oldag as they traveled westbound on Highway 50. Stevenson noted that as they “approached Strawberry, the snowy conditions turned from bad to worse, with near whiteout conditions.”
About four miles west of Strawberry, they happened upon the Alleva’s SUV over the side of the embankment and two victims from the other car lying in the roadway in critical condition. They had been two cars behind Alleva’s, she said. Stevenson, Applegate and Oldag “immediately recognized the incident as potentially fatal with the crash scene unsafe,” Stevenson noted.
While Oldag initiated the Incident Command System and took control of the scene on the highway, Stevenson made his way 25 yards down the embankment. “Both girls had obvious head and neck injuries from the roll over and were in extreme pain,” he said, which Alleva confirmed.
“Stevenson removed the windshield to gain access to the victims to access their injuries,” the press release stated. “Once inside the vehicle Stevenson stabilized the driver who had moderate head injuries, then turned his attention to the passenger who was upside down and complaining of severe head and neck pain. Stevenson was able to immobilize the victim with his jacket while awaiting fire personnel.” Stevenson said he “had that gut feeling something was really wrong with her neck and my training taught me not to move her unless we had to.”
“He sat with me, held my neck for 30 minutes,” Alleva said.
Meanwhile, Applegate was maintaining advanced life-saving first-aid on the two other victims, who had been ejected from their car. He realized Lifeflight would be needed due to the road conditions. “We were in the middle of nowhere with whiteout snow conditions, fire personnel responding from as far away as Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe and minimal first-aid equipment. Time was not on our side and I knew we were in for the long haul,” Applegate said.
Back at the SUV, Alleva and Voll were panicking. “The girls began to panic as they smelled gasoline leaking, the SUV rocking and the length of time they had been trapped inside the vehicle,” Stevenson said. “I knew we needed a contingency plan in the event we needed to emergency extricate the girls.”
Oldag arrived at the SUV with a C-Spine collar to immobilize Alleva’s neck. “That is when she told me she couldn’t breathe and was going unconscious,” Stevenson recalled. “I knew we had to get that collar on her and get her out.” He put the collar on her while Oldag stood by to help get Alleva out of the wreck.
It took between 25 and 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. “He still sat with me, calmed me down,” Alleva said. It was a half-hour before a pulley-rig with a backboard could be lowered down, as it was too steep to walk a stretcher down.
Alleva was transported to Marshall Medical Center where it was found that her neck was broken. She was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, where she found out her C1 and C2 vertebrae, in her neck, were both broken. She said the doctors were amazed; usually with those vertebrae broken, the patient is paralyzed.
“If it wasn’t for Dave, I would have been moved and probably paralyzed,” Alleva said. “I feel like he’s my guardian angel. If he hadn’t stopped, I would have freaked out and moved. He calmed me down.”
Besides Stevenson, she wanted to thank the UCD staff and her mother, Christy, her boyfriend Talon Gorman and Talon’s father, Jeff. She noted that they stayed with her for two days straight while she was in the hospital, with the Gorman family bringing her stuffed animals and being there when her mother could not. Her stepfather Jeff and stepsiblings Austin, Justin and Jenny also visited, making the five days stuck in a hospital bed more bearable, while her brother and sister, Jordan and Courtney, called to check on her. “They made me feel like I was at home again, like nothing happened.”
She said she will have to wear a medical halo for three months, but will not need surgery.
“Those girls, after what they went through, were amazing,” Stevenson said. “Their emotional and physical strength shows you how tough they really are — true fighters.”