Blaire Hamilton knows full well that she is lucky to be alive.
A St. Louis-based vaudeville performer who specializes in clowning and burlesque, Hamilton, 28, was traveling Friday afternoon from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Denver for a string of performances when she came upon an unexpected flash-blizzard.
"I had left Lincoln that day, it was 70 degrees, sunny out, it was really warm. So I was not dressed for the weather I endured later," Hamilton says. "I was wearing a little crop top, some thin leggings, some flats with no socks, sunglasses — it was nice and warm out."
But around 3:30 p.m., as Hamilton was driving west on I-80 near the 137 mile marker, it suddenly became very windy. Then the sky opened up, dumping snow to the point of causing whiteout conditions.
Hamilton, who grew up in part in Wisconsin, knew the drill. She slowed to 30 miles per hour and turned her hazards on.
"Everyone else around was doing the same," she says, "so I thought, 'OK, we got this.'"
Traffic soon slowed to a complete stop. Hamilton was in the right lane on a two-lane stretch on the westbound side; a grassy median separated her from the two eastbound lanes.
As she looked out her window, she saw a man running across the median, waving his hands in the air and shouting at her. She couldn't make out what he was saying, and she barely had a moment to figure out what he wanted before she felt the first hit to her car. It was followed in rapid succession by four more hits, the last being the most severe.
"I remember getting hit the first time almost feeling pissed, like, 'Oh dang it, I'm not going to Denver now,'" she explains. "Getting hit the second time, going, 'Wow, this is some real shit.' Getting hit the third time, life's flashing before my eyes, like, 'I'm going to die.'"
She's unsure exactly how many times her car flipped, she says. "You know when your stomach kinda goes up when you're on a roller coaster, you know you're airborne? So that was the third hit, and then I was hit two more times."
When her car finally came to a stop she was parked in the median, on her tires, facing the same direction she'd been facing when the accident began. She now had the front of a truck in her backseat, though. Within moments a handful of people came running up, asking her if she was OK and telling her she needed to get out of the vehicle immediately.
They were concerned that one or both of the vehicles might catch fire.
"I was told later by investigators that the only reason that the vehicles did not catch fire or blow up was because of the extreme cold and the amount of snow coming down," Hamilton says. "Otherwise they felt certain it would have blown up."
Those witnesses then told her she'd been struck by an astonishing four
semi-trucks and one additional vehicle. Her car had flipped twice, they told her. They helped her crawl out of her shattered passenger-side window, and a woman then helped her limp her way to a nearby semi, banging on the door and telling the truck driver to let Hamilton in, out of the elements.
"The semi driver said, 'I don't know either of you people,'" Hamilton explains. "And she said, 'I don't give a fuck, let this woman in.'"
Due to the hazardous conditions, it took more than an hour for emergency responders to arrive on the scene, and then another hour for them to make their way to a hospital in the tiny town of Ogallala, Nebraska.
Hamilton's knee was very swollen, cut up and bruised. Additional cuts and bruises were on her hips, legs, knees and feet. She had a mild concussion, and knots and cuts on the top and back of her head. Her earring sliced open her neck, and the flying broken glass sheared off several chunks of her hair. She says doctors are still concerned about her knee, and hope to get a better look at it once the swelling goes down.
"I left being able to limp out with a mild concussion, stitches and at the very least lots of cuts, swelling and bruising," she says. "And actually that's pretty good, given everything."
Hamilton credits a few factors for her relative lack of injuries. For one, she is small in stature — about five feet tall and 120 pounds, she says, and so when her car suddenly was compacted around her she was less affected than a larger person might be.
And about that car — investigators told her that the crumple zones on her 2002 Honda Civic worked "exactly like they were supposed to," though they did note the "miracle bubble" around the driver's seat.
Yeah, and about that miracle:
"Years ago, one of my very favorite cousins, Emily Douglas, died driving back to the St. Louis/Granite City area from Rolla. She was hit by a semi," Hamilton says. "A lot of people in my family are very spiritual, and on social media everyone's like, 'Somebody had to be watching out.' And my family is like, 'If anyone was, it was your cousin.'"
Staff at the Ogallala Community Hospital were in full-on crisis mode thanks to the numerous accidents caused by the blizzard, which killed one and resulted in a 300-mile stretch of the highway being shut down
. Hamilton says they moved her in and out within only a few hours. A physical therapist drove her in his own vehicle to a nearby hotel. The following day she went and saw what was left of her car.
Hamilton took photos of the destroyed vehicle and posted them to social media; in no time a fundraiser was set up at Foam
and a GoFundMe campaign
was launched to help her with bills.
The outpouring of support made Hamilton realize just how lucky she really is.
"It's made it very very real, not only seeing my car in person, but talking to the troopers that were on-site after the fact," Hamilton says. "Talking to the towing company, talking to the people that were on-site when it happened, the firefighters. Talking to the insurance company today.
"Everyone thought I was a body. And, somehow, I'm not."
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