ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Cloquet woman survives vehicle's fall from overpass

State Patrol Trooper Dave Vereecken wondered what had happened when he arrived at a one-vehicle accident Thursday morning on Interstate 35. A Toyota Corolla faced the wrong direction on northbound I-35, its roof flattened. But there were no skid ...

Off the overpass
A Toyota Corolla rests between Interstate 35 and an on ramp Thursday after falling from the 14th Street overpass near Cloquet. The driver was injured but survived the crash. Photo by State Patrol Trooper Dave Vereecken

State Patrol Trooper Dave Vereecken wondered what had happened when he arrived at a one-vehicle accident Thursday morning on Interstate 35.

A Toyota Corolla faced the wrong direction on northbound I-35, its roof flattened. But there were no skid marks and no sign of a rollover.

"I looked at the firemen and one pointed his finger up" to the 14th Street overpass, Vereecken said. "I'm like, 'No way.' Somebody ran up there and sure enough there were skid marks going up onto the snow bank and over the edge."

"The person that reported the accident, from what I heard, said that a vehicle basically fell out of the sky," Vereecken said.

The car's sole occupant, Hannah Ellisa Tibbetts, 21, was listed in good condition Friday afternoon at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. She underwent surgery for a fractured neck Friday, according to a family member.

ADVERTISEMENT

"She should have been dead," Vereecken said. "She's lucky to have survived falling off a bridge. It had a happy ending."

The accident happened around 11:30 a.m. Thursday as Tibbetts was heading north on 14th Street. She lost control of her 1991 Toyota Corolla and the car apparently went up the snow banked against the bridge's railing and slid along the rail before plunging to the interstate.

"It was the craziest thing I've ever seen. It probably went at least 40 feet horizontally through the air and dropped 40 feet straight down," said Vereecken, a 10-year State Patrol veteran.

The car landed where northbound I-35 and Minnesota Highway 33 merge.

"The best we could tell is that it landed on its roof," Vereecken said. "The saving grace was that she hit the snow bank between the merging lanes. That snow cushion pushed her car back up and it landed on all fours" in I-35's right lane.

The impact had flattened the car's roof to where the roof was touching the top of the seats. Tibbetts, who was wearing a shoulder belt but not the lap belt, was lying sideways in the car, trapped, in shock and upset. Firefighters cut and peeled back the roof to reach her. They placed her on a backboard and braced her neck before she was transported to the Cloquet hospital.

"We expected possibly a fatality," Vereecken said.

Instead, the State Patrol sergeant who followed up at the hospital found Tibbetts sitting up, talking and with feeling in all her extremities.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tibbetts' brother-in-law Bryce Pfisthner was thankful Tibbetts survived.

"It was a pretty nasty crash," Pfisthner said.

Pfisthner appreciates the quick response by emergency workers, but he is disappointed that road crews hadn't cleared the snow from along the overpass's railing.

"If they had cleaned up on the bridge she would have just hit the barrier instead of going over," he said. "She would probably be a lot better now."

Carlton County, which is responsible for the 14th Street bridge, removes snow from along bridge railings as time allows, Carlton County Engineer Wade Olson said.

"That one hadn't gotten done before we had to go back out and deal with more snow," he said.

Snow banked against a bridge railing may have contributed to a 1996 accident in Duluth where two women died after their Jeep plunged from a highway overpass near 21st Avenue West and fell 50 feet.

The State Patrol determined that the driver in that accident had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit and was traveling 59 mph when she lost control. The posted or recommended speed for the overpass is 35 mph.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alcohol was not a factor in Thursday's accident, State Patrol Sgt. Mark Baker said.

"She told the trooper out there that she was going too fast," he said.

14th Street overpass

Related Topics: CLOQUETPOLICETRANSPORTATION
Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
What To Read Next
Recently sold properties from St. Louis County.
Bankruptcy information gathered from cases filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Duluth.
The business owners hope to offer a hub for outdoor enthusiasts with their newest venture.
Artificial intelligence can now act as an artist or a writer. Does that mean AI is ready to play doctor? Many institutions, including Mayo Clinic, believe that AI is ready to become a useful tool.