‘I never lost hope’

Published 7:43 am Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lyndon Schewe thought about his friends and family while trapped in his car for 6 1/2 hours on Jan. 5. -- Submitted photo

Waking up in his smashed Buick Park Avenue with items from his car strewn around him, 53-year-old Lyndon Schewe could not remember what had happened.

But as icy water from Wedge Creek came into the driver’s side of the car, he knew he had to get help.

Schewe, of Owatonna, had somehow crashed off of Interstate 90 down the hill and into the creek just west of Minnesota Highway 13 known as Wedge Creek.

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It was a milder-than-usual day that Jan. 5, but there was still a chill in the air.

Schewe said he listened as cars passed him on the highway, not knowing what had happened just moments earlier down below.

“I could hear them out in the distance,” Schewe said. “At times I would start yelling, especially if I heard a car slow down. At other times I figured I had to save my strength.”

But no one stopped — not for 6 1/2 hours.


An icy patch

Schewe said that day he woke up at about 5 a.m., got ready and then left his house about 30 minutes later to begin a trip to Le Mars, Iowa.

A startup service technician for Evapco Inc. out of Medford, Schewe was scheduled to work at a plant there. He services large heating and cooling equipment.

Taking along some tools and a few parts in his 2004 four-door Buick Park Avenue, he buckled his seat belt and headed south down Interstate 35 to Albert Lea where he cut across to Interstate 90.

A tan Buick Park Avenue rests in a creek below Interstate 90 while firefighters and members of the State Patrol and Freeborn County Sheriff's Office look on the afternoon of Jan. 5. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

Traveling westbound on I-90, he said he remembers it was a little bit warmer that day. But there were still some slick spots on the highway.

He drove 67 mph, he recalled.

The next thing he knew, he said, just past where Interstate 90 goes over Minnesota Highway 13, he hit an icy patch.

And that’s the last thing he remembers.


‘I never lost hope’

When Schewe woke up — he estimates about 15 minutes later — he was down off the road on the other side of the highway. His car was smashed and in an icy creek.

It was still dark outside, and he was injured.

He said he knew approximately where he was at, just west of Minnesota Highway 13 off of Interstate 90. The creek he was in runs perpendicular to the interstate and a long gravel driveway that connects to School Section Lake properties.

Because he and his wife were Albert Lea High School graduates of 1977, he knew the area well.

“I thought in 15 minutes to a half hour I’ll be found,” Schewe said.

Fifteen minutes passed. Then another 15 minutes passed, and there he remained.

Shortly after, the sun came up.

He said he tried to find his cell phone, which had been laying in the seat beside him, but he couldn’t find it — in fact, it is still missing.

Not knowing the extent of his injuries, his thoughts were to try to keep moving.

“I kept on thinking and hoping for the best, thinking about friends and family,” he said. “Basically I never lost hope.”

He “scooted” over from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat and was “jiggling around, saying prayers, singing” — most of all, trying to stay hopeful. There was icy water in the driver’s side of the car.

He said he tried to think of other ways he could call for help, too, through things such as his OnStar system — which proved to be inoperable because his battery had flown out of the car — and his GPS system.

At one point, he tried to grab a toolbox with his toes that had walkie-talkies in it to see if those devices would work.

But to his avail, that didn’t work either.

“I just tried to keep myself awake,” he said. “I knew if I went to sleep it might have been bad.”


An answered prayer

At about 1 p.m., a little more than six hours after Schewe first woke up in the creek, Chris Sorenson, who lives nearby with his parents, drove by on the gravel driveway next to the creek and just happened to see the debris from the crash.

He knew the debris wasn’t normal and stopped to get a closer view.

That’s when he found Schewe.

Schewe said he heard Sorenson call for an ambulance. Then the man called Schewe’s wife, Cindy, to tell her what happened.

Authorities from the Minnesota State Patrol and Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office arrived, and Schewe was ultimately airlifted via Mayo One to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

“I was a little freaked out,” said his wife, about finding out about the crash.

She said she thought her husband had already been down to Iowa and back and was surprised he was done with his day so early. In actuality, at that point, she didn’t know he never made it to his destination.

Her brother who lives in Albert Lea picked her up in Owatonna and took her to St. Marys.


On the road to recovery

At St. Marys, she soon found out her husband had received numerous injuries: a broken spine, a fractured thumb, a broken arm, a punctured lung and a broken nose. He also cracked six ribs, had a gash on his head and even had a little bit of frostbite.

He was in the intensive care unit when he first arrived, and then the doctors performed back surgery.

On Monday, Jan. 9, he had both an arm and hand surgery.

Little by little, his condition improved, until he was released Jan. 15, just 11 days after being admitted.

Though he was released from the hospital and is at home again, Schewe said he still has a lot of recovering to do.

He has a back brace he’ll have to wear for the next three months, a cast on one hand and a sling for the other arm. He also will have to go through rehabilitation to get used to moving his arm again.

“I just want to get back to normal life, get back to work and do the stuff I normally do,” he said. “From what they said, I’ll be pretty normal.”

The couple said they have received lots of emails, calls and cards since the crash. They have an optimistic attitude and are grateful things weren’t any worse.

“We are very thankful for our caring family and friends,” his wife said. “It is comforting to have such wonderful support.”


So how did Schewe end up in the creek?

Though the Minnesota State Patrol has not released many details about the crash, Schewe said he and his family have their own speculation about what happened that day.

His wife’s three brothers even went out to the site to scope out what took place.

He said after looking at skid marks, they think he hit an icy patch, traveled across the median, crossed through the eastbound lanes of the interstate and then went down along the hillside near the bridge that crosses over Wedge Creek. The bridge is just west of Minnesota Highway 13.

At some point, the car traveled through a barbed wire fence, went airborne for a short while, hit some railroad ties and rolled over at least once before landing upright in the creek.