Rescuers cut open Bronco, save woman

Jerry Mingo, Island County’s recycle and hazardous waste program coordinator, examines labeling on potentially hazardous materials. - Rick Levin
Jerry Mingo, Island County’s recycle and hazardous waste program coordinator, examines labeling on potentially hazardous materials.
— image credit: Rick Levin

An Oak Harbor woman who drove her Ford Bronco and horse trailer through a Highway 20 guard rail and over a steep embankment was lucky to be alive Tuesday afternoon.

Linda Cook, 46, may owe her life to the men and women who cut her out of the demolished Bronco, strapped her to a stretcher and formed a human chain to pass her safely up the embankment to the waiting ambulance.

Cook looked battered as they placed her in the ambulance, but she was talking.

Cook was driving on the long, downhill stretch of Highway 20 above the Libbey Road intersection, in an area between Central Whidbey Fire District 5 and Fire District 2 South. State Trooper Norm Larsen said witnesses told him that there may have been a problem with the trailer, but he hadn’t yet talked to Cook, who at the time was being driven to the hospital. “She went over the rail for whatever reason,” he said.

Cook lost control of her newer Bronco, which was pulling a heavy horse trailer that was empty. The two vehicles slammed through the guard rail, with the Bronco ending up pointing back up toward the highway, while the trailer was pointing the opposite direction.

Both volunteer fire departments responded, as did state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and ambulance personnel. Traffic on the busy highway was detoured to Madrona Way.

It took about an hour from the time of the accident around 2 p.m. until Cook was driven away in the ambulance.

“It’s been a while since we had one this involved,” said Captain Gerald Smith of FD 2 South, the command officer at the scene, only a few minutes after the rescue was completed. “It was difficult because of the entrapment.” Smith said the victim was wedged between the vehicle’s steering wheel and console. “Her whole body was pinned between the center column and driver’s seat,” he said. “The whole roof collapsed.”

Volunteers scampered down the steep embankment to find the Bronco wedged into a stand of small evergreens and stuck in unstable sand. Both vehicles had to be secured with cables before rescue work could commence, and trees had to be cut back and sand shoveled away.

Captain Bob Spinner of Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue brought four firefighters and a variety of rescue equipment to the scene. “It took a little longer than we expected, but you’ve got to take the time to do it right,” he said.

Using two Jaws of Life from Central Whidbey and one from FD 2, as well as a variety of other tools, firefighters and EMTs literally cut the top off the Bronco. More than a dozen men and women swarmed around the vehicle, while others stayed above to hand them any equipment they requested.

“She couldn’t have crashed at a better spot,” said Smith, noting that both departments respond to emergency calls that area.

All the volunteers were happy to see that Cook was alive. “She knew her name. She was conscious,” Smith said. “There’s no better feeling.”

Cook was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Details of her injuries were not available, but Whidbey General Hospital spokesperson Trish Rose described her condition as “stable but serious.”

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