Autumn DuVerger says she doesn’t remember anything from after her crash on Route 12 in Keene earlier this month.
That was July 7, a Wednesday. She says she doesn’t remember anything from the next couple of days either.
DuVerger, 24, of Peterborough, suffered a concussion and other serious injuries — including a fractured pelvis, organ damage and broken ribs — when her vehicle collided with a tractor trailer near Wyman Road. She says she didn’t start retaining memories again until that Saturday.
Doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, where she has been recovering, say they think she’ll eventually be able to walk again, DuVerger said Monday.
“I was terrified when I awoke in the hospital because I didn’t know how I got here or what happened to make me be here,” she said.
Keene police said after the crash that DuVerger had been trying to exit Wyman Road onto Route 12 south around 3:30 p.m., when she turned into the path of the truck, which was traveling north on the state highway.
The Keene native had just left work at Smiths Medical in Keene, where she has an assembly job, and was on her way to pick up her daughter, Iris, 2½, from day care, she said Monday. Both hands were on the wheel, she said, and she wasn’t distracted.
“I had looked both ways before I turned,” she said. “I just apparently didn’t see the tree-green truck coming down the highway.”
In a July 7 news release, Keene police said there was no indication that speed was a factor in the crash. Lt. Jason Short, who helped investigate the incident, said Tuesday he didn't have any further information about it.
What happened next, DuVerger says she knows only from the police and accounts of other first responders.
The tractor trailer struck her Kia SUV, pushing it 260 feet down the road and pinning her legs between the door and the center console.
A childhood friend’s younger sister, who DuVerger said stopped at the crash scene before recognizing that she was in the car, was quickly joined by three off-duty firefighters, each of whom was driving by at the time. They included Craig Matson of Westmoreland, who works for the Keene Fire Department and who said he’d been at the dump off Route 12.
Matson and Bill Shea, a Keene resident who works for the Nashua Fire Department, jumped into the back seat of DuVerger’s car to evaluate her injuries, Matson said, while Keene Fire Lt. Joe Amato, who also stopped at the scene, called Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid to report the collision.
“There’s not much I could do,” Matson said, adding that DuVerger started losing consciousness. “We just tried to keep her calm.”
Matson, who’s been at the Keene Fire Department for 12 years, said he’s trained to handle these types of incidents. The fire crews arriving on scene removed the door of DuVerger’s car and extricated her from the vehicle, he said, crediting them with acting quickly to help her get medical attention.
“She’s lucky,” he said, “very, very lucky.”
DuVerger was taken to Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, then airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. In addition to her fractured pelvis, broken ribs and concussion, she suffered a fractured clavicle and injuries to her liver, kidneys and spleen, she said. (The truck driver, Christopher Jones, 39, of Oxford, N.C., was taken to Cheshire Medical Center as a precaution.)
Shea reached out to DuVerger on Facebook after the crash, she said, recounting what had happened and asking about her condition.
“I’m forever in their debt that they came to my rescue,” she said of the off-duty firefighters. “I don’t know if I’d be here today if they didn’t.”
DuVerger said problems with her car’s accelerator that she’d been having for weeks may have contributed to the crash, though she doesn’t have any memory of the incident.
Regaining full consciousness in the hospital several days later was hugely disorienting, she said, especially because she couldn’t move her legs.
“My family was talking to me from the time of the accident to [then],” she said. “They didn’t know I wasn’t retaining information or that I wasn’t myself.”
DuVerger said Monday she’s regained feeling in her legs and can now sit on the edge of her bed, with her legs on the floor, though she isn’t allowed yet to put weight on them. She expects to stay in the hospital for another week or two before starting physical therapy in Keene.
DuVerger’s family and friends have helped look after her affairs while she recovers, including caring for her daughter, she said. And with her concussion symptoms having largely subsided, she’s feeling a new appreciation for her cognitive health.
“That’s all I can ask for, is that I am me,” she said. “Even if I spent the rest of my life in a wheelchair, knowing that it’s still me in there is what’s important.”
This story has been updated with a response from Keene police Lt. Jason Short.