Princeton High School senior Austin Weber has lingering physical and emotional pain from his ATV accident in northern
Minnesota nearly three years ago.
Weber says he has relived the July 25, 2010, accident countless times, not just at night, but also during the day.
The student council at Princeton High School (PHS) is raising money to help offset medical expenses of PHS senior Austin Weber, who was injured in an ATV accident nearly three years ago.
Casey Mordal, who is on the student council and is the student representative on the Princeton School Board, mentioned the fundraising for Weber at a recent school board meeting. One of the fundraisers is hat day every Friday this month. Students are generally not allowed to wear hats at PHS, but can pay $1 to buy a wristband to wear a hat on a particular Friday during April. The first wristband sale in April brought in $60.
The student council is also running a fundraiser for Weber called “Compatibility.” Students fill out a survey that gives a profile on themselves and also details what they like and dislike in others.
The student can then pay a small fee to get a listing of 10 other students (five from the participant’s grade and five from any grade at PHS) that the student would likely be compatible with. The student council contracted with a company to make the compatibility lists.
“We’re looking into what else we can do (for a fundraiser for Weber),” Mordal added.
The student council often does projects that benefit a national organization and so when the students on the council thought they should get behind a local project, Weber’s name came up, Mordal said.
“He’s really a nice guy and is friends with anyone he meets,” Mordal added. “We’re happy to help him out.”
“I think it’s great,” Weber said about the student council raising funds to help him with his medical costs. “I’m very thankful. I’m very fortunate to have people like this who are willing to do things for me. Some of them I barely know.”
Weber closed his eyes and paused several seconds during an interview at the high school last Friday, while he recalled the accident’s details.
It was in the late afternoon and Weber, then 14, was driving a four-wheel ATV with his best friend Nick, then 12, on the back. The boys had been swimming earlier and were racing along a dirt road south of Big Fork that Weber was not entirely familiar with. Some distance behind their ATV and out of sight for a moment, was Nick’s younger brother Kyle, then 10, riding another ATV. Kyle was trying to catch up.
“Everything was good,” Weber said about the minutes leading up to when he lost control of the ATV.
“Wrap an engine around a boy” that age and they are going to want to be “louder, faster, better,” Weber explained. Weber was wearing shorts, a tank top and flip flops as he sped the ATV along. Kyle had passed Weber and Nick earlier, laughing at the two as he went past, and Weber remembers having been determined not to let that happen again. Weber said he was throttling the ATV to an estimated 35-45 mph and cresting a hill when the sharp curve on the other side came into view. Weber said he realized right away he would not be able to keep on the road ahead. Somewhere along the curve, the ATV went off the edge of the road and straight into dense woods.
Weber remembers Nick screaming at him to slow down as the ATV went out of control, and that he yelled back, “I can’t slow down.”
“I’m sure we yelled a couple other things,” Weber said.
He also remembers yelling, “Hold on,” and then hearing a “very loud noise.” Seven trees were knocked down during the crash, according to Weber.
Weber said he didn’t remember anything more until he came to, lying on his back inside the woods.
“The wind was knocked out of me,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel a single part of my body. My ears were ringing louder than anything I had ever heard. I knew when I woke up that this was bad.”
Weber said he sat up and noticed Nick lying unconscious nearby. “I had no idea if Nick was still alive,” Weber said. “I thought I had killed my best friend. I just started yelling, ‘Nick, Nick, Nick! Come on, buddy, wake up.’ Finally there was just a whiny voice coming from Nick, asking, ‘What? What happened?’
“I said, ‘Nick, we got into an accident,’ and Nick said, ‘What? I just want to go to bed. I want my mommy.’”
Weber said that when he heard Nick say that, he worried that Nick had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). It turned out that Nick had a broken eye socket but no TBI, Weber said.
Kyle, showing up on his ATV on the area of the road that Weber and Nick had left, didn’t notice what had happened and returned to the house about a mile away, where Nick and Kyle’s grandparents were living, to see if Weber and Nick had returned there. Nick and Kyle’s parents, Paul and Tracy, were also there and Paul suggested Kyle drive back down the road for another look.
This time, when Kyle got to the area near the woods where Weber and Nick were at, Weber heard Kyle’s ATV and yelled loud enough for Kyle to find them. Weber remembers telling, Kyle, “We’re going to be OK,” but Kyle “immediately started to cry,” and that Weber told him not to cry, but to just get help.
Kyle went back to the house and then returned with Paul on the ATV, after which Paul went back to the house to call 911.
Weber said he had an idea of the extent of his own injuries but not what Nick had. He said he was first able to relax emotionally once he saw Nick being taken away in the ambulance.
Weber remembers screaming in pain when medics rolled him a little to the side to put the stretcher board beneath him.
“Bones were rubbing and crunching together on each other,” he said. Weber said he screamed in pain every time the ambulance went over a bump and that medics began injecting something into him.
Weber broke both his femurs and the tibia and fibula were broken on his right leg. He said he also had two deep cuts on the calf of his right leg, a big bruise on his chest and a concussion.
“It was hard for me to stay awake (before being picked up by the medics) because I had lost so much blood,” he said.
Weber and Nick were taken to the hospital in Big Fork and later flown by helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth. Weber said he was in St. Mary’s for 10 days and that Nick was there three to four days.
Nick recovered from his injury after surgery and lives north of Grand Marais, according to Weber. Weber said that he and Nick were childhood friends when they lived across from each other in Ham Lake and that he moved to the Zimmerman area in the third grade.
Weber noted that he has had six surgeries since the accident. One of the last things done, he said, was to transfer a tendon from one part of his left foot to another part of the foot so that he can pick up the left foot properly. Before, it just dangled, he said.
Weber, who uses a cane and has a boot-like, inflatable cast on his left foot, said he is glad he can walk now. He has pain in his left leg and back and suspects he will have lifelong problems as a result of the accident.
“But it just feels good to be up and around,” he said.
He said the emotional pain from reliving the accident has been compounded lately by the recent passing of his grandmother Arlene, of Wabasha, and how she had not been able to see him walking again after his last surgery.
“Every summer I would make one or two trips there to see her,” he said.
Weber said the accident’s outcome has probably brought him closer to God.
“He (God) is a very good friend of mine because he spared my life,” Weber said. “Basically, he gave me a second chance. I believe it is because there is something good in store for me. If Kyle hadn’t found me (lying in the woods, bleeding), I wouldn’t be here.”
Weber’s thoughts on safety
“It’s fun to get crazy, and I would sometimes, but it’s not worth it,” Weber said about not being safe during four-wheeling. Weber noted that neither he nor Nick were wearing helmets during the accident, and they could have been killed.
“I always thought, ‘This wouldn’t happen to me,’” Weber said. “I want to send a message out: This can happen to you.
“I’m sure every 14-year-old thinks he’s unstoppable. But I got stopped quick.”
Life was good in the moments before coming over that hill and seeing the sharp curve ahead, Weber said.
“I was having a good time. It was all good until I hit the woods.”