Alaska SWAT leader collides with woman in crash, then saves her life

By Alex deMarban
Anchorage Daily News

A police officer in an SUV slammed into a car driven by a teacher in East Anchorage on Tuesday, then helped save her life after she was thrown from the car.

Sgt. Chris Sims, a SWAT team leader assigned to work on gangs, was headed for training at a shooting range outside Eagle River, said Lt. Nancy Reeder, traffic-unit commander.

Ilona Marie Richey, a 53-year-old teacher, was headed to her job at SAVE alternative high school.

They collided at 6:38 a.m. in an accident that also involved a third car and shut down traffic at the Tudor-Muldoon curve for three hours, Reeder said.

Richey may have run a stop sign as she pulled her 1984 American Eagle onto Muldoon Road from Regal Mountain Drive, Reeder said. The police officer, in an unmarked Ford Expedition, swerved on the icy road at the last second, broadsiding Richey's car in the engine area.

Missing the door in the collision probably saved Richey's life, Reeder said.

But that wasn't the teacher's only lucky break. Sims, 45, is also a former paramedic.

The Eagle struck a pickup with two people before ricocheting into the ditch, Reeder said. The passenger in the truck, Janine Marquiss, 54, suffered minor injuries, but the truck was severely damaged.

As the four-door Eagle spun across Muldoon, Richey fell out through the door or crashed through the window, both of which were broken open in the accident, Reeder said. Richey, apparently not wearing a seat belt, ended up face down in a pool of bloody snow on the side of Muldoon, Reeder said.

The cop who hit her turned on his flashing lights to stop traffic, called for assistance, and forced himself out the door of his severely banged-up vehicle, said his boss, Sgt. Darrel Redick.

Then Sims went into paramedic mode. He cleared Richey's airway and got her breathing again, Reeder said. The teacher suffered head, chest and shoulder injuries, but was conscious and talking to doctors after medics took her to Providence Alaska Medical Center, she said. She didn't remember the accident, only that she was driving to work, Reeder said.

"Amazingly she has no broken bones," she said.

Richey is in fair condition, said Leah Davenport, Providence spokeswoman, on Tuesday. Davenport said she could not provide more information about Richey's injuries.

Richey's husband, at the hospital with her, did not want to talk to the media Tuesday, Davenport said.

Sims could not comment because the case is under investigation, police officials said.

Redick was also traveling to the shooting range when he came on the accident scene shortly after the wrecks.

Paramedics were already there, working on Richey, he said.

Meanwhile, Sims went to check on the pickup victims to make sure they were OK.

"After being in that type of accident, to think straight enough to provide aid to help this person breathe is pretty amazing," Redick said.

Sims seemed level-headed but rubbed his back in pain, Redick said. He didn't want to go to the hospital. He wanted to stay and help.

"He was more concerned with the people at the scene," said Redick, Sim's boss. "His adrenaline was probably cranking along, and I told him we needed to go."

At the hospital, Sims complained that his upper body hurt, Redick said. He was released after doctors took X-rays.

"I'm sure like he'll feel like a train hit him in the morning," Redick said.

Copyright 2006 Anchorage Daily News
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