St. Charles family, friend survive crash: 'We figure God was in the car with them'
It was bad, but it could have been a lot worse.
That was the sentiment expressed Tuesday by St. Charles East girls volleyball coach Jennie Kull and daughter Morgan while recovering from a Kentucky automobile crash that seriously injured four.
On May 8, Jennie, husband Jim Kull, Morgan and her boyfriend, Jake Schweizer of St. Charles, were driving to Alabama to pick up recent graduate Morgan's belongings at her Auburn apartment.
Jennie was driving the Mercedes-Benz SUV. Morgan was seated behind her. Jim was in the passenger seat, Schweizer behind him. All four were wearing seat belts.
The foursome was passing through a wooded area near Bowling Green, KY, around noon when they ran into heavy rain. Water quickly puddled on the roadway. The SUV began to hit slick spots, even at the speed limit, Jennie said. It started to hydroplane. The tires lost traction and the vehicle went into a slide.
Morgan said she and Jake were playing Connect Four on their phones at the time.
"All of a sudden it felt like something just picked us up from the road," she said. "You're like is this really happening? It happened really fast. It was the weirdest feeling."
The vehicle left the roadway.
"Fortunately, I was able to aim us back away from an overpass," Jennie said. "We headed down into this wooded area. I thought I could get between two trees, but I didn't make it."
The front driver's side of the SUV hit two trees and the vehicle careened through a barbed-wire fence before coming to rest. It did not roll.
Jennie said her biggest fear was the kids. She wanted to make sure everyone was talking. Morgan and Jake were both badly hurt but responsive. Jim was not responsive initially but later walked to the ambulance with help.
The vehicle was equipped with OnStar and automatically contacted emergency services, but Jennie did not know that. Her instinct was to get help. Though she had suffered three broken neck vertebrae, multiple broken ribs and seat belt bruises, she got out of the SUV and made her way up to the highway in the pouring rain. However, no one saw her due to low visibility. Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and transported all four to The Medical Center at Bowling Green.
When discharged from the hospital two days later, Jennie was picked up by her daughter, Katie Kull, and her sister, Lisa Wernsing. Both arrived in Bowling Green Friday night. They took Jennie to a rented 3-bedroom house.
Jim was in the hospital for a week. He broke his lower back, sternum and multiple other bones and suffered a collapsed lung.
Schweizer was hospitalized for 11 days. The Marquette University biomedical engineering student and 2017 St. Charles East graduate required surgery to install a temporary brace around two fractured vertebrae that involved torn ligaments, according to Jenny Schweizer, his mother. He also suffered a grade-III liver laceration.
Had Jake and Morgan not been wearing seat belts in the back seat, the outcome could have been far worse.
"We have said that every day. We figure God was in the car with them," said Jenny Schweizer, who, along with husband Terry, spent 11 days in Kentucky while their son was hospitalized.
The Kulls finally returned to St. Charles on Sunday. Katie drove her father and Morgan in a rented minivan. Lisa drove Jennie. The Schweizers arrived home in St. Charles Monday.
Morgan was upbeat Tuesday despite facing a long road back to the volleyball court. The setter and two-time St. Charles East team captain graduated from Auburn in three years. She plans to use her final year of NCAA eligibility as a graduate transfer at UIC this fall while pursuing a Master's Degree in Public Policy.
First, she must recover from a broken sternum, pelvis and coccyx. Because Morgan also dislocated her right ankle and fractured a small foot bone, she was transferred the day of the crash from Bowling Green to University of Louisville Hospital, where she underwent reconstructive surgery. She was discharged two days later.
Though currently healing in a hospital bed at home, she hopes to make the most of her final year of college eligibility.
"Once the sternum fracture heals, I can start doing some upper body stuff and then I'll work really hard on physical therapy," Morgan said. "Hopefully, it'll all heal sooner. My hope is to be back. I don't know if it'll be the beginning of the season or in the middle of the season or whatever, but I have to get back into it."
Jennie Kull said her family has been overwhelmed by the "unbelievable" support they have received since May 8 from family, friends, the volleyball community, the St. Charles East High School community and the people of St. Charles.
"I can't even put words to it," said Jennie, who remains in a brace and will likely require neck surgery. "I'm embarrassed because, you know, this was an accident but people have been pouring out with love and support. My volleyball kids have come over and written on my driveway (in chalk) and put up posters and things like that. It's been really cool. The school, you can't even imagine the support. I'm humbled. I'm totally humbled.
"We feel really blessed to be a part of this community because they have just reached out beyond belief to support us. I couldn't be more thankful."