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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Quick thinking in crash saves lives of two women

“Presence of mind and quick reflexes” helped two local women avoid impending death New Year’s Day when their car slid under the trailer of a semitruck that swung across foggy U.S. Highway 95 like a gate being closed, an Idaho State Police officer said Monday.

“Anybody sitting up in that car would have had their heads cut off,” ISP Cpl. Jim Brouwer said Monday evening, calling from a pay phone in Cottonwood. The accident occurred just after 9 a.m. Saturday south of Grangeville.

According to the ISP, 20-year-old Samantha Jo Plappert of Spokane and 21-year-old Jessica Blair Margerum of Coeur d’Alene were traveling south on Highway 95, going down the long grade known as Whitebird Hill when they encountered heavy fog and a blocked highway.

The road was dry and the weather clear for the first six miles of the long grade, Brouwer said. But down near the bottom, where the road comes close to the Salmon River, there was a thick fog and black ice.

Moments before Plappert and Margerum came along, a semi driven by Kathy Ann McBeth, 45, of Canby, Ore., began to slide on black ice just after entering the fog bank. McBeth told Brouwer she steered her out-of-control rig onto an escape ramp, where the drive unit of the truck immediately came to a stop in the gravel. The trailer, however, swung sideways and blocked all three lanes of the highway, ISP reported.

McBeth was running back out onto the roadway to set up reflective triangles as a warning when a 1990 Oldsmobile driven by Plappert appeared out of the fog, ISP reported.

Brouwer said the two women in the car told him they had slowed to about 30 mph because of the fog, which cut visibility down to about 300 feet. Brouwer said he measured 272 feet of skid marks before the car hit the trailer.

“They had poor traction, they were going down a 7 percent grade,” Brouwer said. “When they skidded underneath the trailer, basically everything above the dash was shaved off. As they were about to hit, they both ducked down and laid flat on the seats.”

The Oldsmobile came to a stop with its front end sticking out beyond the downhill side of the trailer, Brouwer said. Plappert and Margerum were trapped until one of the many people who stopped to help used a pry bar to open the car doors.

“They were extremely fortunate,” Brouwer said.

Plappert and Margerum were transported to Syringa General Hospital in Grangeville, where they were treated and released.