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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Eight heroes lifted the car’: Spokane airport bystanders rescue couple hit by suspected drunken driver

An American flag flutters in stiff breeze outside the Spokane International Airport. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Bystanders rescued a father trapped beneath his car after a suspected drunken driver struck the man and his wife late Sunday night in the curbside baggage loading area at Spokane International Airport.

“Eight heroes lifted the car up and pushed it back to get the dad out from under the car,” said witness Noel Rademacher.

The couple were injured and rushed to the hospital as their young daughter and her cousin sat in the backseat. The girls were not hurt, as bystanders rushed into the role of rescuers who comforted them.

It happened at about 11:50 p.m., according to Spokane police, when a car driven by David W. Bergstrom, 60, steered into the parents, who have not been identified..

Police arrested Bergstrom on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular assault.

Bergstrom was in court Monday. He told investigators he had gone to the airport to pick up his wife, according to a KHQ report citing court documents. He said he has been suffering blackouts and underwent heart surgery late last year. The last thing he remembered Sunday night, he said, was driving outside the baggage claim area.

According to the court documents obtained by KHQ, Bergstrom said he drank between four and six beers Sunday – the last at about 8 p.m. Police reported Bergstrom’s eyes appeared glassy and bloodshot, and that his face was red. He was released from jail Monday afternoon without having to post bond.

Rademacher said she was getting picked up from the airport by her brother, Kameron Smith, after flying in from Seattle. The loading zone was mostly empty other than Rademacher’s car and the couple’s car in front of them.

“He just came out of nowhere,” Rademacher said of the car driven by Bergstrom. “He was accelerating probably as fast as the car could go.”

Bergstrom’s car came within inches of Rademacher’s vehicle before crashing into the couple in front of them. Bergstrom’s car kept going into a pylon beyond the loading zone, Rademacher said.

“We immediately put our hazard lights on and pulled over to see if there was any way we could help,” Smith said.

Rademacher said she rushed up to the car that had been hit and checked on the woman who had been tossed to the side, while her brother checked on Bergstrom.

That’s when Rademacher said she heard a whimper from under the car.

She called over to her brother, who said Bergstrom was unresponsive with his foot still on the gas pedal.

“The first thing I thought was this really isn’t safe and we need to shut the car off,” Smith said.

Smith then rushed back to help the father.

“He was completely underneath the front axle and the engine of the car,” Smith said.

“All of these angels out of nowhere showed up out of nowhere and helped my brother lift the car,” Rademacher said.

In the meantime, she gathered the two young girls and whisked them into the airport and away from the scene.

“I just didn’t want the girls to see that, so I removed them,” Rademacher said. And then more help continued to arrive.

A trauma nurse from Montana who was waiting to pick up her luggage rushed out to tend to the injured couple, Rademacher said. And then another nurse hurried in moments later.

“It was horrific,” Rademacher said. “There were so many just miracle workers who happened to be there at the right time because it didn’t look good.”

Added Smith: “This could have gone so much more poorly if there weren’t medical professionals who jumped into action without a second thought.

“These people probably saved that man’s life.”

Smith and Rademacher don’t know how the couple is doing, but said they have been thinking about them.

“I would love to know how they’re doing because I’m concerned, obviously,” Smith said.

Airport police and firefighters arrived and called the Spokane Police Department for backup. The couple had injuries that were not life-threatening, including broken bones, according to police.

Todd Woodard, airport spokesman, said he doesn’t recall a pedestrian being hit at the airport. While car-on-car crashes happen, this was “just very unusual.”

The airport is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to have law enforcement and firefighters able to respond within three minutes.

For this incident, police were called to help not only with the arrest but with the investigation, Woodard said.

“They have more investigative tools,” Woodard said of SPD.

The last flight departed from the airport just after 11 p.m., before the crash occurred.

“I don’t know what his intent was or why he was at the airport,” Woodard said of Bergstrom.

While Rademacher called the group that came together heroes, she believes others would react the same way.

“We didn’t do anything differently than I would hope someone would do for me and my family if it was us,” Rademacher said.