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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Family struck last week at Spokane airport has persevered despite tragedy

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 11, 2020

Autumn Klassen got off a plane after a visit to Disneyland with her 14-year-old daughter, Natalie, and her 7-year-old niece. They walked out the front doors of Spokane International Airport, and there waiting was Autumn’s husband, Jonathan Klassen.

Autumn rushed the girls out of the freezing cold that late Feb. 2 night and into the back seat of the car, and then started handing her husband luggage to load into the trunk.

“I’m right by the back wheel handing him bags when all of a sudden I just felt this impact,” Autumn said. “And then just nothing.”

A black SUV had smashed into the back of the Klassen family car. Autumn was thrown to the side of the loading zone and Jonathan was pushed under his car.

The crash added yet another frightening ordeal to the recurring misfortunes of the Klassen family.

They already have spent years overcoming and coping with late-stage cancer, a traumatic brain injury and illness.

“We’re so used to dealing with tragedy,” said Autumn. “I feel like we’re good at it.”

At the airport, a group of bystanders who saw what happened rushed to aid the Klassens, including a trauma nurse from Montana who held Autumn Klassen’s head and neck straight for about 25 minutes while she was unconscious.

“Then I just woke up and I couldn’t breath,” Autumn said. “She was right over my head holding my neck … and she’s like ‘You’ve been hit.’ And I mean, it was just a jumble.”

“I was just in this horrible pain in my leg and I could hear Jonathan moaning, ‘It hurts. It hurts,’ ” Autumn said.

She said her first thought was “where are the girls?”

By this time, witness Noel Rademacher had collected the two girls and taken them inside the airport to shield them from the unfolding rescue, that included Kameron Smith and seven other bystanders lifting the car off of Jonathan while another nurse who happened to be at the airport checked his pulse.

First responders arrived shortly after and loaded the couple into ambulances.

In the week since the crash, Jonathan has had two surgeries. A third is pending as Autumn has been released from the hospital with plans to return to work.

The driver of the car that hit the Klassens, David W. Bergstrom, has been released from jail.

He has been charged with two counts of vehicular assault and two counts of reckless endangerment. His arraignment is scheduled for later this week.

According to court records, Bergstrom, 60, told police he drank four to six beers before driving to the airport to pick up his wife that night. Bergstrom also had been suffering blackouts and underwent heart surgery late last year, according to court documents.

Family tragedies

In 2011, Jonathan suffered a traumatic brain injury in a mountain biking accident. After completing treatment at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, he was able to drive, keep up the house and help take care of his daughter Natalie. However, going back to work full time was not a possibility.

In 2014, Natalie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, another major adjustment for the family. And then a year later, Autumn was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

“There’s no cure once it goes stage four and once it’s spread,” Autumn said.

She had radiation on her lung three times and gamma knife brain radiation twice. She continues with daily chemotherapy at home.

“The cancer thing we just take day by day,” Autumn said.

With Jonathan disabled, Autumn works two jobs to help keep the family afloat.

When it comes to managing medical bills, Autumn admits it’s “definitely gotten away from us but that’s another thing that we take day by day.”

Part of taking life day by day is taking the time to enjoy each other as family, such as the girls’ trip to Disneyland.

“If we have the opportunity to take a vacation or take time off to do something together as a family, we do it,” Autumn said.

But time together as a family might be scarce the next few weeks. Jonathan has had two seizures since the accident, but his brain scans show no sign of bleeding, Autumn said.

“With the brain you just gotta wait and see,” she said.

Jonathan’s social worker mentioned the possibility of him having to go into a care facility, but Autumn said she hopes that’s not the case. Either way the next step after a third surgery is to return to St. Luke’s for rehab.

“I’m just looking forward to normal life resuming,” Autumn said.

Part of the healing process for the Klassen family will be the prosecution of Bergstrom, Autumn said.

“I’d like to see him have to pay for what he did,” Autumn said.

She acknowledged that Bergstrom’s family is probably hurting, too.

A friend started a GoFundMe to help the Klassens with their medical bills.

It has reminded her that “people are good.”

It was Noel Rademacher, a fellow cancer survivor, who helped the girls from the car and protected them from the horrors of the accident.

A few days later, the women spoke on the phone.

“It was really nice to connect with her,” Autumn said. “It was awesome because that was my main concern you know, make sure the kids are okay.”

Rademacher’s husband, Thomas, is an anesthesiologist with Providence Health and Services, which includes Sacred Heart Medical Center where Jonathan is being treated.

Autumn said the support that total strangers, including the Rademachers, have given them filled the Klassens with “tremendous gratitude.”

“It still blows my mind that people would do that,” Autumn said. “They didn’t have to do that, they could have waited for the police and the ambulance to get there and figure it out, but they chose to do that. They put their lives at risk to save my husband.”

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