Truck Slams into Police on I-90
Vehicles are deadly foes for police patrolling on the street. On the afternoon of April 10, 2009, Bratenahl police officers Sergeant Chuck LoBello and Patrolman Eric Drotar responded to an accident call on I-90. The vehicles were in the inner-most lane, next to a concrete barrier. There was no full shoulder.
The officers parked their police blazer, with emergency lights flashing, behind a white Jeep Grand Cherokee. A red Ford ranger was immediately in front of the Jeep. Sergeant Chuck LoBello and his partner Eric Drottar got out of their SUV. They were standing along with the Jeep's driver, Andrea Brown, and the pickup's driver, Michael O'Connell. A semi-truck, loaded with steel, plowed into the rear of the police cruiser, shoving it into the Jeep rear, which then rammed the back of the pickup truck. All four individuals were pinned under the Jeep.
Carry Aiken, a 30-year emergency room nurse, was on her way home exhausted from a graduate class at Case Western Reserve University following a 12-hour shift as an emergency room nurse at Lake Health West Medical Center. She was the first on the scene. She saw a police officer limping beside the wreckage with a blood-stained face. LoBello directed Aiken to Patrolman Drottar, lying unconscious on the pavement with his head bleeding and his left leg pinned under the Jeep.
Bratenahl police officer, Mike Flanagan, who lived on the other side of I-90, heard the accident. He ran through his backyard, jumped the median, and ran to Michael O'Connell, pinned under the Jeep. Flanagan knelt by O'Connell's side and asked him if he had kids. O'Connell replied, "I have a son, one and a daughter, five, and a beautiful wife." Flanagan told him they were his reason to live.
After emergency medical services arrived, a tow truck pulled the Jeep off Drottar’s leg. A rescue helicopter landed on the highway and transported Drottar to MetroHealth Medical Center. Michael O’Connell, Chuck LoBello, and Andrea Brown driver were transported to Huron Road Hospital. The highway reopened after two and one-half hours. Nurse Carry Aiken drove home, crying and praying for Drottar’s recovery.
Thomas Kuhn, driver, and owner of the semi-truck, was treated at Huron Road Hospital and released. Records showed that he had been convicted of at least nine speeding violations in Ohio and Michigan and other infractions in the previous fifteen years. Kuhn was found guilty of failing to control vehicle, operating without reasonable control, and approaching a stationary public vehicle. He was fined $300.00 plus court costs. There was no jail time.
Andrea Brown, the driver of the Jeep, was released from Huron Road Hospital the next day.
Sergeant LoBello sustained a head injury but was released from Huron Road Hospital the next day. He recalled lying under the Jeep, watching gasoline dripping from the vehicle. LoBello later required two nose operations.
Michael O’Connell, the driver of the pickup, was in critical condition at Huron Road Hospital suffering from serious hand, knee, and internal injuries. Eight days after the accident, O'Connell left the hospital. Two months after arriving at the hospital, he gave out one-armed hugs at a gathering of friends, co-workers, and family to help raise money for his medical bills. He was 30 pounds thinner and a lot grayer. His battered arm hung by his side, and his battered hand gripped a cane to help him walk. He faced up to a year in rehabilitation.
Patrolman Drottar was a part-time officer who had been on duty only 11 days. He remained in a coma, having suffered injuries to his head and left leg. His skull fractures were not severe, but he had blood around the brain. The hospital could not predict if the brain damage was permanent.
When he came out of the comma, Drottar was unable to speak and could not remember his name. He could not stand or even sit in a wheelchair. A month after the crash, he was transferred from intensive care to the hospital’s rehabilitation Center to continue for seven weeks. He left the hospital after three months. His recovery was remarkable, but he needed to undergo months of outpatient rehabilitation.
Officer Drottar tried to return to the Bratenahl Police four years later. The sustained traumatic experience prevented him from doing any freeway patrol. He had to leave the Bratenahl Police Force.