Rescued UI student recounts I-57 accident
CHAMPAIGN — Ethan Asofsky's mother raised him right.
Meeting the state trooper who helped lift a car off his upper body alongside a snowy interstate, the aspiring journalist told his rescuer, "I owe you a thank you note."
"I was on morphine," the 21-year-old University of Illinois student confessed, somewhat sheepishly.
Asofsky was referring to his initial meeting Monday afternoon with Illinois State Trooper Brian Scott, one of three men who helped lift a crossover vehicle off Asofsky hours earlier on Interstate 57 north of Rantoul.
In a phone interview with The News-Gazette on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after what Asofsky thought was his near-death experience, he said he indeed wants to get to know the 35-year-old trooper and UI alum who orchestrated his rescue.
"I just said, 'I could never repay you,'" said Asofsky.
Asofsky was able to fill in details of his harrowing experience that supplemented what Scott told The News-Gazette on Tuesday.
"I remember pretty much everything. I did not black out at any point," said the UI senior from New York.
A sports writer for the Daily Illini, Asofsky said he was driving back to Champaign from Chicago after having flown in from Austin, where he covered the Illinois men's basketball team in the NCAA tournament Friday and Sunday.
"I got on the road about 9:45 a.m.," he said, noting he was alone. He already knew that classes were canceled for the day because of the spring snowstorm.
"The roads seemed perfectly fine. I thought because it was later in the day, things had cleared up. I was cruising along, going 65 to 70 because there was nothing wrong with the roads the majority of the time," he said.
About 12:30 p.m., that changed.
"I was 21 miles from my exit to Champaign when I saw what I thought was a pile of slush, nothing major. There must have been black ice under it because I lost control and went into the median. I was fine. There was no damage to my car at that point."
Trying to remain calm, Asofsky called AAA to get his Acura TL Type-S towed out.
"After 30 seconds, I hear a whoosh go past my car," he said.
Another car had spun out on the same patch of ice that fooled him. Within moments, there were others in the median.
"I realized that I am the first one of a line of cars and my driver's door is perpendicular to oncoming traffic headed south. I thought if another car comes off the road, I could get hit in the driver's door and that could hurt me, so that's why I popped out of my car initially," he explained.
As he stood outside his car talking with a woman from AAA, "about five minutes later, sure enough, a car comes in and T-bones my car, just totals it. I didn't get hurt on that at all."
Stressing to the AAA rep how unsafe he felt, and knowing his phone battery was low, he ended his call with her and called police.
"The police said, 'There are a lot of accidents out there; we'll try to get to you as soon as we can.' Right then, my phone dies. I'm stuck in the median where cars are just piling in. I have no phone communication and I can't get back in my car because it's destroyed," he said, noting he was starting to get cold.
Thinking he needed to get in another car that wasn't at risk of being hit, Asofsky started waving his arms. Passing motorists started slowing.
"I managed to stop four cars, one of which happened to be my fraternity brother from Theta Xi, Mike Hairgrove. He stops and says, 'What happened?' He said, 'I'm going to pull off to the right side' where no one had slipped off yet, and we were waiting in his car for the police officer to show up so we felt safe," Asofsky said.
Asofsky said he had a moment to meet Hairgrove's girlfriend, Emily, before Trooper Scott pulled up.
He got out of Hairgrove's car and was waving at Scott while pointing at his Acura.
"I started walking along the shoulder back toward my car so I could horizontally cross the highway and give the officer the report on my car. There's two cars headed toward me and after that it looks clear. "
"Then, about 50 feet in front of me, I see one of the cars has lost control and is headed right for me. It's spinning."
Knowing he didn't want to be hit in the middle of the highway, Asofsky said he ran down the right shoulder.
"I take off down the ditch and realize I'm not going to outrun the car so I dive into the snow."
Not exactly sure of how the Dodge Caliber, a crossover vehicle, hit him, Asofsky just knew he was pinned under the car from his waist up.
"My face and the back of my right hand, I couldn't move them because of the snow. I start screaming for help. I try to move my fingers and legs to make sure I'm not paralyzed. And I do. I'm swinging my legs so people can see me, see I'm alive," he said.
"I hear Mike say, 'We need help. Officer, officer, come over.' I feel him digging at my feet saying, 'We're going to get you out.'"
"I don't want to die under here," Asofsky said of the overriding thought in his head.
"I was running out of air so I stopped screaming and just tried to control my breathing. I know your story said I was under there three to four minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I didn't think I was going to make it out of there. "
"I felt a giant pull on my legs once and didn't move at all. I figured I'm waiting for a tow truck, not for people to lift the car. I figured I was done for and wondered how much time before I pass out," he said.
As the car was lifted and Hairgrove pulled him out, his thoughts turned to how cold he was. Scott explained that Asofsky's coat had come off him as he was pulled out from under the car.
"I couldn't stop shivering. I immediately tried to get up on my feet. The adrenaline from being free, I was just gasping for air. I was so cold I didn't feel any of the damage on my body," he said.
That damage included a cut to his left side that required 18 stitches and a cut on the head.
"The entire left side of my body is very bruised. I'm scary to look at. My face looks like I went 12 rounds with somebody. It's pretty sore," he said.
Asofsky said he ended up in the back seat of the car that hit him. He cried as he recalled the man who hit him apologizing profusely and that man's girlfriend draping her coat over him.
"I was in shock. Officer Scott said, 'Don't move. All that matters is you are OK.'
"I waited a really long time for an ambulance," he said, adding that he didn't want to get on the stretcher, but rather just get in the warmth and go.
On the ride to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, he went from sobbing and wanting to call his parents to joking with the paramedics.
"I was just so happy I made it out from under that car, I was trying to joke around with everyone in the ambulance. I tried to calm myself down."
At Carle, a CT scan revealed no injuries to his neck or chest and very little internal bleeding. "I had one speck of blood on my brain," he said, adding he was told that was not unusual in car crashes.
He's quick to point out his wasn't really a car crash.
He described the 48 hours since the accident as "insane."
His mother flew in from New York and took him to a local hotel to let him recuperate in a bit of peace. They had to deal with his crashed car Wednesday afternoon.
sHe said he's been inundated with scores of text messages and Facebook remarks since the story of the crash was first published online Tuesday afternoon.
One of the messages came from Brian Scott's wife, who said she and Brian would like to get to know Asofsky.
"I started crying. I haven't responded back yet," said Asofsky. "I want to get to know him, too. He saved my life."