Two good Samaritans help youngest victim in OWI crash

James Emerson (left) & Branden Terrana (right) meet for the first time in Menomonie before Terrana heads into work
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MENOMONIE, Wis. (WEAU) – Witnesses say several drivers stopped to help three children who were hurt in an OWI crash on Hwy 29 near Chippewa Falls Sunday.

Branden Terrana of Colfax and James Emerson of Eau Claire said they were driving on the highway on opposite lanes when they saw the crash. Both played a role in making sure the youngest victim felt safe and alert before EMS got to the scene.

The Chippewa Co. Sheriff’s Department said the 8-year-old girl was thrown from the SUV. The sheriff said she’s being treated at a hospital for non-life threatening injuries and is expected to be released soon. A12-year-old boy and a 9-year-old boy were also taken to the hospital and have since been treated and released.

The sheriff’s department said the driver of the SUV, their father Chad Kohel of River Falls, was released from jail on Monday on a $2500 bail. He was arrested for an OWI but hasn’t been charged. A preliminary hearing is set in April.

On Tuesday, Terrana and Emerson shook hands and met for the first time since the crash.

Terrana told WEAU that on the night of the rollover, he was driving directly behind the SUV on the eastbound lane.

“I'd been following the vehicle that was in the accident for probably ten miles or so,” said Terrana. “I noticed he was swerving. I just thought he was just texting or doing something and I passed him.”

He said he saw the headlights behind him when suddenly they disappeared. That’s when Terrana turned around at a no-U-turn median and rushed to the scene.

Just across the median on an eastbound lane, Emerson saw it happen.

“One car overturned. I didn't see any emergency personnel, any lights or anything so I immediately drove through the median to get over there,” said Emerson.

Terrana said by the time he arrived, a couple of other drivers had already stopped to help the boys who were still in the overturned SUV. That’s when he heard the little girl.

Terrana said he was the first to find her just yards away in a ditch.

“She was laying there. She was in and out of it. It was tough, you know? You just make sure everything is stable, she’s got pulses everywhere, her neck isn't hurting and make sure she stays as calm as possible.”

Just moments later, Terrana said he saw a pair of cowboy boots next to them.

“I remember the boots, all I remember from him is the boots because I’m faced down and I’m looking at her and to glance over, all I’d seen is boots, I didn't know who he was or where he came from or anything,” said Terrana.

Emerson, a former volunteer firefighter, found Terrana with the girl in the ditch.

“We asked her what her favorite cartoons were, how old she was, where she went to school, just anything to take her mind off of what had just happened,” said Emerson.

Their goal was to keep her alert until EMS arrived.

“Our focus was just on the little girl,” said Emerson. “She was moaning and sort of crying. Her eyes were closed but she was making noise so we both tried to keep her awake and talk to her, calm her down, tell her she's going to be okay and basically just tried to keep her conscious.”

Once EMS arrived, the two even went on, carrying the girl onto a stretcher and into an ambulance as paramedics helped the other victims.

Both men say they would like to meet the girl and see her recover quickly.

“Her face has been in my head since it happened, so I would like to see her,” said Terrana.

“Just hang in there. Probably just give her a hug,” said Emerson.

This also wasn't Terrana's first time helping a victim in a rollover crash. He said it happened once before on I-94 years ago.

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