Original article no longer available
Heroic teen goes home from hospital after rescuing cousins in deadly Colorado car wreck
By LESLIE HOFFMAN, Associated Press Writer
Jan 8, 2003
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – With ankle, arm and back fractures, 16-year-old Roxanna Vega climbed up a snow-covered slope to get help for two cousins trapped in a wrecked car down the mountain.
Now she’s trying to forget the crash that put them there.
Police say Vega’s cousin, Alison Kay Phillips, 27, drove the car across three lanes of traffic and down the slope, apparently to commit suicide. Their car plunged 160 feet down the Colorado mountainside. Police haven’t said whether they believe Phillips meant to take the others with her.
Phillips and her 3-year-old daughter died. But Vega, along with Phillips’ 8- and 4-year-old sons, survived Thursday night’s accident, huddling for warmth in the wreckage as the temperature dropped to 24 degrees.
At daybreak, Vega crawled up the slope for help. Several cars passed by before a Texas couple on a skiing trip pulled over.
”If not for the 16-year-old girl they may not have made it at all,” said Mineral County sheriff Phil Leggitt. ”That had to take a lot of guts to climb up that steep hill to the highway … She’s the hero. She had to be hurting pretty bad.”
Vega was released late Tuesday from San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, N.M.
”I really don’t know what to think about it,” she said in a phone interview shortly after being fitted for a back brace and walking for the first time in five days. ”It’s cool that they’re saying I’m a hero.”
Vega, of Saguache, Colo., said she just did what she had to do to save her young cousins, who were released from the hospital Saturday.
”We couldn’t sit and wait for somebody because we’d probably still be there,” Vega said.
Vega and Phillips, who were close, had made the same drive along the windy road before Christmas.
”This was a girl that wouldn’t even drive down to the store without making sure that all of her kids were buckled in,” Vega’s mother, Lori Hunter, said of Phillips.
The family was driving back from a visit to a friend in Ignacio, Colo., when the car went off the highway and over Wolf Creek Pass.
Phillips’ younger son, Christopher, told a state trooper ”that Mommy said he would see a bright light and then would see Jesus,” Leggitt told The Denver Post.
Vega declined to say whether she thought the crash was a suicide.
”None of us are doing really good at coming to terms with it,” Hunter said. ”It’s like it’s not real.”
Leggitt told the Post that Phillips’ husband, Chad, told authorities his wife had talked about suicide, had been bipolar, and hadn’t taken her medication for several days.
”He indicated that she had been talking about committing suicide. He didn’t say why,” Leggitt said.
Hunter said Phillips had been fighting her depression by taking medication and starting to see a therapist.
”Monday was her first appointment,” Hunter said.
Hunter said she is not surprised by the way her daughter responded to the situation.
”If anybody needs help, she’s always going to be there,” she said. ”She’s something else.”