EAU CLAIRE, WI.—Ledger Independent Chief Photographer Bob Warner was seriously injured in a single vehicle accident early Saturday morning in central Wisconsin. Warner and his wife Julia and son Jim were driving to Seattle to spend time with son Michael Smith who is in the Navy.
The accident happened at about 6:50 a.m. on I-94 in Eau Claire, WI, after Julia, who was driving, apparently fell asleep at the wheel. She said she doesn't remember what happened, but surmises she nodded off.
Bob Warner was thrown from the front passenger seat to the back seat and sustained a fracture to his spine.
Julia said she does not remember taking off her seat belt, but thought she must have because her face received lacerations from the windshield. She was taken to Marshfield Hospital where she was treated and released.
Their son, Jim Warner, who is confined to a wheelchair, received a hairline fracture to his knee and several bruises and cuts to his face, his mother said. Jim's wheelchair is normally locked into its spot in the handicap friendly van, but he was asleep in the third row of seats when the accident occurred.
A Wisconsin State Police District 6 spokeswoman said the vehicle crossed the median then began to roll. Bob Warner's injuries required he be transferred to Hennepen County Hospital in Minneapolis, MN, where he underwent surgery for possible injuries to his pancreas.
His abdomen is okay, doctors said, but the more serious injury to his back will likely leave him paralyzed.
"That's their gut instinct," Julia said Sunday. "The CT scan was inconclusive." Julia said she and Bob had stopped and taken a walk to revive themselves only 20 minutes prior to the accident.
By Sunday afternoon the couple's other son, Ryan Smith, and his wife Regina, had made it to Wisconsin to St. Joseph Hospital where Jim Warner was a patient. He has been released and the trio were on the way to Minneapolis when we spoke to Julia at about 4 p.m. Sunday.
Bob Warner has no feeling in his lower extremities and will be fitted with a metal halo to keep his spine stable, his wife said. He may soon be transferred to University of Cincinnati Medical Center where there is a specialized spinal injury clinic, Julia said. The van they were driving was totaled, but an emergency room nurse took her private vehicle to the impound lot and got the family's belongings, Julia said.
Jim's aid dog, Jasper, was found walking the highway about three hours after the accident with a cut on his head. He is currently kenneled at a veterinarian's office.
"The family is all right for now, but may need financial help in the near future," Betty Coutant reports. " Julia said the family will take it one day at a time for now. 'We've got a long way to go.'"
Anyone wishing to help the Warner family may contact the newsroom at +1.606.564.9091, oremail Betty Coutant [email protected]