Chelsea Jensen-Roehl was riding her bike in Anchorage’s Airport Heights neighborhood Tuesday afternoon when she was hit by a car.
Two days later, Jensen-Roehl was recovering from a nearly eight-hour surgery to repair the shattered ribs on her right side. The 30-year-old mother of a young daughter is under heavy sedation in Alaska Native Medical Center’s critical care unit, Jensen-Roehl’s mother said, but she and Jensen-Roehl’s sister are talking to her as if she can hear them.
Her daughter is more than lucky to be alive, Karla R. Jensen said Thursday.
She’s alive because a team of complete strangers rushed to help — including some who physically lifted the car off Jensen-Roehl before a mechanic jacked up the vehicle as medics arrived.
“It was literally on her chest. The tire,” Jensen said. “Bystanders were actually manually trying to hold it off of her while Dylan got that car jack and jacked it up. To me that is amazing. That people, they just stepped in and they were literally holding that vehicle up to keep the weight off her. That’s amazing to me.”
Dylan Moss was with a customer, Zach Babb, at the Airport Heights Chevron station Tuesday afternoon when the 24-year-old mechanic realized a bicyclist had been hit by a car across busy DeBarr Road.
“There was a car that was kind of stopped in the middle of the northbound lanes and people were running towards it,” Babb said Wednesday. “There was a little bit of screaming. Somebody shouted they needed a jack, does anybody have a jack?”
Moss grabbed a 2.5-ton floor jack from a bay at the station, and ran with it across the road. Numerous drivers had pulled over. They immediately began providing help, Babb said. Some helped with traffic control, some called 911. And several lifted the car off the cyclist.
Moss said he could see that fatigue would set in soon.
“They had one of those little jacks that comes with the car but that really wasn’t going to do anything,” he said Wednesday. “I just brought the jack up to the rear of the vehicle and lifted up the right rear tire ... the car was pretty low to the ground. I got it off her pretty quick.”
The calls for help got a quick response.
The report of the collision involving an unconscious woman came in at 12:28 p.m., according to Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Partch. Medics, spending the day in training at a nearby facility on Airport Heights Drive, arrived at the scene two minutes later, Partch said. The patient never appeared to regain consciousness, he said.
They saw Moss bringing the jack, Partch said, so crews were able to focus immediately on the injured cyclist instead of taking the time to get extrication equipment out.
That timing was key, he said. “I would say (it) saved her life. It’s a fair statement.”
The cyclist was struck by the car in the crosswalk while riding across Airport Heights westbound at DeBarr, police said. The driver, who was also headed west, turned right to go north on Airport Heights, according to a police update.
The driver stayed at the scene and was cooperating with police, they said. No citations or charges had been filed as of Thursday, a police spokeswoman said.
‘She is very strong’
Jensen-Roehl was probably cycling for fun or fresh air when the crash happened, her mother said. She’s taking welding classes but Tuesday wasn’t a school day. As a girl, growing up in Pedro Bay on Lake Iliamna as well as other states like Hawaii and West Virginia, her daughter wanted to be a welder, she said.
The doctors and surgeons at ANMC say Jensen-Roehl could be hospitalized for weeks, Jensen said. Surgery on Wednesday pieced together her right rib cage “with little plates and pins” to allow her lungs to expand, she said. Doctors are most worried about the next few days as Jensen-Roehl’s body responds to the injuries and surgery with swelling and fluid build-up.
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There are other injuries to be addressed in the future, including a broken right shoulder, Jensen said. Some of the “fins” along her daughter’s vertebrae snapped off. Her breathing is the priority now, Jensen said. She and her other daughter talk to the injured woman “constantly.”
She doesn’t show any sign that she hears but they keep talking.
“She is very strong,” Jensen said. “She has a 6-year-old daughter that is her world. We just keep telling her: ‘Keep fighting, Chelsea. Hazel needs you. We need you.’”
A team of strangers
Moss said he and Babb returned to the Chevron once the scene cleared up Tuesday afternoon. He sat for a minute, smoked a cigarette, then went to work on Babb’s tire sensors.
The day after the incident, Moss was busy back at work, fielding compliments from co-workers.
Anchorage Fire Department medics told Moss he probably saved the cyclist’s life, both he and Babb said. One came by the station Wednesday morning and gave Moss a firefighter beanie.
Babb, a 46-year-old Anchorage resident who works for the National Park Service, made a social media post Tuesday praising the quick action of all the good Samaritans who stepped up to help.
A day after the crash, Babb mentioned the lack of bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in Anchorage but mostly wanted to talk about the actions of what he estimated as a dozen people who “just appeared” to provide assistance: holding up the car, calling 911, doing traffic control, trying to console the trapped cyclist.
“It was like an instantaneous response,” he said. “Everyone who was there, they made a contribution. It felt like they had worked together before. It was really impressive.”
Jensen came to the Chevron on Wednesday to thank Moss personally.
“I just want to thank everybody,” she said Thursday. “Everybody that was involved and even those that were just involved in good wishes, thoughts, prayers, sending their love. Just everybody. The outpouring of love and concern for Chelsea and our family has been overwhelming. I just want to thank everyone for that.”