The Home News
12 September 1982
Woman lives, escapes from steel cocoon
By DAVID SIEGEL
Home News staff writer
WEST WINDSOR – Mrs. Gloria Pokrywka. of Langliome. Pa. was trapped in a steel cocoon Friday afternoon after a tractor-trailer careened into the back of her car on Route 1 at the corner of Harrison Avenue.
Her car, caught between the tractor- trailer in the rear and a flatbed truck in front, folded like an accordion and Mrs. Pokrywka remained pinned in the car for two hours.
Mrs. Pokrywka was taken to the Medical Center at Princeton afterwards where she was treated for cuts, bruises and “a few small fractures” of her vertebrae. But yesterday, after an extraordinary brush with death, she had only one ordinary complaint. “I’m feeling muscle strain.” said Mrs. Pokrywka in a telephone interview from her hospital room yesterday. ‘Tin very fortunate, it’s a miracle.”
“I didn’t even know what hit me,” said the 41-year-old mother of three, who was wailing at a red light. “All of a sudden I hear a crunch and I thought what in the world is happening to me.” She had two hours to think about it The front floor of the car bent upwards from the impact, pushing her legs tightly against her chest. One log ended up sticking out of the front windshield, the glass of which had already shattered. and the other leg was pinned against the steering wheel.
“It w as the weirdest sensation And my legs started to come up and my legs started to go up above the windshield.” she said. “I had very little room, I thought I was going to die when I was in the car. It was like a rabbit looking out of the hole.”
After a crane from the nearby Plasma Physics Lab on Princeton’s Forrestal Campus moved the tractor-trailer from the top of her car. the roof sank even further putting Mrs. Pokrywka in a tighter spot. She nearly blacked out, with her right leg pinned against her chest. “I used my free right hand to get a few- extra millimeters of breathing space.” she explained. Mrs. Pokrywka said she was hyper ventilating at 70 shallow breaths a minute. “Some of it was because 1 was getting fearful,” she said.
“They tried to put an oxygen mask on me but instead just blew oxygen in the car.”
Mrs. Pokrywka gave thanks to the members of the responding rescue companies and especially to a woman named Sandy who encouraged Mrs. Pokrywka to keep alert and talking, Plainsboro Fire Department First Assistant Chief Roy Wagner, stayed with Mrs. Pokrywka during the “whole thing” she said. “I was ready to give up. It was very awful. You don’t know how lucky I am.”
Wagner suffered heat prostration from wearing his full fire-fighting uni-
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form in the heat. “He became so dehydrated, his sweat was dripping on my face — it was so invigorating I thought they were cooling me with water … it was very- dramatic ”
After arriving at the Medical Center in Princeton Mrs. Pokrywka underwent a battery of tests for six hours. “I’ve been given every X-ray you can imagine.” she said.
Then her relatives started to visit her one and two at a time. They had been alerted by Mrs Pokrywka’s sister, Pat Huber, who works at the Plasma Physics Lab.
Mentioning her sister reminded Mrs. Pokrywka that there was more than one “miracle” Friday. Ms. Huber had been invited to ride along on Friday, but had declined. Describing the crushed passenger compartment of her car Mrs. Pokrywka said, “I thank God she didn’t go because Pat would not have lived.”
The driver of the tractor-trailer. Daniel Lawrence, 47, of Hobart, Ind. was charged with careless driving. He told police he tried to avoid hitting the car but that the rigs brakes failed. Authorities said a subsequent inspection found the brakes functioning properly.
The Plainsboro Fire Department, Fast Windsor Heavy Rescue Squad, the Plasma Physics Heavy Rescue unit, Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and the Princeton Junction Fire Department and Twin W First Aid Squad all responded to the accident.
Police closed the southbound lanes for about three hours.