Ashley Elliott can't remember any details from the collision, but the 6-inch metal plate and five screws from the surgery to repair her broken collarbone will remind her of the event for the rest of her life.
Elliott, of Enumclaw, Wash., has wanted to work in law enforcement since she was in middle school. Then, as a senior studying sociology and criminal justice at Northern State University, she began an unpaid internship with the Aberdeen police on Feb. 22. She spent three days a week with the department, working different shifts with different officers to gain experience.
On March 17, the 21-year-old went on a ride-along with officer Mark Miller of Aberdeen Police Department during the overnight shift. She had been on several ride-alongs before. Most calls were routine.
Near the end of her shift, another officer, Alejandro Reyes, slammed into the passenger side of Miller's car, sending both cars into an apartment building. Reyes' car ended up backward on the front stairs of the porch of the building. Miller's car went through the lawn and came to rest against the side of the building.
Elliott was trapped in the front passenger seat.
Nine months later, the injuries and fallout from the accident continue to affect her life.
The collision between the two police cars was voted the No. 3 local story of 2012 by American News newsroom employees.
The following is an account of the collision and aftermath as seen through the eyes of Elliott. The narrative is told in her own words from email and phone interviews, though it has been edited and reorganized for clarity.
About 4 a.m. Sunday, March 18, Miller and Reyes received a call from a third officer who was chasing an assault suspect on foot. Both officers went to respond, Miller heading east on Seventh Avenue, Reyes going north on Washington Street. The cars were heading toward an unmarked intersection. Reyes' flashing lights were on.
ASHLEY ELLIOT: We wanted to emphasize police visibility and were conducting bar and hotel checks. We anticipated lots of drinking in the community.
The last thing I remember is that we busted an underage party at a local hotel.
I believe we were headed back to the department, so I could go home for the night when we got the call for backup. I am not positive that this was in fact the case because everything before the accident is a blur.
I have no memory of the hours before the accident, the accident itself or anything after the accident. I don't remember being cut out of the car by the Jaws of Life, but I do know that Officer Reyes held my hand and talked me through it. The next thing I remember is a brief moment in the ER and then being moved out of the ER to another room.
I don't remember anything besides that until Monday afternoon. Visitors came all throughout the day, some of which I remember, some I don't. Supposedly I continued to ask what happened, and how I got there, and kept repeating that I thought I was hit by a bus, and wondering why I was naked. Needless to say, the medication was doing its job, and many visitors were kept entertained.
I was just thankful that everybody was OK. I tried to piece together what happened in my head. Trying to make it all make sense. The police had some information. I also looked at my log book. I kept diligent notes during my ride-alongs. My logbook was a haggard, bloody mess from the accident, but my writing stopped midsentence, leading me to think I was probably finishing up my notes for the night in preparation for our return to the department when the accident occurred.
I also read the articles and comments online, as well as the posts on Facebook. Comments about the accident were frustrating. People post comments without having all the facts, promoting misinformation, passing judgment or making jokes, without regard to the actual people involved. We were all injured and lucky to be alive, but some people disregarded that, finding it amusing that two officers hit each other.
Sitting in the hospital unable to move while reading all of the stuff was very uncomfortable.
Miller, Elliott and Reyes were all taken by ambulance to Avera St. Luke's Hospital. Elliott spent four days at the hospital with broken ribs, cuts on her forehead and inner ear and several bruises on her feet and legs. Two weeks later, she had surgery on her broken collarbone. She managed to get through her final semester of college with the help of friends and family, despite being in considerable pain.
ELLIOTT: I couldn't dress myself, wash my hair, get out of bed by myself, make food, write or type or carry anything.