A woman who was in a crash five years ago that killed three people said she suffered emotional distress from being at the scene and feels “useless” due to chronic injuries that she claims are a result of the crash.
Anna Mitchell, an Aladdin resident, is suing Powder River Transportation for punitive damages. It was one of the company’s buses that plowed into a line of cars stopped for construction on Highway 59 the morning of May 14, 2014.
Mitchell testified Thursday, saying the crash took her quality of life.
Before the crash, she would hike, ride horses, go hunting and take part in brandings. Now, she said she can’t walk 70 steps without having to stop.
Today, Mitchell said she doesn’t like driving alone and she looks in her rearview mirror a lot. She said she notices that cars drive by “so fast” on the highway. Before the crash, she never gave it a second thought.
She also has had recurring nightmares of the crash.
“I think I’ve had one good night’s sleep since the wreck,” Mitchell said, adding she doesn’t think things will get any better. “I’m worried it’s going to get worse. I don’t see me coming out of it.”
On the day of the crash, Mitchell said she dozed off a few times while riding in the bus and each time she woke up, she saw driver Rhonda Steel looking down at her lap.
Mitchell remembers waking up and seeing that the bus was eight car lengths away from the stopped vehicles.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re not going to stop in time,’” she said.
Mitchell explained how she was slammed back and forth in her seat as the bus hit car after car.
She said the resulting headaches, which would put her out for the whole day, felt “like someone hit me with a shovel in the forehead. I never had headaches like this before.”
A week after the bus crash, Mitchell went to the Walk-In Clinic in Gillette to get permission to go back to work. The clinic’s report said she did not complain of neck pain then. Mitchell said she wanted to get back to work, “didn’t want to make a big deal out of” her injuries and hoped that she would get better.
But when she started working again, Mitchell said she was nervous, couldn’t focus on her job and worried that she would hurt herself or someone else, so she quit.
After her first surgery in 2015, Mitchell got a job as a wash bay technician, a position she had worked in before the crash.
She said her back started hurting the first day. Before the crash, she could wash down a truck in an hour and 10 minutes, but after it took her two hours.
Mitchell said she wanted to quit the job after four months because of the pain, “but it was nice to have that extra check.” She was laid off eight months after she started and hasn’t worked since.
“It just hurts. I loved my job,” she said. “I feel so useless. I can’t carry my weight anymore.”
She said she has nightmares of the crash every night that wake her up at 12:30 or 1 a.m.
“It’s a memory that doesn’t leave,” she said.
Defense attorney Pat Murphy reviewed some of Mitchell’s medical records, which showed she had a history of lower back pain years before the crash.
Mitchell also had counseling sessions to help with nightmares at the beginning of 2015, and after a few months the counselor wrote that she was sleeping well and having few, if any, nightmares.
Thursday, however, Mitchell said she was having nightmares every night.
“What’s the truth?” Murphy asked.
“This is written, so it must be right,” Mitchell said about the counselor’s notes.
Murphy then asked why Mitchell hadn’t sought counseling in four years if the nightmares were still a problem.
“I’m not nuts,” Mitchell replied.
Mitchell’s family also testified Thursday. Her son, Jake Mitchell, said she had to raise five sons by herself for weeks at a time when her husband was away on work.
“She did everything we all did,” Jake said. “She was tough. I hardly saw her cry.”
Her oldest son, Luke Mitchell, saw her in the emergency room shaking, crying and struggling to keep her train of thought.
“I never saw her in that mental state,” he said. “That’s what worried me.”
Mitchell’s sister-in-law, Brenda Snyder, called Mitchell “the toughest woman I’ve ever been around.”
Before the crash, Mitchell never went to a doctor for pain, Snyder said, and when she went to a chiropractor, it was for an adjustment.
“Nothing would keep Anna down,” she said. “She had work to do.”
The civil trial continues Friday.