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VIDEO: Toward Zero Deaths: Picking up the pieces, Warroad woman tells how crash impacted two families

Heather Hahn of Warroad was the guest speaker at the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths Workshop on Wednesday at the Sanford Center and points to a bag filled with just one year of medical bills her family incurred after her stepfather was seriously injured in a crash in 2013. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- March 17, 2013 was a Sunday.

It’s a day Heather Hahn will never forget.

Her mother was flying in from Arizona and her stepfather, Mark Engen, was driving from Warroad to Grand Forks to pick her up from the airport.

At 2:19 p.m. Mark’s vehicle was struck nearly head-on by a drunk driver, an impact that devastated two families.

Both vehicles were traveling at speeds of 60 miles per hour.

Driving the vehicle that struck Engen’s car was a 25-year-old male. In the vehicle with him was his 54-year-old father and his 23-year-old brother, Hahn said.

The father wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. The driver’s brother suffered severe injuries and was airlifted to a hospital in the Twin Cities, but later died of his injuries. The driver survived the accident, but months later, took his own life.

It wasn’t until Heather arrived at the hospital in Grand Forks that she learned of the severity of Mark’s condition.

“He was on a stretcher and his glasses were missing,” Heather said. “I noticed blood on his beard and face and that his jaw looked odd.”

Mark had two crushed ankles and both legs were broken. He had a severed right leg patellar tendon, a shattered hip and every bone in his face was broken except his nose and he had a brain bleed.

It would be a long road to recovery.

Heather told her family’s heartbreaking story at the fifth annual Northwest Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths workshop Wednesday at the Sanford Center.

The workshop was hosted by the Minnesota departments of Public Safety, Health and Transportation and was attended by more than 100 regional traffic safety stakeholders. Towards Zero Deaths is a statewide effort to reduce the number of traffic deaths and serious injuries on Minnesota roadways.

Mark’s recovery

Before the accident, Mark was about to retire early so he and his wife, Jeanine Engen, could sell their home in Warroad to travel across the country in a motorhome.

“They lived a healthy, active lifestyle,” Heather said. “Mark walked several miles every day, biked to work and my mom grew and preserved most of their food.”

All of that came to a screeching halt after the accident. Mark had surgery the night of the accident to begin to repair one of his legs and more surgeries the following days to repair his patellar tendon, hip, jaw and face.

Five days after the accident, Mark was able to have one ice chip at a time and the doctors predicted he wouldn’t walk for three for four months and wouldn’t be able to drive for four months.

But just weeks after the accident, Mark was able to attend Heather’s daughter’s graduation ceremony in Warroad.

“During the ceremony, he is pale, sweaty, terrified that someone will bump his leg and grips his wheelchair in a death grip,” Heather recalled.

A bone graft that was put in Mark’s ankle failed the following summer and he had developed an adult club foot. One year and three months after the accident, Mark had surgery No. 9 to have his ankle fused.

As his recovery progressed, Heather said her stepfather achieved another milestone this past September, when he was able to walk down the aisle at his grandson’s wedding, using a walker.

Mark and Jeanine have since moved to Arizona, where Mark has learned to walk again and has donated his electric wheelchair to a veteran, Heather said.

About a month after the accident, Heather received the toxicology report of the driver from the other vehicle and the alcohol concentration was more than twice the legal limit.

“It was numbing to learn that alcohol had played such a large role in the accident, how the dad being unrestrained and slamming forward into his 23-year-old son had caused his own death and his son’s,” Heather said at the end of her presentation. “How do we change the people who drink and drive regularly?”

 
Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at jgandsey@bemidjipioneer.com. 

(218) 333-9786
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