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From invincible to helpless

At the beginning of the song, Taylor Gardner ’19 thought she was invincible; by the time the song finished the chorus, she learned that she wasn’t.

Taylor+Gardner+%2719+poses+for+a+photo+in+between+cars+in+the+West+High+parking+lot+on+Wednesday%2C+Oct.+31.
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From invincible to helpless

Taylor Gardner '19 poses for a photo in between cars in the West High parking lot on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Taylor Gardner '19 poses for a photo in between cars in the West High parking lot on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Kara Wagenknecht

Taylor Gardner '19 poses for a photo in between cars in the West High parking lot on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Kara Wagenknecht

Kara Wagenknecht

Taylor Gardner '19 poses for a photo in between cars in the West High parking lot on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

By Fatima Kammona, West High School

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Glistening rays of sunlight beamed down to Naples Ave. where a grey 2009 Toyota Corolla was about to flip and change the course of senior Taylor Gardner’s life.

It all started with a volleyball tournament back in September last year. Gardner was keeping score and judging the game. Feeling down after hearing recent gossip, she had called her friend, Maggie Pfannebecker ’19 to keep her company. The two decided to go to the mall. At around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, Gardner picked up Pfannebecker who lives on a farm off a gravel road.

Gardner, 15 at the time, drove on the gravel road going around 45 to 50 miles per hour, below the speed limit of 55; her windows were down with music blasting through the speakers. The girls had no idea what was about to unfold before them. Just as Rihanna was about to sing the first chorus of “S&M,” the back wheels of the car lost their grip on the road, and seconds later the front wheels did too. With no traction to the ground, Gardner knew at that point she was going to end up in the ditch.

The grey 2009 Toyota Corolla skidded left towards the center of the road. Gardner broke and swung the wheel towards the right side of the road. First, the passenger’s side hit the ground. Then the roof. Finally the driver’s side. As the car flipped, Rihanna sang the chorus.

A lot of people say, ‘Your life flashes before [your] eyes.’ My life didn’t flash before my eyes.”

— Taylor Gardner '19

“A lot of people say, ‘Your life flashes before [your] eyes.’ My life didn’t flash before my eyes,” Gardner said. “It wasn’t like slow motion, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t think; I knew what was going on.”

Landing on the driver’s side the vehicle landed in the ditch and Rihanna’s voice could no longer be heard.

“I immediately made sure Maggie was okay because that was my main concern while the car was flipping, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Maggie,’ because I could handle myself getting hurt,” Gardner said. “But I couldn’t handle if I hurt someone else severely.”

Photo courtesy of Taylor Gardner ’19
The grey 2009 Toyota Corolla stayed in the ditch for a day. Gardner’s mother snapped one last photo before it got towed away.

After looking for a way out of the car and searching for her phone to call for help, Gardner turned her attention to Pfannebecker.

“Maggie was conscious. She was fine. She had like a huge bump on her head that I was really worried about,” Gardner said.

Pfannebecker was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, meaning that she now hung in the air with her only support being the seatbelt. “I unbuckled Maggie, she was scared because she thought she was gonna fall because she was up … there was nothing underneath her to grab her, so I made sure I caught her,” Gardner said.  

The two friends then proceeded to climb out of the shattered back window and dialed 911.  “I told them exactly how old I was. I told them what happened. I didn’t hide that I was 15 [and] I [didn’t] have a license,” Gardner said.

In the state of Iowa, teens are permitted to get a minor school license starting at 14 and a half, allowing them to drive to school or school-sponsored activities.

“I knew it would be better for me to be honest, because they would find out anyway,” Gardner said.

When the ambulance and the law enforcement arrived at the scene, Gardner demanded that the paramedics see to the bump on Pfannebecker’s head, “When I was talking to the police, all of a sudden I got a really sharp pain in my neck,” Gardner said.

The paramedics turned their attention to Gardner. At the slightest pressure applied to the area around her neck, an eruption of pain would come with it.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Gardner ’19
A day after the accident, Gardner’s mother returned to the scene to document what happened.

 
Police officers spoke to Gardner’s mother over the phone because she hadn’t arrived at the scene yet, explaining that Gardner was having a sharp pain in her neck and it could be serious. Gardner was then taken to the hospital where she would spend the next two and a half days being monitored and having tests done in hopes of finding the cause of her pain.

“My legs weren’t responding to what they were supposed to … Doctors were coming in every two hours. I got no sleep. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything. I had to lay completely still on my back,” said Gardner. “Finally, they told me that I damaged a bunch of ligaments and muscles that are all in my neck and my spine that connect to my bones.”

Read the remainder of the story originally published on West Side Story on November 17, 2018.

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