Identical twin Carrie Krug, 18, of New Windsor doesn't travel anywhere these days without a 3-inch yellow seat belt securing her snugly in a hospital wheelchair, an image that casts a poignant perspective on the summerlong Maryland State Police "Buckle Up" campaign.
A worn lacrosse stick across the foot of her bed last month at Kernan Hospital in Baltimore was the only hint that Carrie is an athlete who played lacrosse and field hockey at Notre Dame Preparatory School in high school. She completed her freshman lacrosse season at Roanoke College in Virginia, where she achieved a 3.94 grade point average in Spanish and international relations.
By all accounts, Carrie is alive and mending because she buckled up after getting into her light-blue 1986 Thunderbird on May 1.
She has no recollection of a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer, or her 14 days of treatment at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. She must rely on her tight-knit family -- her parents, Fred and Donna, and her sisters, Kristen, 23, Katie, 21, and twin Courtney -- to tell her about that nearly fatal Friday morning.
That was the day after she had returned from college for the summer and was eager to be off in a few days for a nearly monthlong trip to study the environment and culture of Kenya with a college travel group.
Carrie was on her way to pick up Katie at Towson University, and "they were going to GBMC [Greater Baltimore Medical Center] to visit my niece's premature twins," Donna Krug said.
There was a slight bend in the road on Route 27 near Taylorsville, said Fred Krug. "We don't know what really happened," he said.
State police said the Thunderbird, which was traveling south at 50 mph near Sams Creek Road, drifted across the center line about 9: 30 a.m. and struck the northbound tractor-trailer.
Trooper Jeff Partridge, a volunteer paramedic with Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department, burrowed into the twisted steel encasing Carrie, tending to her for 37 critical minutes until rescue workers could saw away the car's roof and extricate her.
Partridge says unequivocally that, without seat belts, Carrie would not have survived.
His first impression upon arriving at the crash scene was, "She's not going to make it."
He used an ax to smash the window on the passenger's side to reach her.
'She held on'
"I kept talking to her, but she was mostly unresponsive. She squeezed my hand, when I asked her to, but her [blood] pressure was dangerously low, so low I thought we would lose her when she was removed to a back board," he said.
Partridge accompanied Carrie on the frantic eight-minute MedEvac helicopter flight to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
"Her pressure kept dropping, but she held on," he said. "No question, the seat belts saved her life."
State police records show that 69 of 173 people killed between Jan. 1 and April 10 were wearing seat belts and 94 were not. Seat belt use was undetermined in 10 deaths.
Investigators estimate that 45 of the 94 people who were not wearing seat belts might have survived if they had worn them.
Fred and Donna Krug believe it.
During the first hours at Shock Trauma, Carrie underwent surgery to remove a ruptured spleen. Her crushed right kneecap, left leg and left elbow and arm were surgically repaired and 10 metal plates and synthetic sutures were used to reconstruct her face.
"Every bone but the lower jaw was broken," Fred Krug said.
"The doctors said reconstruction was akin to putting hundreds of pieces of bone in a paper bag, shaking them up and then trying to put the puzzle back together," Kristen said.
Carrie's older car had no air bags to prevent her head from slamming into the steering wheel. After the impact, only about 10 inches separated the steering wheel from her bucket seat.
"Carrie was crammed into that space, but the seat belts did their job," Fred Krug said.
Throughout that first week, Carrie was mostly unresponsive, but not comatose, he said.
The Krugs moved into a downtown hotel for those two weeks. Donna Krug, who works as a registered nurse at St. Agnes Hospital, stayed at Carrie's bedside until 2 a.m. each night, assisting with her care.
Angels on Earth
"Donna and Carrie's three nurses" -- Angels on Earth, he calls them -- "were with her around the clock, and all the support we received from friends and friends of friends, not to mention strangers who helped at the accident scene, I can't thank them )) all enough," Fred Krug said.
"About 70 visitors -- all there for Carrie -- crowded into our waiting room," said Jennifer Haas, a hospital spokeswoman. "I've never seen so many visitors for one patient. Their support was inspiring."
Zeina Khoury, Susan Lavin and Tammy McCourt were Carrie's nurses at the trauma center.