Good Samaritan Antoinette Holliday is out of the hospital at last and rolling around in a wheelchair, but the driver who ran her down on a short, normally quite road in Alaska’s rural Susitna Valley remains unknown.
More than two weeks ago, the 27-year-old Holliday stopped her car on Long Lake Drive to help a friend whose vehicle had broken down. Long Lake Drive isn’t much of a road, a quarter mile or so of gravel off Michigan Street dead-ending at Long Lake.
It is not the sort of road anyone would think of as dangerous, but it almost proved deadly early on that morning of Oct. 6. In a Thursday interview, Holliday said she remembers all too well what happened.
What Holliday – Ann to her friends in the Valley – at the time thought to be a small, white car came speeding out of the darkness shortly after 1 a.m. and “slowed down,” she said. She thought it would go right and squeeze past the two cars stopped in the road.
Only that didn’t happen.
“Instead of going around,” she said, “it went down toward the ditch. I went to jump out the way. I remember that well.”
She didn’t make it. The car hit her, knocked her out of the way, then smashed into and ripped off the open door of her friend’s car. It didn’t even slow after that.
“He just kept going,” Holliday said. “He didn’t stop at all. You wouldn’t think it would happen in Alaska.”
Maybe, then again maybe not.
Willow looks to be a peaceful place, but looks can be deceiving. Officially a community of about 2,000 people, there is no real town center. There are a couple gas stations and some businesses scattered along the George Parks Highway north of Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla and a lot of cabins in the woods for miles around.
Some of them are the second homes of summer fishermen or winter dog mushers. Others are occupied year round. All are connected by a maze of back-country roads. Violent crime is low.
CLR.search.com, a website that crunches demographics for realtors, puts the murder risk at 79 on a scale that rates the national average as 100. Robbery is at 67, motor vehicle theft at 40. All of the these rates are significantly lower than for the rest of the state.
But the total crime risks rates a 154, about one and half times the national average and well about the overall Alaska rate of 115, because of a high number of burglaries and assaults.
A lot of people get in fights in the rural parts of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Domestic violence is a serious problem. And a lot of things get stolen. Some residents blame drug addicts in need of money for the latter problem.
“So called ‘smash and dash’ thefts are escalating in the Valley : thefts of TV’s, snowmachines, computers, and guns,” Alaska Public Media reported in 2014. “Troopers are linking the thefts to the increased use of heroin in the Mat-Su.”
Little has changed since then, and the Valley has been this way for a while. Almost a decade before heroin became the problem, Alaska State Troopers labeled the Mat-Su the methamphetamine capital of Alaska.
Nobody knows if any of this had anything to do with Holliday’s accident, but it does serve to explain why someone involved in an accident late at night in the Valley might have reasons they didn’t want to stop.
Lucky while unlucky
Holliday is just thankful she was with a friend that night. Had she been alone, there is no telling how her story might have ended.
“He called 911,” she said. “He was making sure I wasn’t going to go into shock.”
In the wake of the accident, troopers reported Holliday suffered “moderate injuries to her lower extremities.” The moderate injuries broke both her legs and kept her in the hospital for more than a week because of the threat of deadly clots.
She is now in the chair and faces six to eight weeks of healing before, as she put it, “I’ll be able to learn to walk again.”
Luckily, she has a boyfriend helping her get around, and a friend has invited her to stay in the wheelchair accessible home of the friend’s parents. Holliday is lucky, and thankful, to have many friends in the Willow area.
She is hoping one of them hears or notices something that might help troopers find the driver who ran her down. There have been names suggested, she said, “but right now, it’s all speculation.”
What Holliday first thought to be a white car turned out to be a silver car. Troopers got paint chips off the smashed door of the disabled car that was hit.
“I thought it was a Honda,” Holliday said, “but I only saw it for a second.”
It could, she said, be any sort of Honda-like car of which there are many these days. But, she added, Willow is a small enough place that there can’t be that many smallish, silver cars with new front-end damage.
She isn’t all that confident the driver who ran her down will ever be caught, but she sounds less upset about this than some friends who were outraged at how little attention, let alone outrage, her sad story attracted.
The accident warranted only five paragraphs in the Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage’s only and the state’s largest newspaper, on Oct. 6.
Little people; little news value
“A woman helping the driver of a disabled vehicle on a Willow roadside early Thursday was recovering from leg injuries after she was struck by a vehicle that left the scene, troopers said,” the ADN reported. Anchorage TV stations barely gave the story a mention.
Some of the media was still pre-occupied with the fable of Scooby-Doo. Scooby was a poor, unfortunate dog who ran away from his young owner and into a busy road only to be hit and killed by a truck.
Only that wasn’t the way the story got spun. It started with a report of an Anchorage “service dog” being struck and killed while at it master’s side, and just sort of went from there.
It was better material than the maiming of a young Good Samaritan, especially one of little wealth living in an area outside of Anchorage.
Friends of Holliday started a GoFundMe on Oct. 6 to help her out. To date, it has raised $360. All of the money has come from Willow residents without much to give.
On down the road, famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher DeeDee Jonrowe is more than $50,000 along the road to her goal of raising $70,000 to help run the Iditarod next year. Contributions have come from all over the world. One anonymous donor gave $10,000. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski threw in $250.
If you’re in trouble and need people to give money, it’s better to be a somebody than a nobody.