By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- A 56-year-old Mendon woman whose SUV careened down a steep embankment after she blacked out while driving home Thursday night spent nearly 11 hours in an icy creekbed before she was rescued around 9 a.m. Friday.
The woman, Diane R. Mann, was taken by ambulance to Blessing Hospital, where she was still in the intensive care unit Friday night being treated for hypothermia, frostbite and abrasions.
According to Illinois State Police Trooper Brian Williams, Mann was driving a Kia sport utility vehicle west on North 2100th Ave. when she lost consciousness around 9:45 p.m. Thursday near the intersection with East 1150th Street, about two miles south of Mendon. The vehicle slid off the road and went down a steep embankment, landing in a shallow creekbed that had iced over.
What happened after that is still a little unclear. At some point after the crash, Williams said, Mann managed to get out of her vehicle and slipped on the snow and ice, causing her to fall.
"She ended up spending the night there," Williams said.
Mann was out in the cold all night as temperatures gradually fell to a low of 16 degrees by sunup Friday. The National Weather Service said the wind-chill value at Quincy Regional Airport at that time was around 5 degrees.
Mann was finally spotted when two employees of Mendon-based Gooding Disposal -- Shawn Gooding and Earl Mason -- drove by the crash site in a garbage truck while making their Friday morning rounds to commercial and residential clients.
While seated in the passenger seat of the elevated cab, Gooding noticed part of the white SUV down in the ditch.
"Earl, there's a car down in there," Gooding recalled telling his partner.
They stopped the garbage truck, backed up and got out to take a closer look.
"We were standing around there for a good minute or so," Gooding said. "You could tell there was nobody in the vehicle. So we were just standing there, trying to figure out how it got down there, and all of a sudden I saw her barely move. I mean, you could barely see her. She tried to pick her head up or something. And I said, ‘Earl, there's somebody laying down there!'"
Gooding and Mason immediately called 911. Then the two men scrambled down the sharply incline hillside to assist Mann. Gooding said he first stopped at the truck to grab a coat that he could place over the woman.
"She was in the ditch laying face-down on the ice," he said. "She didn't have very much clothing on, and you could tell she had been there for a while. She was very weak."
Gooding said Mann "could hardly speak at all." He and Mason tried to comfort her as best they could while an ambulance and volunteers from the Mendon Fire Department were rushing to the scene.
"We covered her up and tried to keep her still," Gooding said. "She was in pretty bad shape. Her hands were black and blue, and she was missing one shoe."
Within five minutes, an ambulance crew was on the scene tending to Gooding. Firefighters arrived moments later.
Mendon Fire Chief Rob Simmons said emergency crews placed Mann on a backboard and then placed the backboard inside a "stokes basket," a partially enclosed litter used in search-and-rescue operations on slopes or in wooded terrain.
A rope was attached to the end of the basket, and firefighters pulled Mann up the side of the hill by hand.
Simmons said the embankment at that location "was pretty steep."
Trooper Williams agreed. "Just to walk down there yourself, you couldn't gain footing and you'd just fall down," he said.
Williams said it was fortunate Gooding and Mason came along when they did in their garbage truck, which gave them an elevated view down the hillside.
"From the height of a regular car going by, you would never see her SUV down there," he said. "Luckily, sitting up high in the cab, they noticed the vehicle down there in the creek."
Williams said Mann might not have survived if Gooding and Mason hadn't come along and spotted the SUV.
"It looked like it had been there a long time, but they thought they should get out and check anyway. And sure enough, they found her laying down in the snow right next to her vehicle," he said. "They definitely saved her life."
Efforts to reach Mann or her relatives Friday night were unsuccessful.
Williams said he was able to speak to Mann briefly Friday while she was recuperating in the hospital.
"She said that she kind of blacked out," he said. "The best we could piece together with her was that she was on her way home from Quincy and kind of lost consciousness and didn't realize what happened."
Williams said Mann had a cell phone with her, but "the best that I can find, the phone was not used at all." He said even if the phone was accessible to Mann, "there probably wouldn't have been any phone signal" at the bottom of the creekbed.
Williams said this incident points out the value of having emergency gear in one's vehicle -- such as water, food and a warm blanket -- when traveling in frigid winter conditions.
"You never know when you'll need it," he said.