A drive home from a Christmas party nearly turned into a tragedy for one Welland family on Boxing Day.

Elizabeth Milne, 26, said she, her boyfriend and two children were eastbound on Highway 3 in Wainfleet, heading home at about 9:30 p.m. in the wind and rain storm when a tree fell on their moving sport ultility vehicle.

“We were all just having conversation,” she said. “My kids were laughing, everything was good, and all of a sudden a tree — we heard a gust of wind, a crack and then we all just opened our eyes and my car was mangled, the airbags were all deployed.”

She said her car came to a dead stop when the tree fell on it, landing on the front end of her Toyota RAV4, breaking the windshield and destroying the front end. The SUV, which she’d just purchased in August, was a writeoff.

She said she doesn’t remember seeing the tree at all, but her boyfriend, Tyler Thalen, 28, told her he saw the tree spinning and then land on the car.

Milne thinks she might have blacked out for a few seconds. Her first concern when she came to though was her children, Brayden, 7, and Michelle, 5.

“(I) heard my boyfriend (ask), ‘Is everybody OK?’ I picked my head up and, I didn’t want to turn around because I was scared.”

Luckily, it was the front end of the SUV that sustained the most damage and her children were unharmed.

She said Thalen had a piece of glass stuck above his eye, but otherwise they were unharmed. Or at least it seemed that way at first.

“(We) were both in the hospital yesterday because at first, you feel like you’re OK, but then after it was like my neck started to hurt and his head started to hurt and our backs started to hurt.”

The doctors told them they were suffering from severe whiplash and X-rays showed swelling in their necks and backs. Chiropractor visits are likely in their future.

It wasn’t just the tree that came down on the car, though. Milne said hydro lines made it scarier.

“Our doors wouldn’t open,” she said. “So we couldn’t get our kids out. I had to climb underneath the passenger side, underneath the airbags. My boyfriend had to rip the door off to get the kids out of the car.”

Once out of the car, Milne said she huddled on the ground with Michelle, who was terrified. She remembers repeating over and over that everything was OK.

Tim Bunz, a firefighter with the Wainfleet Fire Department who responded to the accident, said the family is lucky to be alive and described the tree as being somewhere between three and a half and four feet in diameter.

Milne said when she went back the next day to take more photos of the scene, she could see the inside of the tree was nearly completely hollowed out and looked dead.

The incident has affected her children in a big way. They’re now afraid to go in a car and she said they’re even insisting on sleeping in the same room as her, which is not like them at all.

“They learned in two seconds what most people don’t learn until they’re a lot older: you can die.”

She said she’s been having nightmares about the accident as well, and wonders if she and her family will need some sort of therapy to get through this.

“There must have been somebody watching out for us that night because it could have went so many different ways,” she said. “I’m just glad my kids are okay. That we’re alive and we’re okay, but it’s going to take a long time for us to recover from this.”

Source: Welland Tribune