Woman survives I-35 crash with semi near Ames, thanks unknown bystander

On the morning of Saturday, June 12, a nasty wreck involving a pickup truck and a semi-tractor trailer sent a woman by emergency airlift to a Des Moines hospital. She was listed as in “serious” condition.

Somehow, someway, 46-year-old Katherine Kae Sibert survived the crash. And now, exactly one week later, Sibert is making an attempt to thank a man who showed up on-scene and played a vital role in saving her life.

But first, what exactly happened leading up to last Saturday’s crash? According to an Iowa State Patrol crash report, both Sibert, who was driving a 2000 Chevrolet Silverado, and 51-year-old Richard Tomkinson of Altoona, who was driving the semi, were heading southbound on Interstate 35 when the accident occurred. The two drivers were entering the construction zone just to the southeast of Ames, near the US Highway 30 overpass. The two vehicles collided, sending Sibert and her truck over a concrete barrier. Control of the semi was also lost, sending Tomkinson and the semi off the road towards the Highway 30 on-ramp to I-35 south. The semi-trailer eventually came to a stop, blocking the ramp.

CAUTION: The photos used in this article were submitted to StoryCounty.News by either travelers or by the household of Katie Sibert. Some are graphic in nature.

Sibert, formerly of Mason City and now a resident of Des Moines, shared what she remembers from the moments leading up to the collision. “It happened right at the construction zone,” she confirmed. “It knocks you down to 55 miles per hour, and the road narrows. I was in the right lane, and I saw the semi coming up beside me, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, there isn’t enough room for both of us.’ The next thing I know, I see his trailer come over, and I flip twice and over the barrier.”

The map above depicts the construction zone along I-35 near Ames., The “X” indicates the vicinity where last Saturday’s accident occurred. (Map: Iowa DOT)

According to the crash report, Sibert’s seatbelt was deemed to have saved her life.

Sibert was transported via LifeFlight to Des Moines Methodist Hospital, where she was treated for a laundry list of severe injuries. Still, Sibert remains thankful she is alive and has retained feeling throughout her body. “I have a fractured neck, so I am in a neck brace that I have to stay in continuously,” she said. “I have like 10 staples in my head and one in my left arm. I am badly bruised on my right side. My right leg is swollen from my hip down to my calf. But, I have all my feelings. I am not paralyzed at all, which is a blessing.”

Katie Sibert the day of the crash (left); Sibert one week after the crash (right)

On the day of the accident, the Iowa State Patrol had stated that Tomkinson was also transported to a hospital via ambulance and was in “serious” condition, but no updates to his status have been made public. However, the final crash report does not list Tomkinson as an injured party.

So, who was the man who helped Sibert on-scene following the accident? Those details are still unknown, but she feels she owes him a huge debt of gratitude as a result of his kindness. “There was a gentleman who came to my aid,” she explained. “I don’t remember the gentleman’s name, and I don’t even know if he told me his name. He helped me get out of my truck, and he is the one who flagged down the cops.”

Sibert and her boyfriend, Jeff Ellis, who also spoke to StoryCounty.News in Katie’s behalf, have had some time now to reflect on those crucial moments following the tragedy. They would both like the opportunity to express their gratitude to the unidentified man. “I know he was on his way to work,” Sibert recalled. “I literally thought I was dying. For someone to actually stop and run over…I was screaming for a long time for some help. I didn’t even really know where I was at that moment. This guy really tried his best. He tried to get me out from the top, and he was eventually able to help me get out from below. He helped me crawl out from my window.”

Sibert understands the road ahead to recovery will be a strenuous one, but also one that she feels she can handle with the help of Ellis and other close friends. In the short-term, she remains focused on what she can control, namely, lots of rest and trips to the doctor. “I have an appointment with a neurosurgeon on July 15,” she relayed. “I have to be off work at least until then.” So far, no estimated timeline for full recovery has been given to Sibert.

Ellis stated that there is no online fundraiser in place to assist Sibert with costs associated with the accident. If one becomes available, StoryCounty.News will provide related information through its Facebook page and Twitter account.

Reflecting back on what has proven to be one of the tougher experiences of Sibert’s life, she has chosen to stay focused on the positives: She’s alive. She isn’t paralyzed. And there are still good people in this world, like the man who helped her from the wreckage.

Even if she never gets the opportunity, she hopes he knows how much she appreciates his heroics.

“I just really want to thank him,” she concluded. “I wish I knew his name.”

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