Family grateful for support after children hit by alleged drunk driver
An Eagle River family never knew just how many friends they had until tragedy struck in the form of a Subaru Forester with an alleged drunk driver behind the wheel.
“It’s just been incredibly overwhelming,” said Caleb Martiny, whose children Maddy, 14, and Hank, 10, are home now and expected to make full recoveries after the crash that initially put both in Intensive Care at Providence Hospital. “Just seeing the way the community has reached out to us — Air Force family folks I haven’t heard from in 10 or 15 years, our kids’ friends’ parents we didn’t know well before, people are showing up with stuff on our doorsteps.”
He wants to thank everyone who has helped the family or showed concern during its ordeal.
“I feel like we owe it to the community to let them know it’s going to take a long time but we will be okay in the long run, and we appreciate everyone looking out for us.”
Maddy and Hank were out for their first bike ride of the spring on March 24 when according to police Vicie Zielinski, 60, drove onto the sidewalk alongside the Old Glenn Highway in downtown Eagle River and struck the two kids head-on. According to charging documents in Zielinski’s assault and drunk driving case, the Eagle River woman had a blood alcohol content level of .189 — more than twice the .08 limit to be considered impaired in Alaska — at the time of the crash.
Caleb Martiny was driving home from an errand in Wasilla on that unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon when he got a call from his wife Gillian. She told them police said the kids had been in an accident, but it didn’t sound too serious.
“Initially we didn’t think it was that bad, the APD officer was pretty calm the way he talked to her about it,” Caleb said.
Gillian immediately drove to the scene from the family’s Powder Ridge home less than two miles away. When she arrived she found not a fender-bender, but a parent’s worst nightmare.
“Saw the kids’ bikes twisted, Maddy’s helmet crushed on the street, a puddle of blood,” Gillian wrote in a blog about the children’s progress on Caringbridge.org.
One of the first people on the scene was an off-duty police officer and Hank was able to tell him their names and his mom’s phone number.
“I don’t think I’d have the wherewithal to do that,” she wrote. “I’m so proud of him!”
When the couple reached the hospital, Maddy and Hank “were surrounded by what seemed like everyone on the medical staff,” she wrote.
Maddy had a broken eye orbit, several cuts on her arm and bruised lungs; Hank had three broken bones in his right leg and was missing six of his teeth. Hank was eventually taken into surgery and Maddy was partially sedated. Later that night the two were placed in the rooms next to each other and slept through the night.
“That’s when it really starts to sink in,” said Caleb, a Lt. Col. in the United States Air Force whose wife also served five years in the Air Force.
Caleb said both relied on the training and problem solving skills learned in the service to get through one issue at a time.
“We’ve kinda got that, ‘Ok, what do we need to do right now’ mentality,” he said.
They also took comfort in the fact things could have been so much worse. Both children were wearing helmets when they were hit, which Caleb said almost certainly prevented a far greater catastrophe. Maddy likely hit the car’s smashed-in windshield with her head, he said.
“The fact she had that helmet on probably saved her life or at least saved her from permanent brain damage,” he said.
Over the next few days both kids started to slowly but surely come out of the fog of their ordeal. Hank was in a lot of pain and Maddy didn’t remember anything from the accident but was concerned with how her brother was doing.
As the children recovered, well-wishes started to pour in. A group of police officers brought stuffed animals, one of Maddy’s friends dropped off a donut, Hank got a visit from a therapy dog named Jilly.
“It means a lot to us that you all are there for us if we need you,” Gillian wrote in her blog.
Maddy was discharged from the hospital on March 27. After days of exhausting physical therapy and long stints in the hospital bed, Hank got out April 2.
“When he heard the news his face lit up and he immediately asked for adhesive remover to get his IV tape off,” his mom wrote.
The family is far from out of the woods just yet. Hank is confined to the first floor of their home and on Friday Caleb and a couple friends built a wheelchair ramp to the back door of the home. Maddy is back at school at Mirror Lake Middle School and the bruising on her face has already faded; Hank may not be able to return to school at Birchwood ABC for the rest of the spring, but he’s already back to playing Fortnite with his friends.
“He was actually sitting on the living room couch playing video games with a buddy who came over so that was a huge win,” Caleb said.
Caleb said he expects the recovery process to be “long and tangled.” He said Gillian has been dealing with the medical issues while he’s tried to take care of logistical things and watch what’s happening in the court system. He said the district attorney has been good about communicating with the family about the status of Zielinski’s case as it winds through the criminal system but there are numerous issues still to work out ranging from long-term emotional and mental health support to more surgeries for Hank’s leg and teeth to eventual insurance claims and other legal issues.
But one thing they don’t need to worry about is meals. Caleb said people have been dropping off food left and right and constantly asking how they can help. It’s been an eye-opener for a transient military family that only moved to Eagle River less than two years ago.
“This is how you put down roots,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the method we would use, but…”
The Martinys aren’t sure if they’ll remain in Alaska long term, but Caleb said the support they’ve received from people of Chugiak-Eagle River, the Mat-Su, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Anchorage has made him start to seriously consider the possibility.
“Having a culture and a feel for a place is something I really miss and this is one of those places that really feels that way,” said the Louisiana native. “It’s got a home to it.”
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274