Mathis returns to BV Intermediate after accident
By Haley Schichtl
When Michelle Mathis left her classroom at Berryville Intermediate School at 2:30 a.m. Aug. 6, she expected to be back in a few hours. Instead, her return took nearly two months.
Mathis, who teaches fourth grade, nearly died in a car accident that night. She was trapped in her vehicle for several hours and suffered major injuries. But she survived thanks to the help of strangers — and some familiar voices in her head — and returned to school on Monday, Sept. 30.
Mathis was driving from Berryville to her home in Marble when her car ran off the road on Highway 21 South and down a hill into a heavily wooded area.
“The accident probably happened around 3, and I woke up at 4:30,” Mathis said. “I was trying to figure out what had happened, and I was covered in glass.”
Mathis said she remembers everything leading up to the accident and after crashing, but not the moment it happened. She had been decorating her classroom and lost track of the time, when she noticed it was already 2:30 a.m. and she had to wake up for the first day of teacher in-service at 6:30 that morning.
She said she doubts that she fell asleep because she remembers being wide awake when she started driving home. Doctors are running tests to try to determine whether the crash had anything to do with a medical issue.
After she woke up, Mathis said, she began flashing her lights, honking her horn and trying to connect to OnStar, but nothing would work. She didn’t know where her phone was and she couldn’t move. At 6:30, her alarm went off, and she found her phone beside her feet but it didn’t have service.
“For the most part, I was fully awake and aware of everything,” Mathis said. “I tried to lift myself up on the console once, and I just couldn’t do it … and I heard my dad. … He said, ‘you’re tougher than this, get yourself out of here,’ and my brother just passed away last year, and he knows how to figure out anything, and he told me, ‘OK, this is how we’re going to do it.’ ”
Mathis said she heard her brother explain to her how to get out of the car, and she did.
“It took me at least an hour and a half to get up that hill,” Mathis said. “I thought I may scare people. … I knew blood had been dripping down my face.”
She said she waited on the side of the highway for 10 minutes as cars drove by, waiting for someone to pull over and help her.
Mathis’ daughter Laken Whorton said that on the morning after the accident, she and her sister were waiting to meet their mom at the school to help her set up her classroom. But Mathis wasn’t there, and they couldn’t reach her when they tried to call.
After a little while, Whorton got a call from an unknown number, and the man at the end of the line said he had found her mom and she was on her way to Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville.
“In total my mom suffered a concussion, multiple cuts, bruises and abrasions on her face and arm. One gash went all the way to the bone,” Whorton said in an email. “She also had several broken ribs, which had punctured her lung, she had seven broken vertebrae and two that were compressed (which could have paralyzed her), two breaks in her shoulder, three breaks in the left pelvis and one in the right. The doctors were amazed she lived through the crash.”
Mathis spent two weeks in the hospital and a week in rehab before returning home, then had to wait a month before returning to work.
The other fourth-grade teachers divided up her students and took them into their classes while she was away so the students wouldn’t have to have a substitute.
Mathis said the other teachers and the students got her gifts and balloons and have been really nice and helpful to her since she got back to school.
“I’ve been back now for two weeks, and I’m trying to get things going and get my head right,” Mathis said earlier this week. “They have made me feel like family.”