As students finish the school year at Hauser High School, they will be looking back at a year that started with a terrifying crash right off of the school grounds. And how four of their classmates have recovered from the collision. 

The routine ride from school for four Hauser teens -- Sarah Vanderlind, Erin Newcomb, Veronica McKinney and John Bragg -- nearly turned tragic when their car was struck by a pickup pulling a trailer as they attempted to cross State Road 9 in front of school grounds, on Aug, 29, 2018.

The severity of the wreck resulted in the teens having to be cut from what remained of the car by firefighters.

VanderLind, who was driving, sustained a concussion and liver laceration.  McKinney was seated behind VanderLind and suffered bruised lungs and required staples to close lacerations to her head.  Bragg sustained a dislocated shoulder, broken wrist and arm, as well as a concussion in the wreck. 

Erin Newcomb was in the passenger seat and received the brunt of the crash’s impact. She was flown by IU Lifeline helicopter from the accident scene to IU Methodist hospital in Indianapolis with life-threatening injuries, including more than nine broken ribs, a crushed pelvis and a Grade 3 diffuse axonal brain injury.

Newcomb was in a coma for 12 of the 51 days she spent in the hospital and was able to return home October 20.

VanderLind rode in the same ambulance as Bragg and the two were reunited with McKinney at Columbus Regional Hospital. None of the three had any knowledge about the extent of Newcomb’s injuries. 

“Our parents did a really good job to let us know how we were doing,” VanderLind says. “It was a couple days afterward that I was able to know how Erin was doing because everyone was so scared about how I would feel.”

Bragg says not knowing how his friends were doing was the scariest thing, but his fear and anxiety gave way to raw emotion when he was finally reunited with his friends.

For Newcomb, the road to recovery has been long. The 18-year-old underwent extensive rehabilitation to relearn how to stand, walk, and write. Today, Newcomb still experiences some double vision due to nerve damage to the muscles in her eye, and she is still unable to cry, she says.

The soon-to-be Hauser graduate says the outpouring of support from the Hope community and people from, literally, around the world has been amazing.

When asked where her strength and determination comes from, her answer is simple.

“To be honest, it has to be a God thing,” she says. “I’ve had strong faith for a long time and this just makes it stronger.”

Newcomb, who has also battled an eating disorder, says there is a reason she’s faced such adversity.

“I really do think that it is part of God’s plan,” she says.”All these things prepare me for the future.”

18-year-old VanderLind was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the crash and is still undergoing therapy to deal with the trauma.

“Some days are good, some days are not good,” she says. “But I’m learning to accept that it is OK to not be OK.”

The cause of the accident is something everyone has probably done or will do at some point while driving, like not seeing a stop sign, McKinney says.

“Sometimes it is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” McKinney says. “It was an accident and it could have been a lot worse. You just have to move on at some point, because it was just an accident.”

VanderLind admits the accident certainly changed the way she views life and how she lives day-to-day.

“I approach things one day at a time,” she says. “I try to enjoy most moments as they come and go. The people in my life mean more to me.”

After graduation, VanderLind will attend IUPUC to complete core classes before applying to film school, she says.

Newcomb plans to attend IUPUC in the fall to study nursing and says her experience will help her to better care for her patients.

“I will be able to sympathize with my patients and know what they’re going through,” she says. “It is going to help put everything into perspective.”

McKinney will attend IUPUI in Indianapolis in the fall where she plans to study radiography and Bragg, the youngest of the group, will be a senior at Hauser in the fall.

If there is one lesson in this experience, it is that life is precious and friends and family are what matter most, the teens say.

“Life throws things at you that are completely out of your control,” VanderLind says. “But the best way to deal with it is just to try and keep trying no matter how hard it is. Don’t give up. If you keep a positive attitude about it you will be fine.”