A Harrowing Wreck, and She’s Only an Hour Late to Work

Mary Lou Popovich, an associate at the UC Epilepsy Center, before starting her shift at UC Health University Hospital. Photo by Cindy Starr.

Mary Lou Popovich is one of those model employees who doesn’t like calling in sick. She’s a team player who works the night shift in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at the UC Epilepsy Center,watching the monitors and interacting with patients who have seizures. “It’s really hard to make somebody stay up all night and work my shift,” Ms. Popovich explains. “I don’t want to make someone do that if I can avoid it.”

But after Ms. Popovich’s response to the events of December 12, the term “model employee” seems like an understatement.

Driving to work in a developing snowstorm, Ms. Popovich had just exited I-471 and was on the ramp to I-71 when she hit a patch of ice. Her 2007 Toyota Corolla skidded, hit a guard rail, spun 360 degrees, flew across the expressway, and slammed into a retaining wall. Fortunately, no other cars were involved in the accident.

“I was in terror,” recalled Ms. Popovich, who was wearing a seatbelt. “I thought, ‘This is either going to hurt really bad or I was going to die.’ I’d never had a bad wreck like this before.”

She was still sitting in her car, stunned but unharmed, when she realized the air bag had deployed. “I didn’t even know it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, thank God, I’m alive and not hurt.’ ”

Drivers of two other cars who witnessed the crash stopped to help. “One said I wasn’t going fast at all and offered to be a witness,” she said. “One called 9-1-1. So all I had to do was stand there and go, ‘Oh my God.’ I was shaking like a leaf.”

While waiting for the police, Ms. Popovich watched other cars fishtail and worried that she might get hit. Photojournalist John Tapogna of WLWT-TV News 5, who was out on assignment, stopped and asked if she needed help. While stopped, he also shot footage of the scene, including Ms. Popovich and her car, which was in pieces and had lost its front bumper.

When the police officer arrived, Ms. Popovich told him, “I really need to get to work. Can you give me a ride?” The officer said he would if the driver of the tow truck could not. The tow truck, happy to give Ms. Popovich a ride, dropped her off at University Hospital. Still shaking inwardly, she went up to the EMU. It was 6 o’clock.

“When I looked at the clock I realized I was only an hour late for work,” she says now, with a laugh. “After all that, I thought it was probably 7:30 or 8 o’clock. It seemed like it went on for hours.”

Ms. Popovich said she didn’t really consider going home. “What was I going to do? Go home and cry about it and think about it all night? I was fine, other than being shaken up. My adrenaline was running. I was so glad to be alive.” She called her siblings and friends “and everybody that I loved” to tell them that she’d had a bad wreck but was OK.

Days later, when she went to the junkyard to get her belongings out of her car, she looked around at the cars, some of which were nearly pulverized, and realized some of their occupants could not have survived. It gave her new appreciation for an automobile’s lethal potential.

Meanwhile, Ms. Popovich has been enjoying something approaching celebrity status in her office. In the words of Michael Privitera, MD, Director of the Epilepsy Center, “How’s that for dedication to patient care?!?”

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