Desert Crisis

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“Desert Crisis,” Ensign, Sept. 1992, 66–67

Desert Crisis

Jay McNabney had been driving for hours and was near Las Vegas, Nevada. His in-laws, Michael and Marilyn Kozlowski, and their fifteen-year-old son, David, were all dozing. But they woke up quickly when they heard Jay yell.

Shocked, the family watched a red truck, driving in the opposite direction, lose control and roll into the middle of the freeway. The truck, engulfed in dirt as it rolled, looked like a huge dust ball rolling across the desert floor. Jay saw what he thought was a pillow fly some fifty feet in the air, then tumble another fifty feet before coming to rest on the desert floor.

“There are children!” Jay yelled as he slammed on the brakes. He bolted from the van and ran across the freeway while the dust was still settling. The others followed.

The scene was devastating and heartbreaking. A young mother was lying on her back on a bed of rocks. The family was shocked to find that what Jay thought had been a pillow was a little girl, about a year and a half old. She lay a hundred feet away in the same position as her mother. Both were unconscious.

A little three-year-old boy crawled out from the wreckage, staggering and dazed. The driver, who had been hanging upside down in her seat belt, managed to release herself and crawl out. In shock, she walked around sobbing.

Jay and the Kozlowskis went to work. Jay sat the driver down and put the three-year-old child in her arms. The two clung tightly to each other.

He and Michael then ran to the little girl, while two truckers assisted the other victim, who was struggling to get to her daughter. Michael, a chiropractor, could tell the toddler’s leg was broken. In addition, most of the bones in her face were broken and her mouth was full of blood, pieces of bone, several teeth, and bits of gravel.

Jay saw the ribboned ponytails in the little girl’s hair and thought of his own toddler daughter. He lay down in the dirt next to the girl, soothing her, talking to her softly and assuring her she would be all right. Tears streamed down his face as the little girl squeezed his finger and moaned.

A hundred feet away, the toddler’s mother was calmed as she saw this man comforting her daughter. The injuries to the mother’s face and head were even more serious than those of her child. Later that night, in the trauma center at the Las Vegas hospital, a plastic surgeon would delicately stitch her face and head, using over 150 stitches. Her chest cavity was filling up with blood and her lung was collapsed. She had bruised ribs, lacerated kidneys, and severe back injuries.

While Jay and Michael did what they could to help the victims, Michael’s teenage son, David, began picking up the belongings strewn along the freeway. He was startled to see a Book of Mormon lying in the dirt. He looked at the car and noticed Utah license plates. On the license plate holder were the words, “My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades,” and as David read those words and thought of the serious injuries of the car’s occupants, he started shaking. He went to his mom and started to cry. “I think they’re members of the Church,” he said.

Michael went to the young mother. “Are you Latter-day Saints?”

She replied that they were. Michael told her that they were also members of the Church and asked if she wanted a priesthood blessing. She said yes.

As Jay and Michael blessed the two, they were inspired to bless them that in spite of the severity of their injuries, they would both heal completely with no permanent injuries. They were also impressed to tell them their bleeding would stop, even though at the time, both men were afraid the baby was bleeding to death. As they concluded the blessing, both victims stopped bleeding.

Jay and the Kozlowskis stayed until a rescue helicopter. They then continued on to Provo, Utah, where they celebrated Christmas with family members. But the memory of the accident was never far from their minds.

Each day either Jay or Marilyn called the Las Vegas hospital to see how the baby was doing. Hers was the only name they knew—Audra. Each day they were told the same thing: Audra was in critical but stable condition. They prayed for the young family.

It wasn’t until later that Jay and the Koslowskis learned that while Audra’s mother, Janet Southwick, lay in her hospital bed, she thought often about the good Samaritans, knowing that if it weren’t for them and the power of the priesthood, she and her child might not be alive. She ached to thank them but had no idea how to find them.

On the sixth day, Marilyn called and was accidentally connected to Janet’s room. Marilyn asked how the baby Audra was. “Who are you?” Janet asked.

As Marilyn told her, she heard soft sobbing in the telephone. “I’m Audra’s mother, and I thought I would never be able to thank you.”

Six months after the accident, the Southwicks and the Kozlowskis met under more favorable circumstances—a barbecue. Janet and Audra are completely healed, and the two families share a special bond that goes beyond just reaching out to help others during times of need. Each felt the Lord’s hand strongly in the happenings of that December day, and each knows that the priesthood of God is restored and blessings and comfort are available for those in need.

Illustrated by Doug Fryer