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Continued: How should state help rebuild lives?

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 25, 2007 - 11:44 PM

Going through his accident -- mild in comparison to the bridge collapse, DeLaForest said -- made him see more clearly what could have happened financially if his injuries had been extensive. He didn't know details of what was covered in his insurance policy beforehand and felt lucky his coverage was adequate, he said.

Stories of tragedy

Survivor Brad Coulter told of how he, his wife and two teenage daughters fell 65 feet, their van landing upside down on the banks of the Mississippi River.

All suffered injuries. His wife, Paula, is still recovering from multiple injuries, including bleeding and swelling in the brain that required surgeries.

Coulter, of Savage, said he doesn't yet know what their insurance will cover. He said that expenses will probably exceed $1 million.

Minneapolis survivor Mercedes Gorden, in a wheelchair after her legs were crushed when her car fell and slammed into a limestone wall, said she hasn't been able to wrap her head around the financial impact.

Jennifer Holmes, of Mounds View, whose husband, Patrick, was killed in the collapse, with a highway sign falling on his car, said she worries about the future of her two young children.

Shoreview resident Ron Engebretsen, husband of bridge victim Sherry Engebretsen, said that he and his daughters are going to therapists and that whether the visits will be covered is a "gray area at this point."

Survivor Garrett Ebling, of Minnetonka, who fell nose-first and had broken bones in his face requiring reconstructive surgery, said he feels blessed to have survived and called the proposed bill "a rescue effort."

Defining government's role?

Another hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15 when legislators will discuss how a fund could be set up and administered.

To those who question whether government should get involved in compensating bridge victims, Winkler said before the hearing that there is an easy answer:

"Taking care of the survivors ... is every bit a part of the reconstruction cost of rebuilding the new bridge," he said.

While about $1 million was donated to a "Minnesota Helps -- Bridge Disaster Fund," that money does not go directly to victims but instead goes to organizations providing direct help to victims, such as counseling or help paying immediate bills.

"That kind of fund is designed to help people get over a little bump," Winkler said. "This is more than a little bump."

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-1702

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