IDAHO FALLS — An Idaho State Police trooper critically injured in the line of duty while responding to a vehicle fire has been released from the hospital.
Sgt. Mike Wendler, a Marine Corps veteran and a 16-plus-year member of the Idaho State Police, was hurt on Sept. 8. He responded to a vehicle fire at 8:30 a.m. on Interstate 84 in Jerome County and was hit by a car while directing traffic.
“We’ve always had that concern. There’s always the long kisses goodbye, and the, ‘I love yous’ and the, ‘Hey, if anything were to happen to me, the lieutenant will show up at the door,'” Amy Wendler, Mike’s wife, told EastIdahoNews.com near his EIRMC hospital room.
Amy told EastIdahoNews.com that Mike spent 22 days at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. On Saturday, troopers, law enforcement, firefighters, medical staff and friends lined up as Mike walked out of the hospital with Amy.
Troopers from Idaho State Police escorted him on the two-and-a-half-hour drive home from Idaho Falls to Twin Falls.
“We are so excited to bring him home,” Amy said.
The day of the crash
Amy recalls the day her husband was critically injured. She said a lieutenant showed up at her door and told her to pack a bag. She remembers the day was a blur and begging God to save her husband.
“He was given CPR for 22 minutes. He was (airlifted) to EIRMC,” Amy explained. “To be honest, every time a doctor or nurse would come out of the doors, I would panic, thinking that they were going to tell me something terrible and that’s truly all I remember of the day.”
Dr. Adam Meziani, a trauma surgeon at EIRMC, was one of the first people to see Mike.
“Based on what we had heard about his injury, there was a high likelihood that it may not be survivable,” Meziani said. “He was the worst neurologic condition that we have. Completely unresponsive, needing a breathing tube to breathe.”
Mike had a traumatic brain injury. His skin was ripped off his right hand and he needed stitches. He had a jaw fracture and his teeth were knocked out.
The Jerome Police Department investigated and criminal charges were filed against a 22-year-old Jerome woman, who has not been identified. According to a news release, officers believe the woman was commuting to work in a 2012 Hyundai Sonata when she approached the scene of the vehicle fire. Police say she used her cell phone to take a picture of the incident and failed to notice other vehicles slowing. She swerved to avoid colliding with another vehicle and hit Mike.
The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with law enforcement. In the release, the woman acknowledged texting while driving and said she deleted the picture of the emergency vehicles. Officers found she had a suspended license. The Jerome Police Department recommended misdemeanor charges to the Jerome City Prosecutor’s Office for driving without privileges, reckless driving, and destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
“This has changed my life, my husband’s life and my children’s life forever. It’s not worth sending someone to the hospital possibly taking their career,” said Amy.
Mike has dealt with the effects of his traumatic brain injury. He didn’t know who Amy was at first and didn’t understand why he was in the hospital.
“He didn’t know me, he didn’t know our kids…that’s been the hardest part is that somebody was distracted while they were driving and almost took my husband and my children’s father,” Amy said.
She’s hoping the distracted driving law can be more strict. According to the Idaho statute for distracted driving, a violation for a first offense can cost $75 and $150 for a second offense within a three-year period. For each subsequent offense within a three-year period, the offender can be punished by a fine of $300. Click here to learn more.
“It is not worth it. I know all of us at some point have wanted to respond to that text…this was so avoidable. This did not have to happen,” Amy said.
Mike’s co-workers have felt the effects too.
“I was with him for the first five days. It was rough. We know this can happen. We’ve all had close calls but to actually have it happen, it was rough watching Mike go through that,” said Sgt. Tagg Williams with Idaho State Police.
Though, through it all, Mike has been healing remarkably.
“He’s quite frankly a miracle. He’s really progressed quickly and way sooner than any of the doctors expected…I give all of that credit to God,” Amy said.
There is hope for him. Maybe one day, he can go back to Idaho State Police. Only time will tell.
“I think there is a chance that he will be able to get back on the road and get back to being a trooper. Not only is he a very strong guy, he is one of the most intelligent troopers that I know. To see him walk out, to see where we are today from where I saw him three weeks ago, is nothing short of a miracle. I never thought we would be in this position to see him walk out,” Williams said.
Mike has a long road of recovery ahead of him but it’s the positivity and goals that have been set that’s carried him through. Going home will be a new adventure.
“It’s truly humbling all of the support we have had behind us,” Amy said.