One of Our Own: Cook Children’s Nurse Caught in Tragic Fort Worth Pileup, Shares Unbelievable Story of Survival
Rebecca Benson had a feeling the weather predictions would be wrong when she woke up Thursday, Feb. 11. As she suspected, no winter storm arrived overnight to cancel school for her two children. Like any other day, she quietly put on her scrubs while her family slept and left her North Fort Worth home in the dark. A diligent nurse at Cook Children’s Medical Center for six years, Rebecca didn’t want to be late for her 7 a.m. shift.
As she traveled down Interstate 35’s expressway, everything seemed normal – until it wasn’t.
“The roads were completely dry. There was not even a mist on my windshield, absolutely nothing,” said Rebecca. “All the bridges I went over were perfectly fine until I came across the big Trinity River bridge.”
Driving down the highway for nearly 20 minutes, she had no reason to suspect what lay ahead – black ice, and a crumpled mess of metal and people. Approaching a curve at the top of a hill, Rebecca’s car began to swerve. As she confidently corrected the wheel, she noticed shining taillights getting closer. It was a pileup that would ultimately involve more than 130 vehicles, killing six people.
“I look in front of me and see all of the carnage from the accident. There's absolutely nothing I can do,” she said. “It’s the expressway. There's barriers on both sides of you. You can’t go to a shoulder. You can't do anything.”
Knowing she was about to crash, she aimed her red SUV in between two semi-trucks.
“I put my foot on the brake, said a prayer, and I literally thought to myself, ‘I could very possibly die in two seconds,” she said.
Rebecca tried to relax her body to avoid broken bones and readied herself for impact. She hit the trucks so hard, her ponytail holder came out of her hair.
“I got through that and thought, ‘Okay, I'm alive. I'm not severely injured. And then I looked in my rearview mirror and see all of these lights coming right at me,” she said.
Rebecca says that’s when she realized she wasn’t out of the woods. The chances of her being injured or worse by the oncoming traffic were high. But thanks to her quick thinking before the crash, she had positioned her vehicle in what she calls “God’s triangle,” because the trucks stuck out past her SUV, protecting her.
“Everything that hit behind me, the trucks took the impact from that. Every time another semi would hit, you would hear and feel the car move. It was so unbelievably terrifying,” she said. “I've seen it on videos, but to actually be there, waiting to see if something even worse is going to happen was awful.”
Rebecca stayed in her SUV until she stopped hearing crashes. All four doors were blocked by the trucks, so she waited until someone opened the back hatch of her vehicle. She crawled out and surveyed the situation in shock.
“I'm like, ‘Okay, I'm a nurse. I got this. Who can I help? What can I do?’” Rebecca explained. “But Fort Worth Fire Department was working a wreck on the non-express side of 35 (when the pileup began) so they were already there. There was a car behind me that they were working on with the Jaws of Life to try to help somebody. Everyone from Fort Worth Fire was amazing.”
After the crash, Rebecca called her husband who was ready to come get her. She also had a text message from her coworker, Ed, warning her not to take I-35 because traffic was backed up. Knowing Ed was stuck nearby, she decided to find him and hitch a ride to work.
“I was like, ‘All right, I'm gonna hop the barrier and I'm walking your way because there's nothing I can do. But I can at least get in your nice warm car and be safe that way,” she said. “I walked up I-35 in the ice. It was the weirdest thing to be walking on a highway.”
When she found Ed and his girlfriend, Kim, she told them to take her to work. Rebecca explained that she could have gone to the reunification center set up by first responders and waited for her husband, but she knew that drive would likely take hours due to the shutdown. She also felt the need to do something other than think about what she had just survived.
“Being able to be at work and helping instead of reliving that,” she explained. “I was like, ‘I need to get to work and just see where I can help.’”
Rebecca acknowledges this is something she will be processing for a very long time. She allowed her husband to come get her a few hours later and take her to a hospital. Thankfully, she only suffered bruises. But she’s already dealing with survivor’s guilt, wondering why she was able to walk away when so many others couldn’t.
“My heart breaks for all the people who lost loved ones, and who have loved ones in serious condition,” she said. “It's horrible, awful, terrifying.”
Rebecca remembers seeing many people in scrubs as she was walking along the interstate and calls the situation a ‘perfect storm’ for health care workers, all trying to get to work at the same time. Asked if she felt like a hero, she adamantly says ‘no.’
“I feel like I'm absolutely blessed and had guardian angels surrounding me,” she said. “I did what any other nurse I know would do. I didn't save anybody. I didn't do anything extraordinary. I just did what I'm supposed to do.”
She says the experience also gives her hope. From the first responders to good Samaritans, she says she saw the good in people. Even when she was safely waiting with Ed and Kim, she remembers a man walking car to car with a box of granola bars for anyone who may have skipped breakfast and needed something to eat.
“It gave me a lot more faith in humanity.”