Brianna and Jason Johnson are thankful for the outpouring of support from the community as Brianna recovers from injuries suffered in December when a train struck her SUV.
Brianna, 41, sustained a traumatic brain injury and has no memory of the crash that happened on Saturday, Dec. 7 at about 1:30 p.m. A train hit her SUV at the Stark Road railroad crossing in Thomson Township.
Brianna also had a separated shoulder and four small breaks to her lumbar spine, said Brianna's sister, Bridgette Peterson. The injuries didn't require surgery, but Brianna attends physical therapy to help with her recovery.
The Esko woman remembers that she was taking her 9-year-old son, Jaster, to his Mite-2 hockey game in Carlton, she said.
The first memory Brianna can recall after the crash is walking into physical therapy two weeks before she was released from the hospital. She left the hospital on Friday, Jan. 10.
The first place she went after going home was to her boys' hockey games. She said she had never missed a game until the crash.
“It’s great,” Brianna said of returning home. “I am excited to be home and see my boys and sleep in my own bed.”
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said Brianna's vehicle was westbound on East Stark Road and the train was on the southbound tracks. The SUV was damaged on the left-front and center of the passenger's side.
The final report on the crash had not been finished as of press time for the Pine Journal, Lake said.
The person who jumped into action after the crash was Jason and Brianna's son, Jaster.
"After the impact, Jaster checked to make sure his mom was still breathing and searched for her cell phone," Bridgette said.
When he couldn't find it, the 9-year-old ran over a mile to his home where Jason was recovering from a November hip surgery. The couple's oldest son, 11-year-old Jayce, normally would have been in the SUV, too, but rode with another family that day.
Jason, 44, is a volunteer with the Esko Fire Department and said he noticed his pager go off shortly after his wife and son left the house. He had just settled into a chair to relax when he heard someone trying to get in the house.
To his surprise, it was Jaster.
"I didn't know who the heck it was," Jason said. "He was sweating and crying and said they had been hit by a train."
Jason immediately headed for the scene. Brianna was taken by ambulance to St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. She was in critical condition.
Outpouring of support
Family and friends flew from distant states as soon as they heard about the crash. Brianna's brother, Ben Hoffman, came from the east coast, and her father, Ken, flew in from Arizona. Her best friend, Beth Ann Ornell, cut short a business trip in New York to be at her side.
People who know the Johnsons from the fire department, the hockey team and elsewhere have pulled together. Volunteers have plowed their driveway, done their grocery shopping and more, Brianna said.
"It's everybody — the community, the relatives, the teachers," she said.
Brianna's days now include speech, physical and occupational therapy. Jason takes her to the appointments, as she is not able to drive yet. She still has some balance issues, so she uses a walker at outdoor hockey games to help prevent a fall.
She is not sure when she can return to her job in the lab at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth.
To help the family with medical and everyday expenses, the local hockey community and others organized a fundraiser at the Buffalo House on Saturday, Feb. 1. Roughly 350 people attended. The final tally on how much was raised was not available at press time.
While the family never expected something like this to happen, they are grateful so many have offered help.
"We have had awesome support from the community and surrounding areas," Jason said. "It's a lot to take in."
How to help
There are several ways for people to help:
A meal train has been set up at https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/y2wqr1 for volunteers to bring a meal for the family on either Monday or Thursday.
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $6,000 so far.
An account has also been set up at Frandsen Bank & Trust in Cloquet in care of Brianna Johnson.
People can also purchase t-shirts that read "I'm just one block of a strong igloo," with all proceeds being donated to the Johnson family. Orders must be placed by Sunday, Feb. 16. To order or learn more visit https://teamjohnsonmn.itemorder.com/sale.