Exxon protester hit by car
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:12 PM
"Susan Cyr's protest banner, Stop the Sprawl, ended up draped across the front end of the car that hit her. In the background is the Suburu involved in the initial collision.Jim Larsen / staff photoA woman protesting the new Exxon station in Freeland was struck by a car and sent flying through the air Monday, but she came out of the experience in surprisingly good shape.Most people with a broken wrist and badly bruised body wouldn't consider themselves lucky, but Susan Cyr does. When she saw the huge 1988 Chevrolet Caprice Classic bearing toward her, she had one thought: I'm going to die.Cyr, 41, recounted the experience Monday afternoon, shortly after arriving home from Whidbey General Hospital. She was one of about a dozen protesters out on that bright, sunny morning, waving signs and voicing their objection to the controversial new Exxon gas station project at Fish Road and Highway 525. They'd wave at supporters driving by who would often honk their approval.At about 11 a.m., Dave Caulderwood, 55, approached the busy intersection in his 1998 Suburu, planning to turn left. But he was distracted by the protest. He knew some of the protesters, and he and his wife had supported their cause in the past. I was beeping my horn and someone called my name, he said, standing alongside the highway as the wrecker crew prepared to tow his Suburu out of the intersection. I turned, and BAM!Caulderwood's Suburu was struck hard in the left front by the Chevrolet driven by Richard Mills, 77, of Oak Harbor, who was heading north on Highway 525. The Chevrolet was also badly damaged on the left, but rather than stop it careened to the right, toward a group of demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk on the northwest corner of the intersection.Long, black skidmarks showed that Mills tried everything he could to stop his car. I never had a chance, he was right there, Mills said, referring to the collision. He saw the protesters as he struggled to control his car. I thought there was more than one. I felt it hit her, he said.Cyr had heard the collision and looked up. The car was three feet away -- there it was, she said. She was holding a long protest banner with a friend, and the friend was able to scurry out of the way. The falling banner partially blocked Cyr's view of what was about to happen. It was just hellacious, Cyr said. I thought no matter what, I'm going to die.The Chevrolet came to a stop just after rolling over the sidewalk and striking Cyr in the upper thigh. Her banner, Stop the Sprawl, dropped over the front of the car. It threw me 20-feet or so, she said. Her body came to rest in a big puddle below the highway. She looked up, realized she was still alive, and thought, My kids are safe.She estimated it was only a few minutes before Fire District 3 EMT's and the Whidbey General ambulance arrived. Later, the doctor at the hospital expressed amazement that her leg wasn't broken. With only a broken wrist and bruises, she considered herself fortunate. She expressed gratitude for all the people who helped her that day.Caulderwood, driver of the Suburu, said he saw Cyr get hit. It was just like she was shot out of a cannon, he said.State Trooper Larsen cited the cause of the accident as Caulderwood's failure to yield to the oncoming Mills car. Caulderwood disagreed, blaming the incident on confusion over the newly rebuilt intersection. It's a dangerous place, he said.Several people at the scene commented that the children with the protesters could easily have been victims of the accident. There was a pile of children here protesting, said Sue Herndon.Cyr said there were four children 8-10 years old with her. Two were hers and two belonging to a friend. Minutes before the accident she had put them in her car, safely parked well away from the intersection. You've got to get back, she told them, attributing her concern to some type of premonition.The protesters themselves are considered a hazard by some drivers. What they are protesting -- it's done, said Chris Gabelein, whose vehicle was nearly involved in the accident. They're a distraction.Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said his deputies have been in the area whenever protests occur, and have cautioned the protesters to be careful. The speed limit through the busy intersection is 55, he noted.There's a new light with no left turn signal, and that leads to confusion, Hawley said. With the added distraction of people waving signs and shouting, it's a recipe for disaster. People have a right to free speech, Hawley said, but deputies will be even more watchful after Monday's incident.Susan Cyr, for one, says her protesting days are over. Never again will I go there for that, she said. "