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Archie Ingersoll, Forum Communications Co., Published September 02 2010

Crash survivor: ‘Don’t remember me, remember my friends’

Nearly three months after a driver fleeing a University of North Dakota police officer struck her car at close to 100 mph, Katie Olson still needs crutches to get around.

But the 22-year-old knows that despite her lingering injuries, she has two “guardian angels” watching over her as she goes back to school and work.

“My biggest motivation is making James and Tasha proud,” Olson said.

Olson’s friend James Freestone, 21, and her roommate, Tasha Brenno, 19, were killed in the crash at the intersection of Columbia Road and 17th Avenue South in Grand Forks. Another friend of Olson’s who was riding in her car, Michael Badurek, survived the collision with minor injuries.

The four worked at Hugo’s grocery store on Columbia a few blocks from the crash. Olson, who’s already resumed her college classes, said she hopes to return to Hugo’s in two to three weeks.

“I think going back to work will be harder because we all worked similar schedules,” she said. Olson sat down this week for an interview with the Grand Forks Herald, the first she’s given since the crash. She said she’s been trying to avoid the spotlight the incident has put on her.

Olson would rather have the focus be on Freestone and Brenno.

“Don’t remember me,” she said, “remember my friends.”

‘A good thing’

UND police said Celso Garza was stopped early June 5 at Columbia Road and University Avenue for running a red light. As an officer approached Garza’s vehicle, Garza sped south on Columbia. His 1995 Chevrolet Lumina broadsided the car Olson was driving, a 2009 Pontiac G6, about a mile from the traffic stop. Police said Olson had the green light and that Garza was intoxicated.

Before the crash, Olson, Freestone, Brenno and Badurek went to University Park to take part in the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser. They drove Olson’s mom home afterward. Olson remembers she and her friends had plans to get some food, but after that, her memory is blank.

The crash killed Freestone on impact, and Brenno died later at Altru Hospital. Olson and Badurek were taken to Altru as well. Badurek was treated and released the same day, while Olson spent nine days recovering from a fractured vertebra, a cracked skull, a broken jaw and a chipped bone in her ankle.

She still has a plate in her jaw, but the only long-term concern is her ankle injury, which, for now, requires her to walk on crutches. “It could have to be fused,” she said of her ankle. “I could be in pain for the rest of my life.”

Sharing the news

In the hospital, Olson was given morphine to help her deal with the pain of her injuries. The drug left her groggy, but she still had questions about how she ended up there, said Olson’s mom, Sandy.

The crash happened early on a Saturday, and it wasn’t until the following Thursday that Olson’s parents told her that Brenno and Freestone were dead.

Olson remembers crying after hearing the news and then falling asleep under the power of the morphine. She said her grieving continues, but with perspective.

“I have my good and bad days with it, you know, being that they were my friends. But they wouldn’t want me to not live my life,” she said.

Archie Ingersoll is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald