In a back brace and with her walker nearby, April Berg and her campaign manager, Katharine Gillen, chat Wednesday on the deck of Berg’s home in Mill Creek. Berg, a school board member and candidate for state office, suffered a broken back in an Election Day car crash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

In a back brace and with her walker nearby, April Berg and her campaign manager, Katharine Gillen, chat Wednesday on the deck of Berg’s home in Mill Creek. Berg, a school board member and candidate for state office, suffered a broken back in an Election Day car crash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A scary thing happened on her way to sign waving in Snohomish

Candidate April Berg suffered a broken back and fractured ribs in a head-on crash on Election Day.

MILL CREEK — April Berg spent the morning of Aug. 4 on the phone.

She dialed potential voters, reminding them it was Election Day and asking for their support of her candidacy for state representative.

Other calls were made to campaign staff and to Central Market to order trays of sushi for the evening when she and her family would gather in their Mill Creek home to watch results.

In the afternoon, signs for her campaign in the 44th Legislative District were loaded into the trunk of the Nissan Altima she and her husband, Brian, would travel in to Snohomish to wave those signs on a street corner alongside supporters.

“That’s what our day was going to look like,” she said.

Everything changed shortly before 4 p.m.

The couple were chitchatting as Brian Berg drove east down Seattle Hill Road toward their destination. In a blink, a car traveling in the opposite direction veered into their lane and the vehicles collided head-on. The driver, a 23-year-old man, is under investigation for driving under the influence of narcotics.

“I don’t remember (the collision) at all,” Berg said. “The first thing I remember was smoke and I thought the car was going to explode.”

She said she couldn’t move. A woman pried open the passenger door and shimmied her out, Berg recalled. Then this Good Samaritan left and her husband appeared at her side until paramedics arrived.

“The amount of pain was just incredible,” recalled Berg.

Then came the ambulance ride to the hospital. She remembered a brief debate on which route to take to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett because the most direct, Lowell Larimer Road, is not the most smooth.

“It was not a comfortable ride,” she laughed. “I felt every bump. It hurt.”

At the hospital, amid a battery of X-rays, a Cat-scan and more, came good news. She finished second in the primary, earning a general election match-up with Mark James, a Republican from Marysville.

James, a Marysville City Councilman, said he wishes her “all the best for a quick and full recovery.”

”I think that it’s great that she’s able to pull through and work hard and make it a good race,” he said. “That’s what we all want.”

Berg broke her back in four places and fractured two ribs but her spine was not damaged.

Her treatment plan is simple: lots of rest and physical therapy. Recovery will be slow and span months. Time is the best medication.

She’s outfitted with a removable back brace and uses a walker to get around. Eventually, she’ll shed both in favor of a cane. Then, if all goes well, she won’t need that either.

Berg revealed news of the crash on Facebook and issued a statement the next day.

“This wasn’t the post-primary ‘break’ I had in mind, but as I recuperate our campaign will continue working hard and pivoting to the critical November election,” she said.

In a typical election season, such injuries could put a serious damper on campaigning. But the continuing presence of coronavirus prevents both she and James from knocking on voters’ doors and gathering supporters for rallies and fundraisers. They won’t be debating face-to-face.

“As far as impact to the campaign, I think it’s pretty minimal,” she said. Virtual meetings and phone calls aren’t a problem. She hopes to join backers on a few street corners this fall “but I will not be standing and sign waving this time around.”

Berg, 46, a Democrat and first-term Everett School Board member, said her experience is bringing into sharper focus some of the issues on which she’s campaigning.

She’s talked of fixing roads and raising revenue to help plug a projected hole in the state budget due to the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s campaigned against cutting funds for human services and social programs and said the crash has given her a deeper understanding of their importance.

“If you think opioid abuse doesn’t affect you, well it takes about five seconds to change that,” she said. “My life completely interconnected with someone we think was addicted to opioids and, looking at his car, was living out of his car and potentially homeless.”

Now, as she recovers and prepares to experience at least a few months of life with a disability, she said she wonders how this situation would be different if she were a single mom or a shift worker.

“It could have been devastating,” she said. The crash “has been a wake-up call. It will affect me the rest of my life.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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