Monday, Jan. 3, 2000 | 11:29 a.m.
There must have been angels on the highway.
That's what the parents of two injured California young adults said Sunday as they waited outside the doors of University Medical Center's Trauma Center on Charleston Boulevard.
"There is a series of events here that make us feel really blessed," said Dr. Joseph E. Scherger, father of one of the young people injured early Saturday in a traffic accident. "Two good Samaritans on a desolate highway -- it's a remarkable story."
Gabriel Elmer Scherger, 20, of San Diego, and his girlfriend, Jolene Blessing, 18, of Folsom, Calif., were in critical condition this morning at the Trauma Center after an accident on a remote stretch of U.S. 95 that killed the driver of the other car.
In the early-morning hours of New Year's Day, the couple was leaving New Year's celebrations in Las Vegas and driving north to Folsom.
Against the advice of their parents, the two had driven to Las Vegas for the evening. They wanted to be where the action was, Dr. Scherger said.
They left Las Vegas around 4 a.m. to make a surprise visit to Blessing's mother, Denise, in Folsom. Scherger, a student at University of California Santa Barbara, had yet to meet his girlfriend's mother.
About 5:30 a.m. Scherger and Blessing were driving north on U.S. 95, 11 miles north of State Route 160.
At the same time Roberto Esteban Flores, 24, of Arizona was heading south on U.S. 95 in his Toyota pickup. He was leaving Beatty after visiting his sister, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol.
The Nevada Highway Patrol believes Flores was under the influence of alcohol and traveling about 70 mph when he drifted into the northbound lanes and struck Scherger's 1999 Ford pickup head-on. Flores was killed in the crash, one of three traffic fatalities in Southern Nevada in the early hours of New Year's Day.
When rescue crews arrived at the scene, they found the two young adults had been pulled from their truck, which was burning in the middle of the road.
It was through the efforts of Las Vegas resident George Kuchuris, 56, and a friend that the couple are alive today, NHP spokesman Scott Flabi said.
Kuchuris and a friend, who passed by the accident on the remote stretch of Nevada highway, pulled the couple from their truck seconds before it was engulfed in flames, Flabi said.
"There aren't words to express my gratitude," Carol Scherger, Gabriel's mother, said. "I don't know why (Kuchuris and his friend) were there. I really feel this was more than a coincidence. This was a holy experience"
The Schergers weren't the only ones to say that angels were looking out for the two young people.
Vern Gilliland, the coordinator of the volunteer ambulance service in Amargosa who stabilized the two until Flight For Life helicopters arrived, said he was surprised that anyone could be alive after an accident of that magnitude.
"They had angels sitting on their shoulders. There's no question in my mind," he said. "It was a severe, severe impact to say the least."
The amount of time the two were on the side of the road until they received medical attention also left Gilliland stunned.
Gilliland, an emergency medical technician, received a page to go to the site about 5:30 a.m. He drove eight miles to pick up the ambulance and arrived on the scene 25 minutes later.
"They had breathing problems and internal injuries," Gilliland said. "I don't think they could have survived any longer. Those are two very, very tough kids."
Gilliland called Flight For Life on his way to the scene. He and other volunteers stabilized the two until the helicopters arrived and took them to UMC.
Carol Scherger said she is grateful for the support her family has received from Las Vegans and is asking people to pray for the two.
Gabriel Scherger fractured his femur, suffered a broken nose, broken bones in his face and small pockets of bleeding, his father said. He had surgery at noon on Sunday to place a rod in his leg.
"It's just a matter of him waking up," Dr. Scherger said. "It's just a waiting game."
Scherger said he last spoke to his son 10 minutes before midnight when Gabriel called to wish his parents a Happy New Year and again 20 minutes later when they called to say they were having a good time.
The honor student is majoring in political science and pre-med. He and Jolene, an art major at Santa Barbara City College, have been together for several months. Denise Blessing, Jolene's mother, said her daughter had called her three times from the Strip to wish her a Happy New Year.
"They're good kids," Carol Scherger, said. "They just wanted to come to Las Vegas. They called all their friends from the Strip and said 'Listen to the noise.' "
Blessing was in surgery for 10 hours Saturday, Dr. Scherger said. Blessing's mother, Denise, said her daughter suffered a punctured lung, a broken jaw, a broken wrist and broken legs. The bottom of her lumbar vertebrae is fractured.
Blessing was awake and responding Sunday morning. She has moved her toes a couple of times, but doctors are waiting to see if there is spinal cord injury.
And for the heroes on the highway:
"All we want to do is thank them for saving the kids' lives," Dr. Scherger said. "For someone to stop, I can't help but believe they're going to be fine. It's almost as if angels had done that."