"It was not my time to go," says Angela Weir, a trauma nurse, who was miraculously uninjured after hopping over a concrete barrier and falling 75 feet into the river
Credit: Angela Weir

The morning of Aug. 3 started off a bit odd for Angela Weir, because she and her husband Chris were headed to the gym at 5 a.m. – not something they are prone to do. And it just got odder from there.

Weir, 47, had hoped to get in a workout before starting her shift as a nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s shock-trauma unit, where she’s been employed for 13 years.

Such an early visit to the gym “has happened all of about three times,” she says with a laugh. “We were headed for an ambitious 5 a.m. workout.”

It was pitch dark as the couple drove along Interstate 70 toward Frederick. At one point, “we saw brake lights, and I think I probably said to my husband, ‘Slow down.'”

They then saw what Weir describes as a “big ball of fire” in the road. A dump truck had been rear-ended by a tanker truck, causing the first truck to roll over and get jackknifed by the second one. Chris started to ask if she was going to get out and help, “but my door was already open,” she says.

Donned in her gym clothes, Weir began running toward the accident. Her training as a trauma nurse kicked in as she made sure not to get hit by oncoming traffic. Noticing a 2-foot-tall concrete barrier to her left, she decided to hop over it “in an effort to put something between myself and the fire,” she says.

Jumping over it, “I assumed there was a shoulder on the other side,” she recalls.

Instead, there was nothing. Only air.

“My first thought was that I didn’t hit pavement, which was what I was expecting,” Weir says. “Then I realized I was falling, and falling far.”

As she kept falling – about 75 feet total – she had enough time to formulate other thoughts, such as, “I can’t believe I made this mistake.”

Falling at a rate of about 32 feet per second, “I thought I was going to hit pavement,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘This is going to hurt, and I’m going to be dead.'”

Instead, her body plunged into the Monocacy River in an area that was about 12 feet deep at the time. That alone was rather miraculous, as it’s normally shallow in the summertime, Weir says, calling it a “pseudo river” because it’s often too shallow to even kayak on.

“I don’t remember the impact,” she says. “But I remember that my head was above water, and I began swimming and assessing myself as a nurse: ‘Okay, my spinal cord isn’t damaged because I’m swimming.'”

Making her way to a tree near the bank, she started calling out for help. Finally, a woman heard her and said, ‘There’s someone down there!'”

It took 90 minutes for rescuers to reach her. She was then airlifted to the same hospital where she works.

“I got to work on time – actually, 10 minutes early,” she jokes. Because she’s usually on the other side of the stretcher, she says, she knew exactly what the procedure was going to be as a patient. One example: “I knew I was about to be naked in front of all of my coworkers.”

Doctors then began examining her for signs of internal bleeding and other serious problems. Every scan came up negative.

“All of the surgeons just shook their heads,” she recalls.

Dr. Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at the hospital, has worked closely with Weir for several years. He recalls stopping by her room the day of the accident to check on her condition and finding her prognosis “remarkable.”

“That’s a long way to fall to not be hurt,” he says. “We’re obviously very grateful that she wasn’t badly injured. She’s very much a valued member of our group, and we’re waiting for her to come back to work when she’s ready.

She’s a high-energy, deeply caring lady,” he adds of Weir. “Everything she does, she does well.”

That includes walking away from a life-threatening situation.

After being admitted to the hospital at 6:50 a.m., she was released by noon. Her only injuries are two “insignificant fractures” on her tailbone and skull, both of which will heal on their own. Her left side, which apparently bore the brunt of the impact, is also bruised.

“In the big picture, that’s absolutely nothing,” she says.

Weir’s three sons, 14, 19 and 21, “are kind of shaken by this, but they’re handling it really well,” she says, adding that one of them made her a compilation of songs such as “Free Falling,” “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” and “Take Me to the River.”

Her friends and family, including Chris, 49, “have all been extremely loving toward me,” she says. “I’ve also gotten messages from people who say I took care of them when they were in the hospital. It’s been really wonderful.”

Asked if she’ll be so quick to rush out and help in the event of another emergency, Weir has a quick reply.

“In my line of work, there’s no way you’re going to sit back and watch something happen,” she says. “If someone is needing help, I’m not going to not do it. No way.”

Weir has had time to reflect about what happened to her and why she’s still alive and well.

“There’s really no way to explain it,” she says. “It was not my time to go. Obviously, there’s something else for me to do here.”