Updated 6:10 pm, Wednesday, April 30, 2014.
The Martha’s Vineyard community is rallying around an Oak Bluffs couple, their daughter, and a family friend following a serious car accident over spring school break as the group returned to the Island Sunday.
Island clergy held an interfaith healing service Wednesday night, at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center to pray for the recovery of Elinor (Ellie) Hanjian, 14, the most seriously injured of the group, Laurel Redington and her husband, Ray Whitaker.
Ms. Redington and Mr. Whitaker were released late Wednesday from VCU Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, where they were taken following the crash. Ellie Hanjian remained hospitalized.
The Whitakers, their daughter Tessa, 14, and her friend Ellie were heading home from a trip to Florida for spring vacation, Mr. Whitaker told The Times in a phone call Tuesday. Ms. Redington was driving their rented Chevy Malibu in the middle lane on I-295, passing through Richmond about 7:30 am, when a Mercedes SUV suddenly turned left in front of them from the right lane.
She braked immediately but was unable to avoid striking the other car broadside. “It was a horrific crash,” Mr. Whitaker said. “But Laurel really saved our lives, because she reacted so quickly. The police and hospital staff said she reacted perfectly, because otherwise the car could have flipped.”
The other driver, Nathaniel Staton, 33, of North Chesterfield, Va., stayed on the scene and told the police he was responsible for the accident, Mr. Whitaker said. A Virginia State Police sergeant confirmed that Mr. Staton was cited for reckless driving. Ellie, Ms. Redington, and Mr. Whitaker were taken by ambulance to the medical center. Ellie suffered a head injury and underwent surgery on Sunday. Ms. Redington had a severe concussion, a chipped patella, and broken toes, Mr. Whitaker said.
Mr. Whitaker had compression fractures in two vertebrae in his lower back and was fitted for a brace. Although Tessa suffered whiplash and continues to have neck and lower back pain, she did not have any broken bones or require hospitalization.
Mr. Whitaker said Tessa has been a tremendous help to her parents, making arrangements to get their luggage from the wrecking yard where the rental car was towed and for their trip home. All of this, while coping with the emotional trauma of seeing her best friend sustain a horrible injury, Mr. Whitaker said. He added that Ellie is like a member of their family.
“Tessa’s being incredibly strong,” Mr. Whitaker said of his daughter.
“As of yesterday, the doctor was able to remove Ellie’s breathing tube, and she’s able to speak,” Vicky Hanjian, Ellie’s grandmother, told The Times in a phone call Tuesday. “And she still has her delightful sense of humor.”
Ellie and Tessa, both 14, are freshmen at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Ellie is a defenseman on the girls varsity ice hockey team and Tessa is a member of the cross-country track team.
Ellie is the daughter of Adam Hanjian and Mary Holmes of Oak Bluffs, who are with her now in Richmond. Her brother, Robert, is a seventh-grader at Oak Bluffs School.
Ms. Redington and Mr. Whitaker both work on the staffs of MVY Radio and the YMCA. Ms. Redington is the production director and D.J. for weekday mornings at the radio station, and the assistant director of the Y’s teen center.
Mr. Whitaker is the host of “Just Four Guys,” a weekly Beatles radio program, and works as a personal trainer at the Y. He also is known for hosting many popular trivia nights held at Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs, the Newes From America Pub in Edgartown, and Alex’s Place at the Y.
Power of prayer
On Monday, Trinity United Methodist Church Pastor Rich Rego sent an email about the accident to the congregation, which includes Ellie’s grandparents, Ms. Hanjian and her husband, Armen. Both are retired ministers. Mr. Hanjian serves as the Island Food Pantry’s coordinator.
Pastor Rego, the Reverend Cathlin Baker of the West Tisbury Congregational Church, and Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, which Ellie’s grandparents also attend, have helped spread the word about the accident to the community.
On Sunday about 25 people gathered in the West Tisbury Congregational Church sanctuary. Reverend Baker led them in prayer for Ellie and her family, and the Redington-Whitaker family. Ms. Hanjian said that was just the start.
“The Island community’s outpouring of concern, and the prayer that has gone out, we are absolutely certain is accounting for Ellie coming through this,” Ms. Hanjian said. “And she’s got a lot more to go through, but our family is very sustained by all the thoughts and prayers that have been flowing out, as are the Whitakers.”
Ms. Hanjian said a few weeks ago, on Palm Sunday, Ellie spoke at the West Tisbury Congregational Church about a trip in which she and the Island Youth Group participated in the Boston City Reach Program, a ministry to homeless people. Ms. Hanjian said the focus of Ellie’s message was about the importance of community support.
“And here it is, a few weeks later, that the Island community is lifting us up,” Ms. Hanjian said.
In an email update Wednesday, Mr. Whitaker said Tessa was experiencing excruciating neck pain and was diagnosed with severe neck strain and given a soft support collar to wear. Ms. Redington was undergoing physical therapy to learn to walk on crutches with more ease. Mr. Whitaker said his family planned to board a train to New York City Wednesday night, and then transfer to another one to Providence, where a friend from the Island would pick them up Thursday morning. They expected to be back on the Vineyard by noon.
“Laurel is still reconciling the accident and the after effects,” Mr. Whitaker said. “Apart from trying to heal physically, she just wants Ellie’s healing to be remarkable and complete.”
Mr. Whitaker added, “All she wants to do is hold that girl and let her know how much she’s loved and how sorry she is that this happened.… To see her in this condition and know the fight that is ahead of her, it’s heartbreaking.”
He said their only solace is knowing that, “if there’s anyone who can conquer this tragic occurrence, it’s Ellie Hanjian.”
Cards may be sent to Ellie Hanjian at VCU Health Systems, 1250 Marshall St., Pediatric ICU #628, Richmond, VA 23298.