Target 11 talks to mother, children who survive 6-story bridge fall

Updated:

Loading

PITTSBURGH - It was a horrifying scene -- a car with a mother and two children plunged off a bridge, and fell more than 60 feet into a ravine.

Emergency responders rush to the scene expecting to find no survivors. But miraculously, everyone was alive.

"We were coming across the bridge going to Cabela's and had the kids in the back seat watching a movie and just all of the sudden someone is on top of me. It was horrible. I felt a horrendous crash, just horrible noise," Jolinda Effinger told Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle.

Effinger and her two young children were driving across a bridge on Interstate 79 near Waynesburg when another car came barreling into her lane, hit her sedan and sent her car up onto the jersey barrier. The car slid down the top of the barrier, and then plunged more than 60 feet into a ravine.

"It was like imminent danger. I knew I was in danger because I felt like I was in an elevator and it just, and I tucked my legs underneath that pedal and held onto the steering wheel and I yelled at the top of my lungs dear God don't let us die, and we lived, we lived," an emotional Effinger told Earle.

The violent impact left Effinger and her two children with serious injuries.

"I broke six vertebrae, both feet, right wrist, left elbow, my breast plate was broken in two. I kinked my spine like a garden hose, broke all my ribs on my left side," said Effinger, who had to learn to walk all over again, first with a walker, then a cane, and now with a permanent limp.

Her kids, who were ages 4 and 5 at the time, also suffered severe injuries. Her daughter sustained a cut to her throat and her son's arm was nearly ripped off. It had to be put back with pins.

Today, nearly three years after the horrific crash, the injuries have healed but there is still the emotional trauma of knowing they cheated death. All three believe they had some help in the form of divine intervention.

"I saw Jesus. He said it would be all right and he was holding mommy," said Dominique Effinger, who is now 7 years old.

Jolinda Effinger said there is only one way to explain what happened.

"I'm a miracle. I'm a miracle. He told me they are not going to believe the miracle, but spread the word, and that's what I do, and tell everybody God was here that day. And it was by the grace of God that we lived that day, only the grace of God," said Effinger.

The driver who hit Effinger and started the accident was cited and paid a fine.

Effinger told Target 11 she got about $75,000 in insurance money. She said her medical bills came to almost $190,000 and she said she is still struggling to pay that off.

Part Two

"This is my first time doing this since the wreck itself in 2010," said a nervous Jolinda Effinger, who prepared to driver her car across the same bridge where three years earlier she and her children had plummeted more than 60 feet into a ravine.

"I knocked down all these yellow things and we went off right there. Oh God here comes somebody. Whew, oh gosh," Effinger exclaimed as she made her way across the bridge on  I-79 near Waynesburg.

Effinger was traveling across the same bridge in August of 2010, when another car pulled into her lane, hit her car and sent her up the jersey barrier and grinding along the top of the barrier. Her car then plunged six stories to the ground below.

Three years later, Effinger is on a crusade to improve bridge safety. She said the barriers should be higher to prevent vehicles from going over.

"Jolinda says a little bit taller wall, a different design on these parapets or jersey barriers or walls, whichever they call them, and railings on top of them to sufficient height of the cars today," said Effinger, who filed a civil lawsuit against PennDOT.

The courts ruled that, "while a higher guardrail or bridge wall might make the bridge safer, the lack of a higher or more durable barrier is not a dangerous condition."

Effinger is appealing that ruling to the State Supreme Court.

Target 11 also contacted PennDOT and they sent us this statement: "The bridge was built to applicable standards and all of the work and maintenance that has been done since the bridge was put into service has also been completed to applicable standards of the time. We sympathize with the family's situation, as innocent victims of this dramatic accident, but that does not change the facts or the law."

Still, Effinger said she won't stop until someone listens. She said she doesn't want anyone else to have to experience the tragedy she has.

"Anyone that comes through our great beautiful state of Pennsylvania, they're taking a risk going across all of these bridges like this. they need to be fixed," said Effinger.