Parade Goes Over The Top

This story was republished on Jan. 5, 2022 to make it free for all readers

Last Sunday morning, Lauren Janke and her partner Robin Frievalt woke early expecting a busy day. There were holiday lights to put up. A buyer was coming for their basement freezer.

Then they were taking Janke's two sons, Everett, 11, and Tatum, 7, to watch the high school marching bands, floats, cheer squads and Dancing Grannies at the Waukesha Christmas Parade. The parade had been canceled in 2020, another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the event's return seemed a hopeful sign. Traditions could be resurrected.

But Frievalt, a 37-year-old with a bachelor's degree in nursing, had a weird feeling. Large gatherings bothered her. These days, any big event, any crowd carried the potential for violence — even a parade, for gosh sake.

Almost a year had passed and authorities were still arresting people from all over the country in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The divisive trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on charges of shooting three people during last summer's racial unrest in Kenosha had just ended in acquittal. From the beginning, it had seemed certain that whatever the verdict, half the country would be furious.

"Are you sure we should go?" Frievalt wanted to ask Janke.

But her partner and the boys had been looking forward to the parade. So Frievalt kept her doubts to herself. She even tried to muster holiday cheer, stringing lights around the outside of their house and through the bushes in the front yard.

She felt the air cooling. A wind had kicked up.

Janke, 40, drove the mile and a half from their home to the parade route around 2 p.m., two hours before the start, and set up four chairs. Many spectators had already staked out positions along Main Street.

Janke realized it would be crowded. They'd have to park at least a couple of blocks away.

Crowds lined Main Street early

The Christmas Parade, Nov. 21, would be Waukesha's 58th. The event's web page listed more than a dozen sponsors, and offered a holiday wish:

"Comfort and Joy."

A Girl Scouts group would be marching along with sports clubs, businesses, high schools, Carroll University, and, of course, the justifiably famous Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.

Virginia "Ginny" Sorenson had been with the Dancing Grannies for 19 of her 79 years. She was as committed as they came, bad back and all. She would be near the back of the group holding a banner. Tamara Durand, a mere 52, was young enough to be Sorenson's daughter. She was making her debut with the Grannies.

Behind the Grannies in the parade order would be the Citizens Bank float. Walking beside the float would be Jane Kulich, a 52-year-old teller at the bank who was a mother and grandmother herself.

Previously, Kulich had worked as a caregiver for Visiting Angels, a group that provides in-home care for seniors.

A few minutes before 4 p.m., Janke, Frievalt and the boys found a parking spot a couple of blocks from the parade route.

Robin Frievalt, left, and her partner Lauren Janke, right, stand in the exact spot where they were watching the Waukesha Christmas Parade on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. "I see their faces, the eyes of everyone I tried to connect with and help," Frievalt said.
Robin Frievalt, left, and her partner Lauren Janke, right, stand in the exact spot where they were watching the Waukesha Christmas Parade on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. "I see their faces, the eyes of everyone I tried to connect with and help," Frievalt said.

Crowds already lined Main Street in front of the familiar landmarks: People's Park restaurant, the Steaming Cup coffee shop and Five Points Pub.

The wind had knocked over their chairs, and that section of the route now felt too crowded, so Janke and Frievalt moved to a new spot, half a block farther down the route. They were in front of a little driveway leading to Realty Executives at 431 W. Main St.

Right on time, the first marchers passed carrying the parade banner. Janke had filled a Thermos with hot chocolate for the boys. Some of the marchers were throwing candy, and a little boy offered Janke's sons some from the handful he'd gathered.

Some hospitals already full

At 4 p.m., Amy Zosel, an emergency medicine specialist for Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, arrived at the hospital for the start of her shift. She asked colleagues how the day had gone so far.

There's a superstition at the hospital, as there is among many of the agencies that deal with disasters. Never say a day has been "slow." Never.

Instead, Zosel's colleagues told her it had been kind of quiet. The patient volume had been "pretty low," said Dina Derocher, 38-year-old nurse manager in the emergency department.

The same could not be said for ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital a little more than a mile from the start of the parade. The hospital's emergency department has been "absolutely packed" for much of the year, said Mark Schultz, director of emergency medical services.

Many hospitals in Wisconsin and around the nation had been strained by the periodic surges in COVID-19 patients. These patients have been sicker and stayed longer than other patients, putting pressure on emergency departments.

"It was another complicated day," said Schultz. "We were boarding patients in the ER because everything's full."

Over at Children's Wisconsin hospital, the main emergency department was completely full and patients were arriving with the usual assortment of weekend injuries: broken bones, lacerations and respiratory problems.

Children were waiting up to an hour to be seen.

More: Help and support arrived early, and continue flowing in.

More: How you can help those affected.

More: What we know so far about the victims.

More: What we know about the suspect.

'Stop! Stop!'

About 35 minutes into the parade, a voice came over the Waukesha police radio. Report of two people fighting around White Rock School.

One-third of a mile away, Waukesha Police Detective Tom Casey was working traffic control at the staging area for the parade when he heard a horn honking. The detective stared up White Rock Avenue and watched the waiting crowd of parade participants part, making way for a red Ford Escape.

The Escape was bearing down on the detective and on marchers just starting the parade route.

Casey stepped out into the driver's path, pounding on the hood.

"Stop," the detective ordered.

The driver slowed, but ignored the command, steering the SUV to the right so that it brushed back Casey and entered the parade route.

Yelling, "Stop! Stop!," the detective pounded his fist against the driver's window, but the SUV kept going, passing marchers. As Casey gave chase, the driver sped up.

By the radio, Casey informed officers that the red Ford Escape had entered the parade. He put out an urgent call for squad cars.

About three blocks away, at the intersection of West Main and North Barstow streets, the driver of the Escape braked for a moment. Officer Bryce Butryn thought the driver was about to stop, then turn right onto Barstow, and exit the parade route.

Then Butryn heard the SUV's tires squeal. The driver accelerated straight into the parade marchers.

Frantic calls burst from the radio.

"There's a car going westbound pushing parade-goers down. A red Escape. I couldn't stop it ..."

Then a male voice shouting for an ambulance. "GASPAR AND MAIN!"

The same voice, now breathless. "We have multiple casualties! Main and Gaspar. We need multiple (ambulances)."

The City of Waukesha's livestream video of the Waukesha Christmas Parade shows a burgundy SUV that drove onto the parade route and struck a number of people.
The City of Waukesha's livestream video of the Waukesha Christmas Parade shows a burgundy SUV that drove onto the parade route and struck a number of people.

Bodies flying in the air

Half a mile farther down the parade route, a whimsical little tow truck passed Frievalt, Janke and the boys.

"Oh, isn't that cute," Janke said, thinking the truck resembled the character Mater from the computer-animated movie "Cars."

Suddenly, to her right, came a chorus of screams. Janke and Frievalt turned abruptly.

They saw the red SUV weaving in and out of the parade marchers, veering from one side of the street to the other.

"I saw three bodies — boom! boom! boom! — all flying in the air," Frievalt said. "Then — thump! thump! thump! — landing. I didn't realize in that split second what had happened."

The SUV must be part of the parade, she remembers thinking. Maybe the driver has lost control.

Janke stared at the SUV, and it looked to be heading straight toward her and her family. It was only 15 feet away. She could see the driver's face. His eyes were focused straight ahead. "I was scared shitless, for lack of a better word," she said.

For a few seconds everything went silent, Frievalt said. It felt as if time stopped.

Then, ear-splitting screams. Legs rushing past. Chairs toppling.

In the street, an awful stillness. Blood pooling silently around motionless bodies.

Janke's arms reached out instinctively, hands grabbing her two sons, legs in full flight, heading away from the street, away from the shattered parade.

In the same moment, Frievalt bolted in the opposite direction onto a roadway strewn with bodies. Her mind kept telling her "This can't be real," but her nursing instincts had already determined that it was. Ahead of her she saw, "a body, a body, a body, a body," she said.

Janke and her sons raced into the small parking lot beside Realty Executive. They found themselves against a brick wall. "I just saw that car hit that person and they flew off the hood of the car," Everett said. "Why would somebody do that?" Tatum, the 7-year-old, was crying.

Janke and Frievalt, together four years, are engaged to be married. They know each other well enough that Janke was not surprised to see her partner sprint away from her toward the injured. That's who she is, Janke told herself.

Frievalt reached the body of a middle-aged man. He was lying on his back, face up, eyes open and fixed on the darkening sky. He looked dazed. She saw blood spreading out from the back of his head.

"What day is it?" she asked.

"Sunday," he said.

She asked his name and he told her. She asked what year he was born, and again he answered.

Finally, she asked "Are you hurt?"

"No," he said. "No. No. Nope."

She told him not to move and covered his body with a blanket. Somebody passed her towels and she slipped them gently under his head.

There was a girl on the ground beside the middle-aged man. Their heads were almost touching. The girl's eyes were open, but when Frievalt pointed her cellphone light at them, the pupils did not move.

Later, Frievalt would guess that the girl was between 10 and 14, but at the time it never crossed her mind. The girl appeared to have head trauma. There was an abrasion on the side of her eye. Blood was beginning to seep into both eyes.

A woman screamed madly and Frievalt asked her to calm down. She turned back to the girl. When Frievalt asked the same questions she'd posed to the injured man, the girl said nothing. Her breathing was labored.

Frievalt held the girl's hand, then placed her right hand over the child's chest. The girl's eyes kept closing.

"It's going to be OK," Frievalt told her. "I'm right here. You need to keep your eyes open. I'm not going anywhere."

She pulled a blanket over the girl. Frievalt kept thinking how cold and windy it was, and how much colder it must feel for the people who lay injured. Two other women crouched down to help the girl.

"Stay with her," Frievalt told them. "I'll be right back."

Witnesses rush to safety

At the realty office, Janke and her sons stood against the wall outside, spellbound for what felt like minutes. Then someone opened the office door and Janke, her sons and other traumatized witnesses rushed inside.

Janke told the boys to stay put, and she dashed back to their chairs by the street and retrieved Frievalt's work and personal cellphones.

The realty office filled with students from Catholic Memorial High School, many crying into cellphones as they contacted parents and friends.

At 4:46, Janke texted the father of her two sons.

"Hey. We just saw the scariest thing at the Christmas Parade. A car whipped through the crowd and hit multiple people. It was horrific."

"Wow!!! Are the boys OK? Was it fast and how far away from you was it?" the father texted back. She assured him they were all safe, though she could not see Frievalt.

Neither Janke nor Frievalt knew that further down Main Street, the red Escape approached the Wisconsin Avenue intersection, still running over pedestrians. A desperate Waukesha officer fired his gun, hitting the Escape three times.

At Froedtert Hospital, the "quiet day" ended with a phone call. A nurse told Zosel that a doctor had called from the Christmas parade, where he'd been off-duty watching his daughter march. Now he was searching for her. There'd been a mass casualty event.

Zosel called the doctor. He still hadn't found his daughter. His voice was frantic, breathless. He said there were maybe 30 to 40 people injured.

"I'm coming to help as soon as I find my daughter," said the doctor, who asked not to be named.

"Don't come in," Zosel said.

Then she heard the doctor say, "OK, I found her. She's safe. I'm coming in to help."

Zosel told him, "You're totally fine to go home and be with your family."

The doctor would not hear of it. He was on his way in.

Word spreads of mass casualty event

Word of the disaster spread quickly to area hospitals, though the initial information was vague and confusing. There had either been a shooting, a car running into the parade, or both.

Emergency department nurses from ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital had been at the parade and phoned to alert their colleagues just over a mile away. A mass casualty event had taken place.

Two, maybe three minutes after the calls, the first patient arrived. ProHealth Waukesha would receive 33 more.

Many arrived in the backseats of police cars or other vehicles. Some arrived in ambulances. In the earliest moments of the disaster there wasn't time for triage, the process of grouping casualties according to the urgency of their needs.

"You get no information about them. You have no advance warning. They simply are here," said Schultz, the hospital's director of emergency medical services.

"They came in so fast, there was no break in the action," Schultz continued. "As fast as you could get people out of vehicles, they kept arriving."

Schultz and the other medical staff treating the patients focused on the two priorities: clearing airways so the patients could breathe, and staunching the bleeding.

Through the door came a myriad of injuries: severe head trauma, broken arms and legs, trauma to the chest and abdomen.

Behind the scenes hospital staff moved patients from the emergency department who did not need to be there. Units all over the hospital were taking on these patients so that space could be cleared for the parade casualties.

Of the 34 patients that ProHealth Waukesha ultimately received, one was dead on arrival. One arrived wearing a tourniquet, a device used to stem the flow of blood from a severe arm or leg injury.

Abandoned chairs, blankets and other items remain along W. Main St. in downtown Waukesha after a vehicle plowed through the Christmas Parade, leaving multiple people injured on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Abandoned chairs, blankets and other items remain along W. Main St. in downtown Waukesha after a vehicle plowed through the Christmas Parade, leaving multiple people injured on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

"The sickest patients were unconscious," Schultz said. "Some were actively seizing."

Aurora Summit Medical Center, some 15 miles from the parade route, "was extremely full" that Sunday, even before doctors received word of the disaster at the Christmas parade, said Thomas M. Derrig, medical director for the hospital's trauma program.

There were COVID-19 patients, plus it was deer hunting season, and the hospital was treating victims of accidental shootings and falls from tree stands.

Derrig was picking up his daughter from a tennis lesson when he received the mass casualty notice.

"It's something you spend a good portion of your professional life getting ready to manage, but at the same time you hope it doesn't occur, because it means something horrific has happened," Derrig said.

As he drove his daughter home, his mind was already at the hospital running through scenarios for possible injuries. He, too, had been told to expect either a possible shooting or a possible incident of a vehicle hitting pedestrians.

The two cause very different injuries. Shootings leave doctors treating patients with penetrating wounds; they need to reach operating rooms quickly. A car hitting people causes blunt trauma injuries that must be handled more conservatively. Some of the most serious injuries are internal and not immediately obvious.

But there was one difference between these injuries and ones that typically result from being hit by a car, Derrig said. Usually a car's driver has hit the brakes before striking victims, at least slowing the vehicles and reducing the impact. There is no indication that happened.

Within the first hours, Derrig said, the hospital had four surgeries underway simultaneously.

Lisa Heinz, Aurora Summit's nurse and trauma program coordinator, was to have had Sunday off, but received the mass casualty call as she and her husband sat down to a chili dinner.

The hospital holds mass casualty drills every year, complete with mock patients wearing makeup to simulate their injuries. Although drills cannot fully prepare medical staff for the unexpected, Heinz knew she had an experienced crew. Her job was to manage the flow of patients through the 21-bed emergency department.

The unit was bustling, but never felt out of control. One physician assistant from the neonatal intensive care unit even volunteered to handle phone calls from relatives of the injured.

At Children's Wisconsin Hospital, some 14 miles from the scene, officials were told to expect as many as 45 patients. Still, they had some time to prepare. Most of the 18 parade patients they would treat that evening had been taken to other hospitals first and then referred to Children's.

Amy Drendel, medical director of emergency medicine and a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, studied the board listing all of the emergency room patients, calculating who could be moved and where.

They needed to free up emergency beds.

More and more injured

Back on Main Street, Frievalt went from one injured person to the next. She stopped to help maybe eight, maybe 12 victims in all. Some already had small groups of volunteers huddled around them.

Still, she crouched beside each of the injured, asking her questions, trying to determine conditions.

"It got worse," she said. "A lot of them couldn't even talk."

People were performing CPR on one man.

Police investigate at the scene of a crash involving multiple people and injuries at a holiday parade in Waukesha on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Police investigate at the scene of a crash involving multiple people and injuries at a holiday parade in Waukesha on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Police approached the injured, asking volunteers: Are they alive? Are they breathing? Do you know CPR?

Officers finally were able to triage patients with different colored tags, including red for the most seriously injured and black for the dead.

Frievalt approached one little boy, who looked to be about 10 years old and was standing by the body of a woman. The boy was sobbing. The woman did not appear to be bleeding, but may have had broken legs.

"What's your name?" Frievalt asked. "Is this your mom?"

The boy said it was.

"We're going to take good care of her," Frievalt said.

In truth, she felt helpless. "There was nothing I could do, Most of them had head trauma. I just wanted to keep them comfortable and warm, and have them know they were not alone."

Finally, Frievalt reunited with Janke and the boys. Janke was jolted by the expression on her partner's face: pure fright. The two women and the two boys headed home.

At 5:28, Frievalt texted her mother in Slinger. She told her mom that they had been in the middle of an attack. "It was all in front of me. I am so thankful to be alive. I have blood on my hands."

A little after 5:30 p.m., Frievalt, Janke and the boys arrived home.

Mothers and fathers remained calm

The injured just kept coming. Around 5:53, ambulances pulled into Froedtert Menomonee Falls Hospital with two patients, the hospital's first. Reports from ambulances had not been detailed.

"We still didn't know what kind of injuries we were getting," said Jim McCullough, the day -shift charge nurse in the emergency department.

Night-shift charge nurse Courtney Lauer had come in early, arriving just two minutes before the first ambulance. She went straight to triaging patients.

Four arrived by ambulance, a fifth by car.

As he worked, McCullough forced himself not to imagine the chaotic scene the injured were coming from.

Only after he finished work around 7:30 p.m. and returned home did he think about the disaster.

"It's a parade," he said. "It's supposed to be somewhere hundreds of people are enjoying the time together. You can't go anywhere now without having to keep your guard up."

Doctors at Froedtert and Children's Wisconsin, which are next door to one another, waited for referrals from other hospitals.

All staff at Children's were notified of the expected surge in patients. The first of the injured arrived around 5:30 p.m.

"We got nine critical patients in the first hour and four critical patients in the second hour," said Mo Luetje, a specialist in emergency medicine and assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "That's a lot of critical patients."

The doctors at Children's treated bone fractures, head and abdominal injuries and road rash, a condition worse than it sounds. Victims of road rash have skidded or been dragged over the street, ripping off a portion of the top layer of skin.

Given the brutal injuries, Luetje found one fact remarkable. She cannot remember hearing a single child cry.

That night her work included explaining to parents where their children were in the treatment process, whether they were on their way to an operating room, or having an MRI taken.

Despite all they'd seen and heard, the mothers and fathers, "were extremely calm."

Margaret Babler with her son Jack Babler, 16, from Pewaukee light a candle at Waukesha's Veterans Park commemorating the parade nightmare on Friday, November 26, 2021.
Margaret Babler with her son Jack Babler, 16, from Pewaukee light a candle at Waukesha's Veterans Park commemorating the parade nightmare on Friday, November 26, 2021.

Six children from the parade were sent to operating rooms that first evening. Another two would go the following day.

Doctors at Froedtert and Children's said the patients referred to them arrived having received the highest level of treatment in the field and at their first hospitals.

"Exceptional care was provided to these children," said Drendel, the medical director of emergency care at Children's.

At ProHealth Waukesha, Schultz worked for 14 hours, maybe 15. When he returned home it was almost 2 in the morning.

He thought about the numerous members of the medical staff who'd come in on their days off, and those who worked hard, even as they worried about family and friends who had been at the parade. They had to be wondering: Where is my family? Where are my friends? Will one of them be the next patient I see?

'The blood. The CPR. The dead.'

Five parade-goers died Sunday.

The dead included Virginia "Ginny" Sorenson, the veteran member of the Dancing Grannies, and Tamara Durand, the rookie.

A third member of the group, Leanna Owen, 71, also perished. She had managed an apartment complex and was known among the tenants for her kindness.

The Dancing Grannies also lost Wilhelm Hospel, 81, whose wife, Lola, performed with the group. Hospel helped transport the group to events and made sure the dancers all had what they needed.

The fifth fatality was Jane Kulich, the 52-year-old teller, who had been marching with Citizens Bank float behind the Grannies. The causes she'd cared about most in life were animal welfare, children and human rights.

People come and go paying their respects Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Park to remember those killed in the Waukesha Christmas Parade on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
People come and go paying their respects Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Park to remember those killed in the Waukesha Christmas Parade on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Sunday evening, Janke and Frievalt could not sleep.

"It was the eyes I looked into," Frievalt said. "The blood. The CPR. The dead. That's why I couldn't sleep."

Scenes replayed in Janke's mind over and over: the SUV swerving, the moment when she looked into the eyes of the driver. "I almost felt I could see the way he was moving the steering wheel," she said.

Frievalt felt sick on Monday. She couldn't eat. And she felt guilty for feeling sick. She remembers thinking: What right do I have to feel bad when other people have lost a parent or a child?

Monday evening both women went to the candlelight vigil at Cutler Park. At that point, authorities said five parade-goers were dead and more than 60 injured.

Police had named the driver, who'd been taken into custody, a Milwaukee man named Darrell E. Brooks, 39. Earlier in the month, a woman told police that Brooks purposefully ran her over with his vehicle after a fight. He'd been released from custody in that case.

Those were the facts, but they hardly began to cover what had happened. At the vigil, a friend told Janke that she and her 5-year-old son had seen one of the SUV's tires run over a woman's head.

On Tuesday, Frievalt woke up and told herself: Today is a new day. I'm going to cherish my life. I'm going to go back to work. I need to be distracted. I need to keep on living my life.

Still, it was early days in the recovery.

Tuesday evening, Frievalt, Janke and the two boys drove into Milwaukee. There was more news on the radio.

A sixth person who'd been struck by the SUV at the Christmas parade was dead: 8-year-old Jackson Sparks of Mukwonago, who was marching with his 12-year-old brother, Tucker. They were representing the Waukesha Blazers baseball team.

Jackson was in third grade.

Bill Glauber, Sophie Carson, Samantha Hendrickson, Joe Taschler, Sarah Volpenhein, Talis Shelbourne, Elliot Hughes, Devi Shastri, Jim Nelson, Cathy Kozlowicz, Ashley Luthern, Molly Beck, Daniel Bice, Christopher Kuhagen and Alexa Jurado of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Waukesha Christmas Parade: Timeline and account of the tragedy

Source : https://news.yahoo.com/blood-cpr-dead-moment-moment-012321939.html

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