MINNEAPOLIS — Nancy Breberg was lost, creeping along on slippery roads in search of the suburban hotel where she was meeting her husband when her SUV slid off the road and down an embankment onto an icy pond. For the next 18 hours, the 67-year-old woman was trapped, praying for help as water seeped over her feet and temperatures plunged into the teens.
Breberg, a diabetic, might not have survived if a passing bicyclist hadn't spotted her vehicle's wheel sticking up through brush that made it difficult to see. When he went closer to investigate, he saw someone in a pink jacket moving inside. Then Breberg called out for help.
"She was pretty weak," bicyclist Geoffrey Racette told The Associated Press on Monday, as Breberg was recovering at a Minneapolis hospital. "She said that she wasn't able to get out of the car and was stuck in there. She couldn't crawl out the back."
Racette crawled through the back window and fed Breberg some Chex Mix he had been carrying on his ride. She pointed him to her bag of medication, which he retrieved and handed over to paramedics who soon arrived.
Breberg's husband, Ron Breberg, 66, of Centerville, said she was on a breathing tube, sedated and getting fluids Monday at Hennepin County Medical Center, where she was expected to make a complete recovery.
Ron Breberg said he was looking forward to meeting "my hero," Racette, when his wife was up to it and giving him "the biggest hug I've given anybody."
About 7:30 Friday night, Nancy Breberg was struggling to find the hotel in St. Louis Park where her husband's Shrine club was having a dinner when her SUV veered off the road, crashed through a fence, went down the embankment and landed on the pond on the driver's side, according to the police report and her husband. The impact broke the ice and allowed some water into the passenger compartment.
Breberg was able to get her seat and shoulder belt off, her husband said, but the water shorted out the vehicle's electrical system, so she couldn't open the windows, unlock the doors or summon help via OnStar, and she couldn't get her legs working well enough to crawl out the broken back window. Her cellphone ended up in the water, where she couldn't reach it. She had no food but sucked on a piece of ice to get some water, he said.
"She was just hoping and praying that somebody could find her," he said.
When she didn't show up at the hotel and he couldn't reach her by phone, he feared she might be having an insulin reaction. He said he rushed home and saw her car and luggage were gone. He went back to the hotel, and when he saw she still wasn't there, he called police. Many of his Shriner friends drove around the area looking for her car, hoping she had parked somewhere.
"I was praying hard but losing hope," he said.
Breberg was conscious and coherent when Racette, 20, of Plymouth, found her just before 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Racette said he was bicycling home from his part-time job in the meat department at a Rainbow Foods grocery store when he spotted the SUV and ran down to the pond. He said he had bought the Chex Mix on sale that morning.
"I think she was just really happy that somebody finally found her," Racette said. "She sounded extremely strong for somebody who had been through what she went through."
Racette said he was fortunate that the water was shallow — he estimated it at about 1 ½ feet deep — where her SUV came to rest.Comment on this story
Dr. Anne Lambert, who co-directs the hospital's burn center where frostbite and hypothermia patients are treated, said Breberg could have survived "a little bit longer but not a lot longer." Lambert said Breberg's diabetes was actually a greater immediate threat than the cold, with her blood sugar dangerously low when she was found.
Ron Breberg said he spent a sleepless night after reporting his wife missing to police. He said talked to her briefly Saturday before she was sedated, and her sense of humor was back.
"If anybody has a doubt about the power of prayer, come talk to me," he said.