By Tim Eberly
A Chinook woman is in a coma in a Great Falls hospital after she rolled her vehicle in a car accident Saturday evening.
Brooke Beard, 20, was driving home after visiting her husband's parents when she lost control of her 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass on Paradise Valley Road 3.4 miles south of Chinook. The car rolled twice, the Montana Highway Patrol said.
The car was on a sharp curve in the gravel road when she lost control and overcorrected her steering, the highway patrol said. That caused her vehicle to slide off the road and overturn.
Beard, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected and landed 25 feet from the vehicle.
Beard's vehicle came to rest in a ditch alongside the road, said Doug Schnittgen, Beard's father.
Though alcohol was not a factor in the one-vehicle accident, speed may have been, said highway patrol officer Steve Baiamonte.
When Baiamonte arrived on the scene of the accident, emergency medical personnel had already transported Beard to Northern Montana Hospital. Doctors there stabilized Beard before she was flown to Benefis Health Care in Great Falls.
Beard is in critical condition in the intensive care unit and has suffered severe head trauma and swelling in her brain, Schnittgen said.
Beard was conscious after the accident, but slipped into a coma en route to Northern Montana Hospital, he said.
"Her prognosis for living is fairly good," Schnittgen said today from the waiting room of the hospital's ICU. "But what kind of shape she's going to be in once she wakes up, they don't know.
"With a head injury like this, you never know how it's going to turn out. She may need years of rehabilitation."
Doctors told Schnittgen that Beard will not wake up for a couple of weeks.
To maintain her body temperature, doctors have covered Beard with ice blankets. They have also inserted a tube into her brain to drain excess fluid.
For the last year, Beard has been a full-time caregiver for the Chinook-based Kid's Korner Day Care. She also worked as a cashier at the Town Pump gas station and convenience store in Chinook.
"We're all upset. Everybody was shocked," said Wanda Chilton, the director of Kid's Korner Day Care.
Chilton and her employees set up a donation box for Beard at the day care center for her medical bills and expenses. Donations can be sent to: Kid's Korner Day Care, Box 672, Chinook, MT, 59523.
Beard's husband of three years, Heath, works for an oil company in Havre.
"He isn't saying too much," said 22-year-old Heath's father, Ed Beard, who lives in Chinook. "He took it kind of hard."
The young couple met while attending Chinook High School.
Schnittgen, who is divorced from Beard's mother, flew from his ranch in Oklee, Minn., on Monday when he got word of the accident. He was born in Havre.