20th Anniversary: 99 car pile up survivors remember
By Megan Boatwright
Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Its been called one of the deadliest wrecks in state history. Twenty years ago Saturday 12 people lost their lives when a thick fog covered all lanes of I-75 near Calhoun.
The low visibility caused 99 vehicles to crash, and a few explosions. Nancy Albrecht says it took her 10 years to heal from the extreme trauma she experienced. She, her husband, and 14-year-old son were passing through the Tennessee Valley in a greyhound bus.
Her husband died and both her feet were burned to the bone.
"I almost feel like I was born at the accident," says 55 year-old Albrecht. "I'm not the same person I was before the accident."
"It wasn't terribly horrific for some of the people in the accident," Says 34 year old David Albrecht. "Then there were people that saw the gates of hell open up."
Whenever December 11th rolls around, Albrecht and her son David do their best to act normal.
"It's not a friendly reminder," David says.
It's a day the mother and son would rather forget altogether, but the images, sights, sounds even smells are imprinted on their brains.
"It's more like an old ghost that won't go away," David says.
A ghost the two have made peace with over the years, but still a ghost.
"My brain was wiped clean," Albrecht says. "I had to learn to walk and talk all over again."
Even though they were in the same bus on December 11th, 1990 when it hit a semi and became part of the 99 cars caught in the chain reaction wreck, they have very different memories.
"It just rained fire down," she says.
Their bus caught fire after a tanker carrying flammable chemical down the accident line erupted. Mother and son jumped for safety.
"The window was the closes to me so I jumped out the window," she says.
14-year-old David landed on his knees causing fractures to his spine, but he made it out. Nancy got stuck, that's when her feet burned. It was 3 years before she could walk again.
"In order to get better from the accident I had to learn how not to be a victim," she says. "I'd been a victim all my life."
Albrecht says she forgot about the 10 year anniversary in 2000, that's when she knew she was healed. David Albrecht says they'll forever see life through different eyes.
Nancy and David Albrecht were part of the class action lawsuit filed against the Bowater plant after the accident. In the suit approximately 80 defendants claimed the fog was created when hot water was dumped into a holding pond near the highway.
The suit was settled out of court in 1994. Nancy Albrecht has written a book about her experiences, it is available at http://www.wix.com/nancyalbrecht/front-page.