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Centerville mother in FrontRunner accident returns home

CENTERVILLE — Yellow ribbons and balloons, welcome home signs and dozens of cheering family members, friends and neighbors lined the street leading to Evan and Clara Lewis' home Thursday evening.

"Welcome home, Clara," one sign read. "We missed you," read another.

Forty-five days ago, Clara Lewis was critically injured when the minivan she was driving was hit by a commuter-rail train in Kaysville.

The high-speed FrontRunner train hit the driver's side of the minivan near the front wheel — an impact that was just inches, family members say, from killing the 32-year-old mother of three.

Lewis was rushed to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden with a fractured skull, a broken collarbone and shoulder blade and two broken ribs. She spent much of her time there in the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

The Lewis' two daughters, 5-year-old Emma and 17-month-old Michaela, also were in the van with their mother on that Monday afternoon, Nov. 14.

Michaela was in a car seat directly behind her mother but escaped without a single scratch or bruise, family members said. Emma was hit by debris, likely broken glass, and sustained a few minor cuts on her face and a larger cut on her heel.

Both girls were released from the hospital after just a few hours.

"It was a miracle," said Paul Taylor, Clara's brother and next-door neighbor. "It's been 45 days of miracles."

The latest came Thursday evening, when Clara returned home. She smiled and waved to those who'd gathered for an impromptu welcome-home party in front of her home as her husband helped her inside.

"It's a miracle," Evan Lewis said. "It was a very violent accident. We're just grateful that she's here."

Clara Lewis still has several challenges ahead, her husband said. Rehabilitation likely will be long and difficult, but doctors have been optimistic that she'll make a full recovery, family members said.

"We're grateful for all of the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals up at McKay-Dee Hospital, and all those who helped her at the time of the accident," Evan Lewis said.

Clara Lewis was on her way to pick up her 6-year-old son, Taylor, who had been playing at a friend's house in Kaysville at the time of the accident.

She doesn't remember the accident or any of the events leading up to it, family members said, and neither police nor the Utah Transit Authority have been able to determine why the woman's car ended up on the tracks.

One day after the accident, another woman who had a close call on the FrontRunner line between Old Mill Lane and 600 West spoke out about the need for increased safety measures at the rail crossing and others.

A week earlier, Jill Welch said she was waiting at that same railroad crossing for a train to pass. When the crossing arm lifted, Welch started to drive forward — and the gates started to lower again as another train approached.

The close proximity of the train caused her to panic, she said, and she shifted her car into neutral instead of reverse. Still panicked, Welch was able to back her car out of the way of the train as the crossing arm came down on top of her car.

Some of Lewis' neighbors speculated Thursday that something similar had happened to the Centerville woman.

"You know for sure she wasn't playing chicken with two little girls in the car," said Grant Taylor, Clara's father.

Evan Lewis said doctors have indicated Clara likely will never remember the accident, meaning the reason the van was on the tracks may remain a mystery. And that's just fine with him, he said.

"It doesn't really matter," Evan Lewis said. "The most important thing is that she's home and she's getting better."

An account has been set up for the Lewis family in Clara's name at Zions Bank. Donations to help cover the cost of her medical bills can be made at any of the bank's branches.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com