WILLIAMS BAY — Despite serious injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident this summer, Williams Bay Police Chief Laura Washer is planning to return to work as soon as possible.
Washer was injured Aug. 9 when a motorcycle driven by her boyfriend — with her riding as a passenger — collided with a pickup truck near Green Bay.
Washer, 46, said she suffered a broken sternum, a shattered pelvis, multiple broken ribs, broken thigh bones in both legs, a broken right hip, a broken right arm and shoulder blade, and broken bones below the knee in her left leg.
In her first interview since the accident, Washer said her goal is to be out of the hospital by the first week in January. It may not happen that way, but that’s her goal, she said.
“I want nothing more than to go back to work,” Washer said.
After two years as Williams Bay’s police chief, she has missed four months of work since the motorcycle accident.
Village President Bill Duncan said he is encouraged by her determination to return to her duties as the village’s top law enforcement officer.
Duncan said he has been a supporter of Washer’s ever since she was first appointed in 2015.
“I think she was a breath of fresh of air,” Duncan said. “And we’re disappointed that she’s not here to continue her work.”
Washer and her boyfriend, Mark Garry, a police officer in Waukesha County, were returning from a police training conference in Green Bay when the collision occurred with both of them atop Garry’s emerald-and-black 2015 Harley-Davidson.
The couple lives together in Elkhorn.
Traveling south on a state highway in Brown County, Garry saw an oncoming pickup truck swerve into his lane. The pickup truck was driven by a 16-year-old girl who has been cited in the incident.
After the collision, the motorcycle ricocheted into a ditch and catapulted both driver and passenger into a nearby field. Neither Washer nor Garry was wearing a motorcycle helmet.
Washer and Garry both suffered severe injuries, particularly to their left legs.
Washer said she remembers colliding with the pickup truck and then hitting the ground. She said she knew she was in a ditch.
“I could hear Mark moaning,” she said.
She said she then blacked out. She woke up to paramedics cutting off her clothes, and then she passed out again.
Both were rushed to St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay.
“When I got here, it hurt to move,” Washer said. “It hurt to breathe. Moving for me was,” she paused for the right word, “horrible.”
She knew she had a large number of broken bones, because every time she moved, she could feel her bones move.
“I felt like a Rice Krispie, because everything was snapping and popping,” she said.
Surgeons have implanted plates and screws in her arm and pelvis, and rods in her femur.
In addition, because she landed in a cow pasture after being thrown from the motorcycle, Washer has been treated for a bovine ecoli bacteria infection. She also has suffered a blood clot, three ulcers and pneumonia.
Four months after the accident, she is taking therapy and receiving additional treatment at the Wisconsin Rehabilitation Hospital in Waukesha County.
Garry walks with a cane. Washer is still in a wheelchair, temporarily.
Washer’s older sister, Debbie Ludin of West Bend, said she learned about the accident within hours and was devastated by the news.
When she arrived at the hospital the next day, Washer was still semi-sedated and was on a respirator. Despite Washer’s extensive injuries, Ludin said she never feared for her sister’s life.
Ludin acknowledges, however, that there were “scary moments” during the pneumonia, infections and blood clot.
“I never thought she wouldn’t make it,” Ludin said. “I had no fear we were going to lose her.”
Washer and Garry said their left legs probably suffered the brunt of the collision because it was the left side of the motorcycle that struck the pickup.
“When I stand, I can put full weight on my right leg,” Washer said. “My left leg, there’s no way it could take my full weight.”
She said that, in addition to returning to work, she looks forward to going home to Garry.
“I’m missing everybody,” she added.
She said she is proud of Capt. Chris Douglas, who stepped up and took over the police department temporarily in her absence.
“We had assembled a great team in the department,” she said. “Things were going real well.”
Washer has already celebrated a Thanksgiving at the hospital. And it appears she won’t be able to avoid a Christmas there, too.
Since October, she’s been doing two sessions of physical therapy a day, three hours a day.
At first, therapy was playing dominoes while wearing weights on her wrists to increase arm strength. She’s now doing weight training and resistance training.
Washer said she’s nearly off all narcotics.
“I was on a lot,” she said. And it was necessary, because the pain was intense and constant. But as time went on, she insisted on cutting back.
“I was the one who said I don’t want this junk,” she said.
Washer said she’s received visits and get-well wishes from Williams Bay residents.
“The people of Williams Bay have been absolutely amazing,” she said.
Washer has made substantial progress over the past month, and she’s classified as a “free wheeler,” which means she can wheel her chair pretty much anywhere in the hospital. It’s no small irony to Washer that the “free wheeler” sign on the back of her wheelchair has the picture of a motorcycle.
Washer said Garry plans to buy a new motorcycle, because he prefers them to four-wheeled transportation.
She, on the other hand, has sworn off motorcycles.
Editors note: This story has been updated to correct a previous description of Chief Washer's injuries that was in error.