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Cokato woman’s car collides with train; lives to tell about it
Jan. 13, 2014

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

COKATO, MN – Three weeks after colliding with a train, Janna Jo (Larson) Stigen of Cokato is doing remarkably well, considering.

Monday, Dec. 16 was turning out to be a typical day for the 23-year-old. She was on her way into town to cash her payroll check from Subway.

She was driving south along Quimby Avenue, as she had thousands of times before, since she lives on that stretch of road.

This time, however, she admits she was driving faster than the icy road conditions would allow.

When Stigen tried to stop for the train tracks, which are marked by a stop sign rather than a crossing guard, she skidded through them, colliding with an eastbound train. Her vehicle was struck just behind the driver’s door.

Though she knew there was a train coming, Stigen said she wishes there would’ve been a crossing guard to give her a warning. “If I had seen lights, I would’ve slowed down sooner,” she predicted.

She remembers everything after being hit by the train, including the sound of the train slowing to a stop and the train conductor asking if she was alright.

Janna also remembers picking up her cell phone moments after, calling her mother, and telling her, “Mom, I just got hit by a train.”

Her mother, Darlene Larson, remembers responding by yelling, “What?”

Then Larson heard the phone drop and men talking.

At that point, Larson felt helpless. Her daughter had just been hit by a train and she was sitting at home, a quarter-mile away laid up recuperating from knee surgery she had a week prior.

Janna also remembers being in a lot of pain.

One of the first responders, Jarod Sebring remembers the page going out for a car/train accident and not knowing what he would find when he arrived on scene.

“You think the worst until you get there,” Sebring said.

When he arrived on scene, he was pleasantly surprised to see Janna was alert and conscious, considering the type of accident she was just in. “That’s a lot of moving weight,” he said of the train.

Finding her responsive, he said, “That was definitely a relief. Sebring noted that it says a lot about a person’s condition.

Though the first responders paged for LifeLink helicopter, it was canceled due to windy conditions.

On the ambulance ride to Hutchinson Hospital, both Janna and Sebring remember how she squeezed his hand in pain.

Once she arrived in Hutchinson, it was determined that Janna had 12 broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and 25 percent of her spleen was smashed. The condition of her spine was also a concern.

She was then taken by ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center, where she was treated and released four days later.

“Everybody thinks it’s a miracle that I’m still alive,” Janna commented, three weeks after the accident.

“I’m just glad I’m here,” she said, adding that she also learned the lesson to drive slower and according to the road conditions.

Janna, whose car had a Jesus fish on the trunk, said she believes she had a guardian angel watching over her that day – her grandpa Lloyd, who died seven years ago from prostate cancer.

“I can feel it in my heart that he was with me,” she said.

Her mother said she envisions God’s arms wrapped around her.

“We’re just lucky,” Darlene said. “She’s our Christmas miracle.”

After arriving at the hospital, Janna had asked about her eyeglasses, since she can hardly see without them.

Friends of the family went out to the scene to look for Janna’s glasses the day after the accident.

Wednesday, Darlene got a call telling her the train conductor found Janna’s glasses laying on the front of the locomotive after the scene had cleared. Not a scratch or a chip was on them.

The conductor contacted the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, which saw that Janna got her glasses back.

“It was just one more miracle,” Darlene said.

For Janna and her mother, the support from the community has been “amazing.” Janna also noted the wonderful care she received from the Cokato Ambulance crew, Hutchinson Hospital staff, and the staff at HCMC.

“It’s just amazing how nice the community has been,” Janna said, noting that even friends on Facebook changed their profile picture to a picture of her, in support.

Though her doctor has cleared her for driving, Janna doesn’t feel comfortable quite yet. “I want one of my siblings to be the first with me,” she said, to make sure she feels safe and confident.

Her brother, Jake Pettit, drove her across those tracks on Christmas Day to get her used to it.

“It was really emotional for me,” she said. “I looked down and started crying.”

Come Jan. 20, Janna will return back to work at Subway, but only on light duty.

“I don’t think her work is done, here on earth,” Darlene said of her daughter. “Her purpose hasn’t been fulfilled.”

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