APPLE VALLEY (WCCO) — A 16-year-old girl is living proof that seat belts save lives. Gwen Nelson was driving to Eastview High School around 7:00 Tuesday morning, when she hit some slick ice that started a chain reaction, sending her SUV flying over the guardrail, where it was crushed 20 feet below.

But she was barely hurt because she was wearing a seatbelt.

“I don’t know if I screamed or not,” she said. “But I know I was scared and thinking ‘Is this actually happening?'”

Photos of her crushed Ford Explorer were evidence that it actually happened.

“I’m told that I crawled out by myself and got out with just a limp,” she said. “But I can’t remember it.”

It all happened because of an unlucky chain of events.

After hitting the patch of ice, she over-corrected and lost control. But instead of slamming into the guardrail, a snow bank actually worked as a ramp and launched her SUV up and over the concrete barrier, and onto Cedar Avenue — at least 20 feet below.

Still, she was saved by her seat belt.

“If I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, I would have just hit the windshield or something and just gotten crushed,” she said.

Instead, she not only survived, but was barely hurt. By the afternoon, she was back home nursing some bumps, bruises and a very stiff neck.

She was home with a mother, Nancy Kaysen, who’s thankful that her teenage girl always wears her seat belt.

“She’s going to be a little sore for a while,” said Kaysen. “But it’s amazing that she looks like my Gwen.”

Conditions were bad enough Tuesday morning that Kaysen was waiting for a text from Gwen saying she got to school.

Instead, she got a call from police.

WCCO-TV’s Frank Vascellaro Reports

Click here to read the initial story by WCCO’s Adam Carter and Holly Wagner.

Comments (17)
  1. Tauna says:

    I’d like to thank you for wearing your seat belt while driving. I can’t begin to tell you how many people would of been affected if they had lost you in your accident. My son was a passenger in a singal car rollover last month,. along with 3 others. non of them were wearing their seat belts. my son and the other passengers were ejected from the vehicle. The driver and my son were killed. I have since then started a foundation in my son name. call Kirin Kares Foundation. to bring awareness about how important it is to wear your seat belt and not to get into a vehicle with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. you can find the foundation on facebook kirin kares foundation. please continue to spread the word of the importance of wearing your seat belt is. thank you once again.

    ps you can also find me on facebook Tauna Chavez

  2. Melissa Condos says:

    I understand your concern about being a responsible parent, but I don’t think this is the time or the place to judge Nancy or anyone else’s parenting skills. I know for a fact that Gwen’s life should not be compared to the value of your automobile!! Accidents happen and God forbid that anyone gets hurt. Let’s praise God that no one was seriously hit or killed in this accident. I am the mother of two from Wyoming and I know that my children will one day drive in the same circumstances as licensed drivers and I pray that they will make the wise choice to wear a seat belt like Gwen! Great job to Nancy who trained her daughter to do just that and now she is blessed with a future with her!

  3. Peighton Welsh says:

    gwen i am so glad you are okay! i cant even count how many itmes i have told you this but, thank God for seat belts! you must have had a guardian angel with you because you are one lucky girl to walk away with no scratches or breaks! i cant even beggin to imagine how scary that must have been for you, because i know i for sure get scared even when i just slide a little. i am actually very very very thankful that you are okay i dont know what i would do without you! i love you gweny and i am proud to call you my friend, you little trooper! 🙂

  4. Kw says:

    EXCUSE ME LADY! i dont appreciate you dissing gwens mom and her family, just because she is a teenager, doesnt make her more likely to hit black ice! Gwen happens to be one of my good friends and i am verrryyy thankful she is okay! You husband could have been just as likely to hit that black ice as Gwen. I think you should just be thankful that She is okay, yeah you were worried, but nothing happened to him. Gwen is a safe driver, and she just happend to hit that one patch of ice. i love gwen and i am verryyy glad she is okayy. please keep comments like this to yourself, you dont know her family (: thankss!

  5. Michele Olson says:

    To KW:

    “After hitting the patch of ice, she over-corrected and lost control. But instead of slamming into the guardrail, a snow bank actually worked as a ramp and launched her SUV up and over the concrete barrier, and onto Cedar Avenue — at least 20 feet below.”

    This is not about black ice. This is about ice, predictable ice that a new driver is not experienced enough to deal with. Now, I’m very happy that your friend is okay, too. I’m also happy that she didn’t kill anybody else, because then she’d be dealing with that the rest of her life.

    Honey, these comments need to be made. Maybe, just mayyybe, somebody else will do some thinking and save a life.

  6. Sandy says:

    To Michele Olson…It just so happens that I am Gwen’s Aunt. Nancy is my sister. I am very appauled that you would write what you have. Shame on you for being so rude and disrespectful. This accident could have happened to ANYONE at any age. It could have happened to your husband or any one of us. Yes, with age comes experience, but it does not prevent us from an accident. Accidents are called accidents for a reason. So hopefully next time you start to slide on the ice, and you will because you live in Minnesota, you’ll say to yourself…”Yes, this could happen to even the best of drivers and I really shouldn’t judge anyone else or the decisions they make.” Had the overpass been cleared of the snow along the cement barrier it would not have acted as a ramp to launch her over the edge. Perhaps the city or even the state should consider changing the way they plow the road’s, bridges, and overpasses so this doesn’t happen to anyone else at any age. Had the snowbank not been there…then she most likely wouldn’t have gone over the edge. To suggest Nancy wasn’t doing her job as a parent is ridiculous. Nancy would never intentionally or otherwise put her daughter in harms way. She has driven with Gwen from the moment Gwen got her permit and was confident in her abilitites…knowing she is a safe and careful driver. Considering the fact that you don’t KNOW Nancy or Gwen you have no ground to stand on to make such comments. Do you know how many accidents there were yesterday? Accidents by people of ALL ages. The reason this made the news was not only the seriousness of the accident, but most importantly the fact that the seatbelt saved her life…that is the message to send to drivers of all ages….”Buckle up!” It’s a miracle that Gwen is alive today and for that I am extremely grateful…I told Gwen that God was holding her hand and an angel was at her side that day. Perhaps everyone will think of Gwen, (yes, who happens to be 16) every time they get behind the wheel and will remember to put their seatbelt on. I know I will. This should be the message you convey…not “I don’t understand what a 16 year old was doing driving in those conditions…” Why was you husband on the road yesterday? Why was anyone on the road yesterday? They had to be….that’s life. So keep comments like that to yourself instead of deliberately trying to hurt someone who has just been through a terrible ordeal. (I love you Nancy & Gwen! xoxo)

  7. LW says:

    This could have happened to anyone not just a 16-year old driver. In MN conditions are bad all the time so are new drivers not suppose to drive all winter? Be thankful that this girl is alive and no one else was hurt. She was smart and wore her seatbelt. Maybe the concrete barriers should be taller!

  8. RW says:

    I agree with LW. Ice gets HARD like concrete and is as slick as glass with oil on it. The barriers are not tall enough in my opinion anywhere as it is well known cars flip or skim up and over these anyway without help (much less with hard ice helping it). There should be higher barriers on all bridges and overpasses on the outter and inner edges and would be helpful on highway medians.

  9. Kelly Borsheim says:

    Well, I for one am terrified of riding in buses. They are big and I worry that we will tip over faster than an SUV. They also have no seat belts and frankly, as any northerner should know, even very experienced drivers can hit an ice patch. Perhaps over-reacting came because of inexperience, but maybe no.
    Of course an accident can impact other “non-related lives” — but that is the way it goes unfortunately. And with more and more people on the planet everyday, we are bound to be interacting with someone else in all kinds of ways.
    I understand the desire to blame someone . . . to try to understand how to avoid such dangerous situations, but ultimately, we do what we can to educate and then we go about living our lives, hopefully not in constant fear.
    Yes, street clearing could be better. And perhaps drivers ed should include some bouts of ice driving, if it does not already, but really, this was a series of events from small things that added up to danger and fortunately, a Ford was the only casualty. Let us concentrate on what we can do from now on as prevention . . . it is a healthier way to go.

  10. JF says:


    Everyday we risk the loss of a car or loved one from drunk drivers driving in good conditions. Winter accidents are a part of Minnesota life.

    The moral of this story is ‘Wear Your Seat Belt’ not make your kids ride the bus in inclement weather.

  11. MC says:

    I just thought I’d add a teenage perspective for a response to Michele Olson. I am also 16 and a student at Eastview. This is my first winter driving alone, though I’ve had my license for 7 months. I know that I slip on the roads sometimes, but so does everybody else. How can you expect anybody to ever learn to drive in the winter without practicing? I know my mom told me to be careful that morning, as I’m sure Gwen’s mom did too. I’m pretty sure Gwen’s mom was very worried about her driving to school. I don’t know where Gwen lives, but the drive to school was probably less than 5 miles. So her mom let her drive, just like my mom let me drive to school that morning. Anybody can have an accident at any age – and you didn’t tell your husband to take the bus, or drive him to work yourself did you? It doesn’t make sense – that’s probably why Gwen’s mom didn’t drive her. Maybe she had an after school activity or something so her mom wouldn’t have been able to pick her up. But my point is that, Gwen was driving. She was wearing her seatbelt and that turned out to make all the difference. This could’ve happened to anybody. It’s not just because she’s 16.

    1. TR says:

      I’m a sixteen year old at evhs as well and I totally agree with everything you said MC

  12. Dave B says:

    Michele: I am sincerely sorry that your husband has to live with a woman like you, truly. Your response to this incident was inappropriate, and makes you look quite stupid (that’s an understatement). Gwen is 16, she’s my friend, and she’s incredibly lucky (unlike your husband). Read this an laugh, but obviously everybody else disagrees with what you said so maybe you should just admit that you’re in the wrong rather than try to justify such a stupid remark. Thank god I’m not surrounded by people like you, and if you have kids, I feel for them.

    P.S. Your husbands car?!?!?!? What is wrong with you? Have some sympathy for Christ’s sake you materialistic jerk.

  13. SK says:

    I have one question for Michele. How old is old enough to be “experienced enough” to handle Minnesota roads? Gwens 16. Is 17 old enough? 18? 20? 30? 50? There is no magic age or years of driving that suddenly makes you experienced. And another thing is if Gwen’s mom doesn’t let her daughter drive in this weather now how will Gwen know how to drive later in life when theres no bus or parents to take her to where she needs to go? You are very rude and selfish. Instead of being amazed and grateful that Gwen is ok and no one else got hurt, Your only concern is the “what ifs” in the situation. I agree with Sandy. Next time you slide on ice realized that EVERYONE, including you, will slide on the ice. A car is a car and they will slide, regardless of the driver.

  14. Kw says:

    Black ice or “predictable ice, as you would say.” you would be just as likely to hit it as gwen was!
    if you knew gwen she is a very responsible 16 year old, and is a very careful driver!

    noone is ever really a experienced driver… accidents only help you learn.

  15. Christine Griffin says:

    Its lucky she’s alive. Car crashes are terrible things at the best of times.

    I see that no one took the time to rationally consider nor take time to consider that Michele Olson may have a point worth exploring.

    It is easy to shoot the messenger.

    You feel better for it. You have a sense of solidarity with others. You are happy in yourself that you stood up for the poor girl. You identify with the pack, the mob or just the sheep who cannot think for themselves.

    Sometimes, the messenger brings a message that is still truthful although unpalatable.

    16 years old and driving is always going to be a recipe for disaster.

    Regardless of the road conditions 16 year old children invariably lack maturity to make rational and reasoned choices.

    A bold and divisive statement you may think, but if they did have the capacity all of them would be with us today.

    Was Gwen a little tired? Had she slept well that night? Was she paying attention? Was she texting? Was she thinking of that boy in class?

    Was she travelling at the speed limit?

    And if she was, then why wasn’t she driving to the conditions, not to the speed limit?

    Yes, the seatbelt saved her life.

    Had she made a more reasoned and rational choice earlier that morning she may have arrived at school intact.

    Its not the messenger that is the issue, its the whole circumstance and choices that put Gwen behind the wheel in the first place.

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