DANVILLE, Pa. — It felt like an explosion, Randy Budd said. An 8-pound rock the size of a soccer ball propelled from a highway overpass shattered the windshield of the family’s Nissan Rogue in the middle of the night, striking his wife, Sharon, in the face.
“It was the most gruesome thing I’ve ever seen,” Budd said of his wife’s injuries. “It’s a sight I’ll never forget.”
Budd replayed the incident on Interstate 80 in east-central Pennsylvania in an interview with the Sunbury Daily Item newspaper, a rock-throwing tragedy that has brought the victim and her family expressions of concern and support from throughout the region.
He said miracles have been happening since his 52-year-old wife and mother of four from Uniontown, Ohio, was struck by the rock around midnight Thursday as the family drove eastward toward New Jersey. He said she remains in critical condition but high-risk skull surgery succeeded in relieving the pressure on her brain.
Budd said his wife, a beloved teacher in Ohio, survived a severe and aggressive form of breast cancer more than a decade ago, and now she's showing that same will to overcome incredible misfortune caused, police said, by four teenagers throwing rocks from an overpass at passing cars.
“She’s the toughest woman I know,” said Budd. “She is, and she is fighting. I cannot believe she is alive.”
Budd, 53, detailed what happend as the car driven by his 19-year-old daughter, with his wife in the front passenger seat, approached the fateful overpass in Union County near Williamsport. He was sitting in the back seat.
The Budds were en route to New Jersey, where Randy Budd, who works in hospitality, had business. Mrs. Budd and daughter Kaylee planned to visit New York City, tickets in hand for "Mamma Mia" on Broadway.
“It was pitch dark," said Budd, recounting how they were driving around 65 mph on I-80 east through Union County. “It just felt that, you know, that darkness inside a car, talking.”
Then, he said, out of nowhere, the explosion occurred.
“We didn’t know what happened,” said Budd. “Kaylee began screaming, ‘Dad! Dad! Look what happened!’ She was yelling for Sharon,” who was slumped forward and unresponsive.
He was able to talk and guide Kaylee to pull off the highway, then tend to his wife.
The rock shattred the windshield and hit his wife direclty in the face, pushing it in, he said, causing her to temporarily lose consciousness before she began flailing about and trying to grab at her face.
Budd said it took 20 agonizing minutes before their call to 911 was answered with the arrival of an ambulance that took his wife to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. In the meantime, Budd said, he kept her from grabbing her face, concerned about a 4-inch skull separation on her head.
At Geisinger Medical Center, physicians told Budd to alert family members. “They thought she’d pass in 24 to 48 hours,” he said.
Then the miracles started happening.
Two Geisinger brain specialists suggested a procedure to remove Mrs. Budd’s forehead and part of her nose, which would allow her brain to swell and restore an airway. Budd said he signed the papers for the surgery.
“It worked,” he said in a weeping voice. “It’s unbelievable.”
Budd said the doctors don't yet know the extent of his wife's recovery, but they have cautioned the family to be prepared for a prolonged rehabilitation.
“You can’t even count the fractures” in her face, said Bud, adding that her right eye and socket are gone. “She will have multiple, multiple surgeries. Doctors told us not to expect our Sharon for a while.”
Budd said his family, which includes three adults sons in addition to his daughter, has been taken by the care his wife received at the medical center, calling it “one of the most fabulous hospitals I’ve ever seen. The talent of the doctors and the nurses ... My wife is alive because of them. And they’ve been over-the-top friendly.”
The public outreach has also touched the family.
“We’ve received gift cards saying, ‘We have a good community and we’re sorry this happened.’ Several churches have said they’re saying prayers. Someone just sent a really nice note with $200 in cash for our needs. We’re just blown away.”
Meanwhile, two of the teenagers -- brothers Brett Lahr, 18, and Dylan Lahr, 17, of New Columbia, Pa. — face charges that include aggravated assault. Two unidentified minor teens have also been questioned and face possible charges in juvenile court.
Evamarie Socha is a reporter for the Sunbury, Pa., Daily Item.