Melissa Elizabeth Maier's medical condition improved yesterday, but trauma center officials were concerned about the emotional effect of her ordeal.
The 35-year-old Essex woman, discovered Wednesday after spending as many as four days trapped in a wrecked pickup truck with a dead companion, is expected to survive, said officials at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Her condition was upgraded yesterday from critical to serious and stable.
Shock Trauma spokesman Chuck Jackson said Ms. Maier "at this time does not appear to have any life-threatening difficulties," but suffered back, ankle, shoulder and facial injuries, in addition to infections.
Family members tried to communicate with Ms. Maier, who they said was suspended in a frame and lying face-down because of her back injuries.
Her father and daughter said that they let her know they were there with her, and that she acknowledged their presence.
"I said, 'Mom, we're here, me and Pop,' said Sarah Diegel, 14. She had to crouch down on her knees so she could see her mother's face. "I just held her hand, and she just mumbled, 'OK,' basically." She said there was no other conversation, but that her mother returned her grasp.
"We're glad that she's alive," said her father, John Diegel, 67.
Although nurses warned family members Wednesday that they might not be able to recognize Ms. Maier, Sarah said that was not a problem. "She had a couple of bruises to her face," Sarah said. "She just looked . . . she looks better than I expected."
Baltimore County police said it appeared the accident at Philadelphia and Raphel roads occurred early Saturday, but investigators were unable to interview Ms. Maier to confirm it yesterday because of her condition.
The companion, Charles Eugene Frazier, 30, is believed to have been driving the vehicle when it sped past a stop sign where the road came to a dead-end at an intersection, climbed the high embankment and slammed nose-first into the ground. He died of neck injuries, the state medical examiner's office said.
Dr. Margarita Korell, who performed the autopsy, said it will be at least a week before toxicology tests are completed to determine if drugs or alcohol were involved.
County police accident investigators returned to the crash site yesterday, taking measurements that will help determine the speed of the pickup truck.
Cpl. Robert W. Czawlytko and Officer Dennis S. Claridge also found that the headlight switch was on and windshield wipers control was on low -- indications of time and weather conditions.
Sarah Diegel said she had not seen her mother since about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, when she stopped by their apartment and then left saying she would be "back in awhile."
The truck involved in the accident was owned by the operator of a used appliance store in the 8200 block of Pulaski Highway in Rosedale, across the road from the trailer park where Mr. Frazier lived -- and where Ms. Maier's car was found parked Monday after her mother reported she was missing.
The owner, who asked not to be named, said Mr. Frazier worked for him but did not have permission to use the truck.
He said he reported the truck missing to the police Saturday, but the county police could not confirm that yesterday.
He described Mr. Frazier as a friend with whom he sometimes enjoyed a beer in the trailer park, where the man had lived for a year. He said Mr. Frazier, who did not have a car, was a trouble-free worker who was guarded about his private life.