PORCUPINE, S.D. –– She had a brush with death.

In fact, she could have lost her head, literally.

Decapitation is not uncommon with horse-human collisions that involve motor vehicles. And though few physical scars remain, the emotional healing has been slow.

“I still get dizzy if I get up quickly,” said the 17-year-old teenager, whose nothing-less than-miraculous recovery has taken a serious emotional toll on her family, particularly her sister, and friends.

Briana Weston, who is looking forward to returning to the basketball court for the 2010-2011 season after getting pulled during her junior year from the Pine Ridge High School Lady Thorpe’s team, faces one more “routine check-up” with her physicians next month.

She may not have played during all of Pine Ridge’s championship season, but she has new, snow-white basketball shoes and is ready to play.

The Lady Thorpe senior said the death-defying accident –– a year ago on July 19, 2009 – remains difficult to discuss, particularly because it affected her grades, grades that dropped from classroom absences as she visited physicians.

And her nearly 16-year-old sister, Victoria, , who ended up with a right-shoulder, torn rotator cuff injury and a “split” in the growth plate on her right side, no longer can hold her arm up for any length of time – something that ruined her high school volleyball career. She, too, is hoping for full physical and emotional recovery, but it has yet to come.

Victoria Weston also plays basketball, but for Little Wound High School. When she heals, she may face her sister, Briana, in a Pine Ridge - Kyle matchup on the hard court this coming school year.

Generally, torn rotator cuffs require surgery – surgery that has yet to happen. And Briana Weston’s sister already has lost the chance to participate in last year’s season for volleyball – a sport she’s played since the fifth grade.

Nonetheless, the Weston family gathered at their Porcupine home’s kitchen table on the evening of July 19 to, once again, examine the photos, discuss what happened that night a year ago and to share their feelings about the near-fatal car-horse collision.

“It was hard to talk about,” said Carol Weston, the young basketball star’s mother. “But, I’ve always taught my children to share … to talk about how they feel. I’ve always taught them to explain their feelings to me.”

Both mother and father, after a year of their daughter’s facial surgeries – restructuring and cosmetic work that likely exceeded $60,000 -- will not back away from a stern warning about stray horses roaming the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see what could have happened,” said Weston’s mother. “People who own horses should keep them off the highways. If they cannot keep them fenced in, they just shouldn’t have horses. If they let them wander, they are only hurting others. It’s like buying a casket for others.”

Meanwhile, young Weston said she “used to like horses, but I don’t anymore.” In fact, the thought of encountering them again on the highways of the reservation is fear-invoking to the point of shaking.

“I stay home now,” she said, clasping her hands to diminish the physical manifestation of anxiety. “I really don’t like to drive around” the reservation enjoying time with her friends. Her sister, who also struggles with the emotional impact of the accident, concurs.

“And, when they go, I make sure they have a cell phone with them wherever it is they go,” said mother Weston, who acknowledged that her daughters are somewhat homebound by choice, but she understands.

She knows her teen daughters have changed dramatically, turning from socially well-adjusted young adults to a lifestyle preferring the quiet company of family and the security of the comfortable Weston home.

Meanwhile, no one is likely to forget that at 10:34 p.m. on July 19, 2009, when young Briana Weston, riding shotgun with her cousin, Tad High Hawk, the driver of a white 2000 Ford Crown Victoria, and sister, Victoria, in the rear seat, saw a “white flash,” then nothing but darkness. They had hit a horse.

Somehow Briana Weston got out of the crumpled car, but extended-family members quickly arrived at the scene, placing her in a don’t-move, flattened position on the rear bench seat. Immediately, High Hawk was out, too.

“I didn’t know what to do,” whispered Victoria Weston, her hands shaking and tears streaming down her cheeks. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do.”

Well, she did know what to do. She helped her sister out of the wreck and started making an emergency phone call on her cell.

Briana and Victoria Weston love each other very much. Their sister-to-sister bond is an energy that can be felt when they are together.

Briana Weston remembers that she could not see – likely, the result of a dangerous scalp tear that was bleeding heavily. Part of the roof and the windshield post of the four-door passenger car had collapsed, shattering the windshield in the collision.

The twisted roof metal cut and lifted Weston’s eyelid, tearing it like a banana peel from the tear-duct corner up through the eyebrow and rearward across her forehead into the hairline on her skull.

“I thought she had lost her eye and part of her skull,” said her father, Darvis Weston. “It was dark. She was covered with blood. There was horse blood and human blood everywhere. When I first looked at her, I thought her eyeball had popped out. Had it been an inch over, it would have killed her.”

Perhaps, even more frightening was that another piece of metal had somehow formed a spear-like shaft at the then junior high school student’s chest level. Rearward motion of the pointed metal stopped “just the width of my fingers” from piercing her chest, according to Weston’s mother, who raises her hand to show that the distance to sudden death – a fatal spear-like thrust through the chest -- for her daughter was about an inch.

Meanwhile, in the right-hand ditch was a full-grown, but already dead, Palomino, with a single-strap, blue collar on its neck – a sure sign that the stray horse had been confiscated and held by the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s park rangers.

On its right front shoulder was the brand “E-Z,” another sure sign the horse belonged to Eli Tails Sr., an Oglala Lakota who lives near Evergreen, according to the teenage sister’s father who has spent his entire life in that south-central area of the reservation. And, therein is yet another blue-collar, stray horse tale.

“I’d like to sue someone,” said the senior Weston, who shares a birthday (Aug. 19) with his daughter Victoria. “But, I can’t get a report on the accident. Though I saw it myself, the park rangers tell me that the horse didn’t even have a collar. Yet they went to the holding pen where they keep confiscated horses to check on the Palomino and the others that were supposed to be there in the holding pen.”

Weston said Tail went with the rangers, but the horses that were supposed to be there were gone, including the Palomino. Park rangers said the Evergreen rancher had had his own already-confiscated horses stolen and returned to him. Reportedly, that small, stray horse herd was, once again, roaming the roadways of the reservation.

Several weeks ago, Tail told Native Sun News that he didn’t know why he spent a night in jail. “I know why he spent a night in jail,” said Weston, explaining that the tribe has, for some years, had an ordinance that closed the reservation’s “open range.”

“That one (the Palomino) belonged to him,” said Weston, who has spent a year now trying to get an accident report.

“Finally, they (park rangers) were enforcing it (the ordinance) after so many years and so many deaths,” said Weston, who serves as chairman of the OST Tribal Employment Rights Office commission.

The open-range ordinance sets up a system of violations, fines as well as rules and regulations on the confiscation for livestock owners who allow their stock – horses, cows, sheep, goats, etc. – to stray onto roads and public lands, presenting life-threatening situations for a reservation with an ever-increasing population and, thusly, heavier motor-vehicle traffic.

“They wouldn’t give me the report,” Weston’s father said. “In fact, I don’t think there is a report, but there’s something wrong with that. I got the same kind of runaround you guys must get: First, they send me to the BIA superintendent; he sends me to the Park Board, they send me to (President Theresa) Two Bulls; her office people say, ‘Right, give me your number and we’ll get back to you.’ Then, you never hear from them again. It’s the typical reservation runaround.”

Meanwhile, daughter Weston, her sister, Victoria, and cousin, High Hawk, confirmed that a herd of four to five horses had crossed the paved highway near the Wounded Knee historical marker south of Porcupine.

It was after dark when the horse herd, running from east to west “right in front” of the car, triggered the collision. High Horse, who slammed on the brakes, was able to avoid all except the “one running last.”

Ironically, High Horse already had slowed down, telling the sisters – his cousins – that he’d heard there were horses on the loose between Porcupine and the marker, and sometimes on the road, but he wasn’t all that sure where.

“We must have clipped the last one,” said shotgun-rider Weston, who indicated the vehicle’s lights against the Palomino probably produced the “white flash” she saw across the windshield at the moment of impact with the white-maned, blue-collared horse – a reservation specimen weighing from 900 to 1,000 lbs.

The high-school sisters said that, strangely enough, all three seat belts failed to lock and the two front-seat air bags on the car failed to deploy during the accident, which occurred during a summer night’s drive to the sisters’ Auntie Noretta High Hawk, Tad’s mother and Carol Weston’s sister, at Wounded Knee.

That’s where the “totaled” car sets today, gathering dust and grasshoppers from the normally hot, sand-blown, sagebrush dotted, wind-strewn desert-like area – an area that’s now unusually green with this year’s extra rainfall.

With 28 stitches to close her eye injury, the doctors “glued” the splits and rips across Briana Weston’s face. She was first treated at the Indian Health Services Hospital at Pine Ridge. Briana Weston was held overnight there and then taken to Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City.

Though there’s little if any scarring today, Briana and Victoria Weston each continue to get migraine headaches and both see “dot patterns” in their eyes. They move a little slower to avoid the ill-feeling of dizziness that’s there when they get up quickly from a sitting position.

“Thank God, the Lord was there taking care of her,” said her father. Her mother concurred.

“We’re so thankful that she is here, sitting at this table, with us,” said her mother. Her father concurred.

The Weston’s are the parents of five children – one son and four daughters.

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