NEBRASKA CITY - After a flash of white metal invaded the view from her windshield, Sarah Wiltse of Nebraska City tried to re-gather her breath from the impact. She knew her car had rolled, but she had no sense that her feet had been crushed, her legs were broken or that her Jeep was on fire.

She reached over to the dash and paused an audio book she had been listening to and tried to open the car door, but it was jammed.

Wiltse: “So then I was pounding on the window and there was a gentleman, an amazing guy who ran over to me. They tried to open the door. Somebody had a crowbar in their vehicle, which was extremely helpful because then they were able … they got my door open in moments and I was out. That’s when I realized because that’s when I saw the fire.”

The men lifted her from the car and placed her away from the flames. A  woman there covered her mangled feet with a cloth so she did not have to see. Her gaze was fixed.


Wiltse: The fire "was out of control at the point, so we had to shift me back and that’s when I really was laying on the ground watching my Jeep just engulf in flames. It was very intense. Just because my kid’s car seat was in there – my kid wouldn’t have been with me anyway because I was coming back from court – but just thinking about that kind of stuff. It was very intense is how I would describe it.”

How long would she have survived inside the car? What if the man had not had a crowbar?  These are questions Wiltse is still processing.


Wiltse: “I try not to think too much about the ‘what ifs’ because it does begin to spiral and I like to just remember that things happen the way they happen for a reason, but I would hate to know how long I would’ve had.”

Wiltse: “There were many, many pedestrians that just jumped out of their vehicles and jumped into action before the first responders were there and those guys saved my life. I’m a firm believer in that. I would not want to have been in that car a second longer.”

Wiltse, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, commissioned as an attorney with the Judge Advocate General corps in 2018 shortly after finishing law school at Creighton University. It was also then she began work as a prosecutor in Otoe County.

Months before the accident she had finished her first full marathon.

Wiltse: “I like to think my feet were strong from the training, but that’s also … the sad part is I’m hoping to get back to that. … you know, while I’m very thankful that I have my life, I would not trade that for anything, I’m really hoping. I do physical therapy twice a week right now, so I’m hoping to get back running and being able to do the PT test for the Army and keeping my job.”


She called the weeks in a wheelchair a struggle and has a walker for long distances, but in the courtroom she navigates with support boots on both legs.

She credits County Attorney Jennifer Panko-Rahe and County Judge David Partsch for helping her achieve a benchmark in her recovery and get back to work.

Wiltse: “I always love challenges and so, in my head, I don’t want to settle for letting it be what it is. I want to push myself. I always want to push myself. So, my husband is really good at telling me if I’m doing too much.”

She is hoping to improve enough to participate in the Market to Market run this fall.