Maria Ellis stands next to George and Karen Vassek’s 1925 Ford Tall-T truck during a fundraiser Saturday at the OP Bar & Grill. Ellis was injured in a car accident Aug. 29 north of Baggs, Wyo. The fundraiser, which raised an estimated $2,500, was organized to help defray Ellis’ medical costs.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Maria Ellis stands next to George and Karen Vassek’s 1925 Ford Tall-T truck during a fundraiser Saturday at the OP Bar & Grill. Ellis was injured in a car accident Aug. 29 north of Baggs, Wyo. The fundraiser, which raised an estimated $2,500, was organized to help defray Ellis’ medical costs.

Dinner, silent auction, car show benefit crash survivor in Craig

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Ruth Schuessler makes a bid during a silent auction and fundraiser Sunday at the OP Bar & Grill. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the event will go toward Maria Ellis’ medical bills.

Maria Ellis can’t recall the Aug. 29 car accident that nearly killed her.

“I don’t remember anything from (before the accident) until the last week I was in the hospital,” Ellis said. “I lost three weeks.”

Ellis, who lives in Rock Springs, Wyo., broke her neck, back, both collarbones and her right hand in the accident. She was flown from Baggs, Wyo., to Casper, Wyo., then from Casper to Salt Lake City where she spent a month in the hospital.

On Sunday, however, Ellis was standing on her own two feet at The OP Bar & Grill. The owners of The OP and members of the Colorado Cruisers — a classic car club — organized a spaghetti dinner, silent auction and car show in Ellis’ honor. The event raised an estimated $2,500.

“One hundred percent of the proceeds go to (Ellis),” said George Vassek, president of the Colorado Cruisers.

Vassek said one of the Colorado Cruisers members, Bob Fuller, has been dating Ellis since November. Since then, Craig residents have been getting to know Ellis.

“Everybody just kind of fell in love with her,” Vassek said of Ellis. “She’s a really nice person. She’s part of the community, now.”

Ellis was driving from Rock Springs, Wyo., toward Craig when she lost control of her Ford Ranger 20 miles north of Baggs, Wyo. She’s been told her truck rolled over five times.

“There were some people driving behind me, and they said they were on (the phone with) 911 before the truck even stopped rolling,” Ellis said. “Thank God somebody was out there.”

George Kidder, a member of the Colorado Cruisers, said the group was moved to act.

“She’s become part of our family, so this was something we needed to do, to help her out,” Kidder said.

Diana Knez, owner of The OP Bar & Grill, agreed.

“About two weeks ago, we decided to help her out with her doctor bills,” Knez said. “We thought about doing the silent auction, then we thought to get people in here, we’d do a car show.”

Fifteen classic cars adorned the blacktop in the OP parking lot Sunday, including a 1947 Jeep Willys, a 1930 Ford three-window coupe and a 1957 Chevy.

Kidder brought his 1966 Dodge Charger to the event. He said there was a time when he’d push muscle cars to their limits, but he’s changed over the years.

“I’m a little bit older,” Kidder said. “It’s just about cruising now. I got that speed stuff out of my system when I was younger.”

Ellis, who was a school bus driver before the accident, said she wasn’t sure if or when she could return to work. Her back injuries, she said, could make it difficult to sit in the driver’s seat for long stretches of time.

One thing is for certain, however. Ellis plans to relocate.

“I’m going end up moving (to Craig) permanently in June,” Ellis said. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been. Everybody is just so down to earth. Everybody just reaches out for each other.

“This is home to me.”

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