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Teenage sledder partly paralyzed in accident on same hill that took girl's life

Natalie Wilson, 17, crashed one day after Eirelyn Zuercher, 14, died at Hinckley Reservation in Ohio.

Two teenage girls were injured, one fatally, in separate sledding accidents on the same Ohio hill, both families said Saturday.

Natalie Wilson, 17, has been hospitalized since last weekend after she crashed at Hinckley Reservation in Medina County, said her father, Jim Wilson. She was left partly paralyzed after she suffered a break in her T5 and T6 spinal vertebrae, severely damaged her spinal cord and broke six ribs.

Wilson said in a phone interview that his daughter and a friend "were taking one last trip down the hill before going home" when their sled veered off course toward a tree line.

He said that his family has visited the park "many, many times" and that it was his daughter's second time there this year.

Natalie Wilson
Natalie WilsonKen Wilson and Amy Cain / via GoFundMe

"That's pretty much where we go when we want to sled ride," he said.

Wilson said the hill can sometimes get icy, causing sleds to go really fast. He said that's what happened the day of his daughter's accident.

"They were both on the sled," he said. "So what basically happened is they spun out of control toward the bottom of the hill. Her friend was ejected from it ... and my daughter most likely hit a tree."

Wilson said he got a call from his daughter just before 9:30 p.m. telling him that she had been injured.

She was taken to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help with medical expenses. The account has raised more than $16,000.

Wilson said that his daughter is likely to remain hospitalized for at least the next several weeks but that she is making slow progress.

"Natalie felt tingling in her legs and the doctor felt slight toe movement!" he wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. "Praise God almighty. I will take 'tingling' right now!!! I needed this right now like you wouldn't believe."

The day before Natalie's crash, Eirelyn Zuercher, 14, was involved in an accident on the same hill. She was placed on life support Feb. 20 after she suffered "a detrimental brain injury," her mother, Katie Dougherty Zuercher, said in a Facebook post.

"Eirelyn is currently on life support to maintain life long enough to find organ donor recipients. I am told this could take up to three days," she wrote. "Waiting for the inevitable end is emotional and exhausting, but my hope is that a few terrible days for my family will mean a brighter future for other families who will benefit from her healthy organs."

Eirelyn was taken off life support Wednesday evening and died from her injuries. Her mother said she was able to donate organs to five people.

To add to the family's tragedy, Eirelyn's father suffered a massive heart attack the day she was hospitalized that he did not recover from.

"Her daddy got to heaven just before she did, just like he got to the finish line first in every Mario Kart game they ever played together. She used to wait on the front porch for him to arrive home from work to greet him with the biggest hug before he could even get in the house. I imagine he is waiting for her now with the same eager anticipation," Dougherty Zuercher wrote.

Dougherty Zuercher could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday.

Wilson said he initially shared his story to provide updates about his daughter for family and friends and never expected the outpouring of support for strangers.

He said he hopes Hinckley Reservation will make updates to its hill and put up barriers to prevent sleds from veering off the sides.

Cleveland Metroparks, which operates the reservation, and the Hinckley Township Police Department could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Park officials told the Akron Beacon Journal in a statement: "Our thoughts are with the families impacted by the sledding incidents that occurred over the weekend. We are looking into the incidents and the circumstances around these tragic events."

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