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Wings Injured in Car Crash
By Brian Wishnow, Correspondent

"This is a very special moment. Many times were like a roller coaster ... up and down. This is a highlight of my life, and I want to thank my family for supporting me." - Slava Fetisov on the night he, Vladimir Konstantinov, and the rest of the Detroit Red Wings emerged victorious in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.

Following the parties that lasted into the wee hours of Sunday morning, Detroit held a special celebration in front of more than 10,000 season ticket holders Monday evening at Joe Louis Arena. Tuesday came the victory parade in Downtown Detroit, attended by over one million ecstatic Red Wing fans. Players rode in red Mustangs with family on Woodward Avenue, between the Fox Theatre and Hart Plaza. It was a giant coming together of players, teammates, family, friends, fans, and community.

"We'll always have each other," said Joey Kocur about his teammates after winning the Cup. "We'll always have tonight ... and no one can ever take it away. We're all from different places in the world and we're all going to different places in the world, but from what we just did here tonight, we're all going to be together in our hearts forever."

The Wings were to finish up a week of celebration Friday afternoon, with a round of golf at the Orchards Golf Club in suburban Detroit. It was to be the final official outing for the team before they went their separate ways for the summer.

The first ones to leave the outing were Vladimir Konstantinov, 30, Slava Fetisov, 39, and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov, 43. The three reportedly directed their driver to take them to teammate Chris Osgood's home in Birmingham, where players had agreed to convene later. The short journey, unlike the long Red Wing march through the playoffs, was not successfully completed.

At 9:13 pm Friday the 13th of June, four 911 calls rang in almost simultaneously to police. The reports were the same: a white stretch limousine headed southbound had seriously impacted a tree on the median of Woodward Avenue just south of 16 Mile Road.

The driver, Richard Gnida, 27, was the least seriously injured, no small feat when one sees a photograph of the crumpled front end of the limo. While initial tests indicate drugs and alcohol were not factors in the accident, there was still bad news for Gnida. The police blotter revealed Gnida had two alcohol related incidents on his record, and at the time of the accident he was driving with a revoked license.

Gnida told police "I might have blanked out," at the scene. That's code for he fell asleep behind the wheel.

While initial reports indicated Gnida swerved to avoid a stalled car, witnesses asserted the limousine careened across three lanes, hit the curb, and crashed head on into the tree. The brake lights did not go on.

Another erroneous initial report by a local TV station indicated at least one fatality in the accident. While it was known Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov were involved in the accident, the identity of the third passenger was at first unknown, and incorrectly reported to be Sergei Fedorov.

While Gnida was spared serious injury by the driver side airbag, the Red Wings in back did not fare so well.

Slava Fetisov sat directly behind Gnida, facing the rear of the vehicle. He suffered a chest and knee lacerations, and a bruised lung.

Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov both sat at the far sear of the vehicle, facing Fetisov at the time of the accident. Reports out of the hospital on Monday indicated Fetisov said the players had noticed the driver nod off to sleep, and began frantically screaming in attempts to wake the driver.

Konstantinov suffered a deceleration head injury. This is caused by a rapid stoppage, which pushes the brain hard against the skull on one side and then the other.

Mnatsakanov suffered an impact head injury. The collision pitched him forward, and impact with some surface caused a fractured skull above his right ear.

Vladimir and Sergei remain in critical condition while doctors measure the pressure and monitor the swelling of each man's brain.

The latest medical updates from Wednesday:

Slava Fetisov was discharged from William Beaumount hospital Wednesday afternoon, and made these comments:

"While I'm happy to be going home, Vladimir and Sergei still need your thoughts and prayers."

Dr. Karol Zakalik, the neurosurgeon treating Vladimir and Sergei, said Wednesday that Mnatsakanov was responding to simple commands, such as to squeeze his right hand. He also updated Konstantinov's condition:

"He seemed to wiggle his toes to Russian instructions. He even opened his eyes, although ... he didn't focus on anything. The eye opening occurred after someone spoke to him in Russian. He is definitely aware that people are speaking to him."

While the intensive care unit at William Beaumount hospital is strictly restricted to family members only, Dr. James Robbins explained the hospital was not making an exception for the Red Wing teammates. Their overwhelming support made it clear to him they are family.

Community support has been overwhelming as well. Saturday morning a circle of about 15 people gathered at the crash site in the median to pray for the injured Wings. Later that afternoon, the crowd had grown much larger, and a shrine of signs, cards, balloons, flowers and teddy bears began to mount at the site.

By Sunday, the support, continually growing, had to be diverted to the West side of the street, as police taped off the site on the median. The support had grown dangerous itself, with many cars slowing to see the crash site and supporters themselves. Even two fender-benders were caused.

Others are showing their support in front of the hospital. One man, staying in a tent, has vowed to remain there in vigil until the injured Wings walk out of the hospital.

Just as the parade brought players, family, fans, community, and media together three days prior to the accident, the Detroit community is again showing how much they care.

The irony in the story lies in several places. The players might have ordered the limousine on the thought they might have been drinking at the golf outing. Why drink and drive, when you can put trust in a professional?

Ironic how, on Friday the 13th, the accident took place some 15 miles up the very same street, Woodward Avenue, that some one million people had lined only three days later.

How ironic that it was Konstantinov, nominated for the Norris Trophy to be awarded Thursday night, the rugged defenseman who dished out punishing but clean body checks would be blindsided by such an unfortunate incident. The Vladinator always gave out big hits, but took them as well, always getting up. Even when Eric Lindros flattened him against the boards back in January, Vladdy attempted several times to regain footing and make it to the bench, before dizzily collapsing on the ice.

Ironic in that Konstantinov, proud father of Anastasia, and Mnatsakanov, proud father of Max and Art, would be wounded on such a beautiful weekend two days before Father's Day.

While doctors indicate signs are improving every day, they still remind us that the process could take weeks, but they expect both men will wake up. It is too early to speculate on the possibility or extent of brain damage to both men, and to speculate on hockey from there would be silly. For now, family, friends, teammates, and the community are offering their best wishes and prayers for recovery.

As "The Vladinator" said at Monday night's rally and on his scoreboard shtick at Joe Louis Arena: "I'll be back." We all hope so, for Vladimir and Sergei.

If you would like to send your best wishes, the Red Wings can be reached at:

Joe Louis Arena
600 Civic Center Drive
Detroit, MI 48226

Or through email at: wings@detroitredwings.com

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