McDonald's sign crushes visiting couple

By Chee Brossy
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 16, 2009

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(Times photos - Paul Natonabah)

TOP PHOTO: High winds on Wednesday toppled the McDonald's restaurant's golden arch onto a sports utility vehicle while a couple was sitting inside at the restaurant's Window Rock parking lot. Navajo Nation firemen had to cut the top off to extract the couple and transported them to Fort Defiance hospital.

MIDDLE PHOTO: The McDonald's golden arches rest next to a sport utility vehicle Wednesday in the restaurant's parking lot. Two people from Illinois were sitting in the vehicle when the sign crashed down on. The couples were transported to Ft. Defiance hospital.

BOTTOM PHOTO: This vehicle was heavily damaged when high winds blew down the McDonald's restaurant's golden arches Wednesday. A couple who were sitting inside were taken to Fort Defiance hospital. No report had been received by press time about the extend of their injuries.

No one was killed when a large metal golden arches McDonald's sign fell on an SUV in Window Rock yesterday.

Two people in the car were hospitalized, however, with serious injuries. Online reports that the two were killed in the accident are incorrect.

Russell and Caroline Janke of Naperville, Illinois were parked outside the Window Rock McDonald's when wind blew over the iconic roadside sign at around 12 o'clock p.m. The sign, which was bigger than the SUV, landed arches first on the couple's Chevy Trailblazer, crushing the front half of the vehicle, almost directly on top of the front seats, where the Jankes were seated.

According to the police report Mr. Janke was responsive and able to get out of the car, but Mrs. Janke had to be extracted using the "Jaws of Life" removal tools by firefighters.

The Jankes were taken to Fort Defiance Indian Health Service Hospital in an ambulance after the accident. Mrs. Janke was then flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix.

Mrs. Janke sustained a fractured spine, sternum and broken ribs, said Ann Janke, her daughter-in-law. Doctors are currently determining whether to operate on her spine.

"It crushed her basically," said Ann Janke.

Mr. Janke underwent surgery for a head wound. He received 70 stitches for the injury.

The couple were stopping to get a bite to eat, on their way back to their home in Illinois after visiting Canyon de Chelly.

According to the National Climactic Data Center, in Window Rock at 12 p.m. winds were at 24 miles per hour, gusting up to 39 miles per hour.

Gilbert Phillip was on his lunch break with coworkers, eating at the nearby Church's Chicken restaurant, in full view of the sign when he heard the crash.

"(The sign) came straight down," Phillip said. "A lot of people were already running over there right after it happened."

Richardson Laughing, who works at the Recycle America recycling center trailer in the parking lot next to the sign, did not see the sign fall but heard it.

"It sounded like a car crash," said Laughing. "After that it was like the July fair, people were walking around, taking pictures."

Laughing said he has kept his eye on the sign for a while now.

"I've been working here two years and I've seen in blow back and forth in the wind," Laughing said. "I've been saying to my wife that it's going to blow over sometime."

"It would move like this," Laughing said while waving his upright forearm back and forth while making a "whoo" sound.

Laughing also pointed out that weld that showed at the end of the pole where the sign used to be does not look very substantial.

"It's only 7 or 8 inches up there, it should have been more than that to hold up the sign it seems like," he said. "(The weld) is not down that deep - and that's a big sign. It's like flying a kite."

Ann Jenke said she was distraught and angry over the accident.

"I know they said there were high winds, but there are high winds everywhere," she said. "They don't allow the golden arches out here in Chicago or in the suburbs, not a big one like that. It's shocking how huge that thing is. What if they had been in a compact car?"

Roy Talker, owner of McDonald's franchises on the Navajo reservation McDonald's issued a statement through McDonald's regional press office stating "the safety and well-being of my customers is a top priority. We are genuinely concerned about the recovery of those involved."

Talker declined to comment further on what happened pending an internal investigation into the accident.

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