John Holschen recognizes the randomness of life that spared him, a retired special-forces soldier working security in Iraq, while his family was caught in a fiery crash that killed...

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John Holschen recognizes the randomness of life that spared him, a retired special-forces soldier working security in Iraq, while his family was caught in a fiery crash that killed his daughter and injured his wife and three other children.

But he’d rather focus on the equally unexpected actions of “those wonderful people who came out of nowhere” to rescue his family last week after a Ford Explorer heading south on Interstate 5 near Smokey Point drifted across a median, slamming into their northbound Chevy Suburban and another vehicle.

Holschen, who returned from Iraq just days after the wreck, couldn’t hold back tears yesterday as he thanked Jim Swett, a long-haul truck driver, and the others who helped tow the Bothell family’s Suburban away from the flames consuming two other cars.

A dozen passers-by stopped to help, including a young soldier from Spokane, an off-duty Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy, and those who comforted the crying Holschen children on the roadside.


John Holschen, top right, is pictured with daughters Marijke, bottom right, and Jolie, left.

“I understand that Mr. Swett is very uncomfortable with the idea that he might be considered a hero,” Holschen said, breaking down as he noted that Swett came close enough to the blaze to sustain burns. “If he had not done that, we would be mourning the loss of more family members.”

The three-car pileup took the life of Marijke Holschen, his 18-year-old daughter, remembered for her devotion to abused and abandoned animals and her close bond to her twin sister, Jenna, and younger siblings.

She is mourned by hundreds who met her online through her work on, a Canadian Web site for abused and abandoned animals. Yesterday, her father celebrated Marijke’s caring nature and her independent streak, noting how she’d chosen to legally change her name from Megan, which she thought too common.

His middle daughter, Jolie Ann Holschen, 15, is in a coma and faces a long rehabilitation after suffering multiple fractures and severe injuries to her brain, cervical spine and windpipe. She is in serious condition in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where doctors expect her to remain for at least two more weeks.

Dr. Avery Nathens, director of surgical critical care at Harborview, said patients with such severe head injuries usually don’t survive. But he is heartened by tentative signs that Jolie may be emerging from her coma and responding slightly when asked to move her hand.

“We have great hope that she might wake up and be able to interact with her family and surroundings,” Nathens said. “She did very well, likely due to her age and underlying health.”

Her father credits the lessons Jolie learned through competitive rock climbing: “that your perceived limits are just that — perceived.”

He is also amazed by the steely resolve of his wife, Martha, 47, who had been driving at the time, and needs more surgeries to repair multiple fractures. She was in satisfactory condition yesterday.

“She is a very strong person who is intent to return to her children as soon as possible and is not going to let anything get in her way,” Holschen said.

How to help

To contribute to the Holschen Family Emergency Fund, contact a branch of Washington Mutual or Wells Fargo Bank.

The Web site is also collecting donations in honor of Marijke Holschen, who worked on behalf of abused and abandoned animals, to give to the Seattle/King County Humane Society.

The site’s address is

Juliann Odom, 22, of Bellevue, was driving the Ford Explorer that hit the Holschens’ car, also injuring Keegan Holschen, 9, and Jake Holschen, 12, as well as a Toyota pickup with two men inside, who sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were taken to local hospitals.

Odom, who was discharged from Harborview late Wednesday afternoon, has refused to speak to investigators about the accident, said State Patrol Trooper Lance Ramsay. While Odom’s statement “would answer a lot of the questions we might have,” the investigation will continue and likely last several weeks, Ramsay said.

John Holschen said he was choosing not to make any conclusions about Odom’s actions.

“Maybe she swerved to avoid another accident,” he said. “My focus is on my family and on making them better.”

He thanked friends and community members who’d tried to ease the burden on his family as he’s been “on a bit of a racetrack, from the intensive-care unit, to the ward where my wife is, to my sons, who although their injuries were not at severe have been through a really rough time.”

He praised his daughter Jenna for “holding down the home front,” even as she is devastated by losing her twin and best friend. The family will wait on Marijke’s memorial until they see if Martha and Jolie can participate.

They plan to bring as much Christmas as they can to the hospital rooms of the two, he said.

For Holschen, who learned of the Dec. 15 accident that night and arrived home two days later, it was the layovers that were most difficult.

“As long as I was moving, I was OK,” he said.

September was the last time the Holschen family was together.

Rosario Daza: 206-464-2393 or

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