Woman Determined to Walk Again After Intoxicated Driver Nearly Took Her Life

Ariel Mahoney with her husband Kurtis. (Photo taken in 2019).
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SPOKANE VALLEY, Washington – On August 18, 2023, Ariel Mahoney started the day full of life and excited to take the leap into marriage with her long-time love Kurtis. “We went to the courthouse and got our marriage certificate,” shared Ariel. “We decided to celebrate by joining friends in Pinehurst.” The couple enjoyed their visit, then started the return trip home. They hadn’t even made it out of Shoshone County on I-90 before being struck from behind by an intoxicated driver.

Ariel was airlifted to Kootenai Health with life threatening injuries, while Kurtis was taken to Shoshone Medical Center having sustained serious injuries. It is a miracle that both of them are alive today.

Almost eight months later, Ariel’s physicality is limited by a partially severed spinal cord. She shared her story from her room in an adult assisted-living house, where she resides as she works to rebuild her independence and ability to walk. Ariel is 32-years-old and her journey of recovery will be long and full of challenges, but she maintains a positive outlook. “If you’re completely negative and you’re down all the time, you’re not going to succeed in becoming a better you,” said Ariel. Her bright spirit and resilient mindset has already shown itself in her remarkable achievements since sustaining the life-altering injuries.

When she first regained consciousness after the accident, Ariel had already undergone surgery to repair damage to her scalp, neck, and back and was most upset to find out her beautiful waist-length hair was gone. “They took my hair!” she exclaimed. 

Ariel’s brother Austin shaved his head in solidarity with her plight and has been a rock solid support during her recovery.

Ariel describes the entire accident as surreal. “It felt like I was in a dream or a movie,” she explained. “I remember seeing headlights and then trying to open my eyes but only seeing pitch black. I was trying to ask for help, but I couldn’t breathe.” The last thing she remembers is hearing Kurtis yelling, “Help my wife!” and the sound of the helicopter. 

For the first four days after waking up, she was only able to move her hands enough to hold the call button for the nurse and the dispenser button for the pain relief drip. “I was what they call ‘degloved’ and my skull was outside of my body,” shared Ariel as she described her injuries. The scarring goes across her forehead and wraps around her head. “It was really hard to look at myself because I know what I was before.” She said it took awhile to come to terms with it all. “I couldn’t feed myself and it took a little while to be able to speak again.”

Ariel Mahoney is visited by her mother during her time recovering in the hospital.

“I have rods in my back from C6, up in the neck, down to T7,” shared Ariel. “So two rods on either side of the spine and they are fused to my spine.” She explained how she recovered about 45 percent movement in her arms by the time she was relocated to St. Luke’s. “But, I really couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move my arms up and I had no feeling or movement in my legs.”

At St. Luke’s, she regained more movement in her arms. “They really helped get me back to a little more normal,” said Ariel. She remained at St. Luke’s for about eight weeks. After months of on-going physical therapy, she now has significantly improved range of motion in her arms and some functional movement in her legs, which can bear some weight onto them. “Now, I can even transfer into my wheelchair. As long as it’s next to the bed I can get into it and on we go,” said Ariel with a delighted smile. “I’ve been doing compression lifts where I’m literally lifting myself off the bed and into the chair.”

Ariel will have at least two more surgeries, one to repair damage to her wrist and one to shave down the rods in her neck. “They kind of force my head forward,” shared Ariel. “They are too high, so shaving them down a little will let me lean back better.” The decision to wait before surgery on her wrist was intentional. “I want to be stronger in my legs so I can still get out of bed myself,” said Ariel.

The tragic accident did not derail her marriage to Kurtis, and they wed only 15 days later. “We planned to have the wedding on September 2 at the dunes in Moses Lake, our favorite place,” said Ariel. “Instead, we married in an outdoor space at St. Luke’s.” The best man and maid-of-honor live near Moses Lake and brought sand for the ceremony from the area where the couple had hoped to exchange vows. The sand now sits in a jar on Ariel’s bureau. 

Kurtis and Ariel exchange vows on September 2, 2023, on the grounds at St. Luke’s in Spokane, Washington. The officiant is holding sand from the place in Moses Lake where the couple had planned to wed before the accident changed their lives.
Kurtis and Ariel share a special moment together on their wedding day.

“The biggest struggle is overcoming loneliness,” shared Ariel who was always working and considered her co-workers at Denny’s an extension of her family. “I worked there for almost 11 years, it was only my second job. I was the main bartender, but also did a lot of the management stuff, like inventory and ordering.” She said it was common practice for her to work 40-60 hours a week, and she misses the camaraderie. She also misses her pack of five dogs and proudly shared photos of “the twins,” a brother and sister heeler duo, two chihuahuas, and a dingo named Healie. “The heelers try to keep the chihuahuas with them,” Ariel laughed. “It is so cute and a little crazy.”

Ariel says she is surrounded by a strong and supportive network of family and friends. One of the couple’s favorite recreational activities is to take their jeep off-roading. They have a group of friends who regularly get together to go exploring and enjoy the beauty of the Inland Northwest. Ariel exhibits the determined mindset needed to see her way back to a full and vibrant life.

As she works to improve her mobility, Ariel is adamant she will walk again. “I want to walk again, and am pushing so hard to get there,” she stated resolutely. “When I can start doing walking therapies, I want to go back and be a mentor at St. Luke’s.” Her desire to overcome her challenges and go on to help others is an inspiration. “I want to tell them it is going to be okay, you just need a positive mindset,” said Ariel. “And share with them how I was able to kick ass.”

Ariel said her mother has been “a blessing” during her recovery and that her near-death experience at the hands of an intoxicated driver has caused her mother to reassess her own choices. “Crazy enough, my mom used to be an alcoholic,” shared Ariel. “She has struggled with drinking for years, but since my accident she’s not touching alcohol ever again. She’s even considering going back to school and becoming a drug and alcohol counselor.” As a bartender at Denny’s, Ariel said she refused to serve customers too many drinks, even though it would upset them and she wouldn’t get tips. “The only thing that matters is that they weren’t going to leave and hurt someone else,” stated Ariel.

Body art is one of Ariel’s favorite things, and her body carries the stories and memories of many beautiful and meaningful parts of her life. The tattoo artist who did the work on Ariel’s forearm depicting a flower with the script “You are enough” only months before the accident hosted a fundraiser to help the couple out. Ariel selected some of her favorite things, and people were able to support her with a lasting tribute to her strength and resiliency.

The 24-year-old driver who hit Ariel and Kurtis was found guilty of two counts of aggravated DUI in February and is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday, April 16. Rodney Bradley had been drinking, was found to have methamphetamine in his system, and was observed by a trucker to be going 117 mph just before the accident.

According to those familiar with the case, Rodney tried blaming the victims for the accident during the trial. “Testifying at trial was so hard,” shared Ariel. “It was the first time I saw who did this to me.” She said that even though testifying was an additional trauma, she still plans to attend the sentencing hearing and will provide the court with a victim impact statement in writing. By all accounts, Bradley remains unrepentant and even hostile towards his victims. Aggravated DUI is a felony and comes with a minimum sentence of 30 days imprisonment (maximum 15 years), a maximum fine of $5,000, and a suspension of driving privileges from one to five years after release. Bradley is currently an inmate at Kootenai County Jail.

Update: April 17, 2024

**** NEWS RELEASE from Prosecutor’s Office ****


Prosecuting Attorney Monica Bushling recommended concurrent life sentences with parole eligibility after 20 years.

District Judge Scott Wayman sentenced Bradley to concurrent 25 year prison sentences with parole eligibility after 10 years.