A man who took his eyes off the road for what he called "a split second" landed in a ravine along U.S. 50 about 50 miles west of Cincinnati, his girlfriend dying from her injuries.
Kevin Bell, 39, of Newberry Township near Dover, Pa., expects to be in an Indianapolis hospital recovering from a broken leg until Monday, he said Thursday. He watched his girlfriend, Nikki K. Reed, 37, of Seymour, Ind., die beside him not long after the wreck at around 2 or 3 p.m. ET Saturday.
But he may face more problems than the grief of losing a girlfriend whom he wanted in his life long term and the pain of his own physical therapy from a snapped shin: Reed drove the almost 600 miles from Seymour to Dover to bring Bell back for her youngest son's birthday party because Bell's driver's license was suspended.
He had been caught previously driving a vehicle without registration, inspection or insurance. Indiana State Police continue to investigate the fatal accident, and no one had been charged as of Thursday in connection with Saturday's wreck.
"It was terrible," Bell said from his hospital room Thursday. "I really loved her with everything I had. I feel terrible for her family."
Bell and Reed met online in May through a dating app called MeetMe. Reed came to visit him every other weekend. Sometimes she brought her son with her.
Bell went to Indiana for the Fourth of July. He met her mother and fell in love with Reed.
She drove to his trailer Friday. They had dinner and spent the night in a motel, starting for Seymour at 5 a.m. so they could arrive at her home in time for the 2 p.m. party.
She talked to her daughter, Brooklyn, via cellphone around 12:30 p.m. after asking the young woman to get a cake at Walmart. Though Brooklyn Reed kept calling her mom's and Bell's cellphones later, that brief call was the last time she heard her mother's voice.
Near Cincinnati, Bell and Nikki Reed stopped to get gas and Gatorade.
When they returned to the truck, Bell said he asked his girlfriend to drive. He doesn't think she heard him because she climbed into the passenger seat.
As they drove, Bell said Nikki Reed would occasionally pull out her phone to show him photos. He admonished her, saying he had to keep his eyes on the road.
He recalled a truck driver telling him that that part of U.S. 50 was surrounded with ravines. Then Nikki Reed unbuckled her seat belt to pull her phone from her pocket and showed Bell another photo.
He looked. The 1999 Ford Explorer left the road and plunged down a ravine near the Jennings and Ripley county line in Indiana.
It stopped when it hit a tree.
He tried to move, but the pain in his leg stopped him. For a while, Nikki Reed was still breathing, but it wasn't long before she stopped, Bell said.
He reached over to feel for a pulse and found none.
After a while, he said he was able to unbuckle his seat belt and climb into the back of the truck. The doors were smashed in, but the windows were intact. He couldn't move much more.
He cried until Monday.
"I just had no more tears left," Bell said. "I cried all the tears I had."
He had tried to get out of the truck, but every time he moved he said his head spun. His right shin had been snapped, and his foot was swollen.
He stayed in the back of the truck for three days. He tried to sleep. He tried to gather his strength.
"I was just trying to get myself together," he said.
When the couple failed to show up for the birthday party, Nikki Reed's family reported her missing. On Sunday, a Newberry Township police officer knocked on the door of the trailer that Bell shared with his mother, Gloria, and asked whether Reed was there.
She told them that she never met Nikki Reed, that his girlfriend picked her son up at the entrance to the trailer park.
Then she texted her son, saying he should have been home by now. He didn't respond.
She texted again: "Are you all right?" Still no response.
Kevin Bell could hear his phone vibrating — he had silenced the ringer while he was driving — but he didn't know where it was. Even after dark when the phone vibrated, he couldn't see any light from its screen.
He still had some Gatorade and sipped from the bottle. He urinated in a water bottle, he said.
Leftovers from the couple's Friday night dinner were in the car. But the boxes were under Nikki Reed's seat, and he couldn't get to them.
He was able to reach a soda that Nikki Reed was drinking.
Saturday turned into Sunday. Sunday turned into Monday. Monday turned into Tuesday.
He thought nobody would find him. Eventually, he managed to crawl from the truck.
When he hit the ground, he found his phone. It was lying face down, explaining why he couldn't see any light coming from it when he heard it buzz.
He texted his boss at Flight Systems, an electronics plant in Lewisberry, Pa., saying he had been in an accident. Then his battery went dead.
He gathered some of his belongings, including two 14-pound bowling balls in their bags, and began crawling up the steep embankment. He would go a few feet and then take a break to rest.
In all, he must have taken four, 4½ hours to make the 70- to 75-foot climb to the road, he said.
He finally made it to the guardrail and began trying to flag down a car. People kept driving by; nobody would stop.
After a couple of hours, one man did stop, and Kevin Bell asked to use his phone.
"I have to call 911," he said. "I need an ambulance."
The ambulance and Indiana State Police arrived.
“It took us some time to realize that the people were who we were searching for,” said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, spokesman for the state police Versailles post. “The family didn’t have a clue what happened for two or three days."
Kevin Bell was taken to a hospital in North Vernon, Ind., and transferred Wednesday to an Indianapolis hospital where he had surgery to set the broken bone in his leg.
Lying in his bed, he said his thoughts are never very far from Nikki Reed and her family.
"I loved her," he said. "I feel terrible about what happened."
And he said he has been thinking things over.
"After all of this is done, I'm not going to look for anybody else until I get my life straightened out," he said.
"She had her whole life planned out for when she was divorced to be with me," he said. "Now, it'll never happen."
Contributing: Bob Strickley, The Cincinnati Enquirer; Justin Sayers, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal; Ana Rivera, WHAS-TV, Louisville. Follow Mark Argento on Twitter: @FnMikeArgento