Mark Raddatz (left) and his son, Eric, talk about their recovery after the July crash that killed their wife and mother, Patty. Mark and Patty are together in the foreground picture.

Mark Raddatz isn’t used to being in situations where he doesn’t have options, where he has absolutely no control.

He served for more than two decades as an Eagle Lake firefighter, and even more time doing intelligence work while on reserve and active duty for the U.S. Navy. Raddatz, 59, has seen his share of tight situations that required quick thinking.

That experience, or his experience driving on congested and dangerous highways all over the world, couldn’t help him the afternoon of July 5. He was driving east on Highway 14 when a minivan suddenly crossed the center line and hit his car head on. There was no time to turn right into the ditch or left toward the westbound lane as the van seemed to be accelerating toward him.

That, by the way, is the last thing he remembers about the crash that killed his 58-year-old wife, Patty, and left him and his son critically injured.

“I hit the brakes and swerved, the skid marks showed that, but it didn’t work,” Raddatz said. “That’s the frustrating part about the whole thing to me: that I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Missing white car

One thing that isn’t bothering Raddatz or his 34-year-old son, Eric, anymore is the mystery of what happened to a white car that might have caused the crash. At least two witnesses reported seeing a white four-door car pull onto Highway 14 from 510th Street, a gravel road west of North Mankato.

One of the witnesses, Dorothy Neis of Morton, was a passenger in the van. She said the car pulled in front of the van, forcing its driver, 53-year-old Candice Berry, to pull left into Raddatz’s lane.

“I don’t know if they even looked,” Neis said in July, while describing how the car pulled onto the highway.

The other witness was Eric Raddatz, who was riding in the back seat of his father’s car.

“It came from the left and kept going,” he said recently. “I was conscious the whole time.”

No criminal charges were filed as a result of the crash and the State Patrol hasn’t reported any solid leads about the missing car.

“They had people call in after the accident and they followed up on leads, but they were no good,” Mark Raddatz said.

Getting better

Mark Raddatz was airlifted from the crash scene to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He was there for two months, being treated for multiple injuries to his left leg, before being taken to his brother’s house in Staples to continue his recovery. He will eventually have to have a shattered knee replaced, but doctors have to wait at least a year before the surgery can be safely completed.

“Everything has healed up, except for my knee,” he said. “I still don’t go anywhere without a walker. I’m just starting to learn how to use crutches.”

Eric Raddatz suffered internal injuries. He was treated at Immanuel St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mankato for about a month before being released. He also went to live with his uncle in Staples but ended up in the hospital again when he became physically ill there. There was a two-week stop at the hospital in St. Cloud, then he was transferred to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester for another month of treatment related to serious injuries to his liver.

Moving on

Both men returned to their home in Eagle Lake on Nov. 16. The first item on their agenda was planning a memorial service for Patty. It would take place Nov. 21, more than four months after her death.

“Eric and I both wanted to be there, and neither of us was healthy enough prior to that,” Mark Raddatz said. “The hardest part for me was, because of self-preservation, I couldn’t hardly think about Patty before that. I had to get myself straight.”

He described his wife as friendly and outgoing, adding that was why she enjoyed her job greeting and helping customers at the Mankato Clinic. They had been married for 37 years.

“She was my best friend,” Mark Raddatz said. “She loved people, that’s why she kept the job she did at the clinic. And that showed by the people who showed up at her memorial service.”

Eric Raddatz is hoping to get back to his job as a fabricator at Jones Metal Products soon. Mark will likely wait until after knee surgery before deciding whether he can return to his job as a facility mechanic at the Mankato post office.

Both men said they’re making steady progress with their injuries and the grieving process, but getting back to work and a daily routine would help. They’re ready to move on, which means letting the mystery of the white car fade.

“There’s a lot of people, especially relatives and friends, who want to know why — and who was driving the white car,” Mark Raddatz said. “If we find out someday, that would be good. But, if we don’t, that’s OK,too.”

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