She survived being hit by a drunk driver, but her fellow cyclist didn't: 'His decisions affected my life'

Posted at 6:59 AM, Jul 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-25 10:40:35-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — It’s been nearly one year since Natalie Rainer’s life was changed forever. In August 2022, an impaired driver struck Rainer and a friend as they rode their bikes along Osborne Turnpike.

The crash critically injured Rainer and claimed the life of her riding partner, 49-year-old Jonah Holland.

“Everybody loved Jonah,” Rainer said. “She was the type of person who would bend over backwards to help you if you needed it.”

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On Monday, 19-year-old Jeffrey Crawford Brookspleaded guilty to three felony charges related to the crash, including aggravated involuntary manslaughter, maiming with DWI and driving under the influence.

Prosecutors said Brooks had alcohol and THC in his system at the time of the crash.

Rainer, who was not in the courtroom on Monday, said Brooks's guilty plea is a big step in the healing process, and one that she hopes will educate others about bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

“He was just a young man, and his decisions affected my life,” Rainer said. “They took Jonah’s life but ultimately, they’ve affected his own life. He’ll be carrying the weight and the result of his choices for the rest of his life.”

Just weeks before the accident, Rainer said she felt a premonition and canceled a bike race that she was supposed to participate in the day of the crash.

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Natalie Rainer

Rainer said she also told Holland about her feelings involving a “change coming” at Rainer’s 30th birthday party — but she never imagined the change would be a tragedy.

“I remember riding down Grove Avenue with her,” Rainer said. “I remember riding behind her on Grove Avenue out of the city and that’s pretty much where my memory stops.”

Rainer, who suffered multiple broken bones, road rash and abdominal injuries, spent three weeks in the trauma center at VCU Medical Center and months in rehabilitation.

While she’s made a miraculous recovery, she said the emotional scars will continue to impact both families for the rest of their lives. Continued community support, including races and fundraisers in Holland’s name, have been a blessing, she said.

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Natalie Rainer shows her scars from the physical injuries she endured from the tragic crash in August of 2022

Holland would have celebrated her 50th birthday this month.

“The community really rallied around what happened to Jonah and me and I think, in part, because they loved Jonah so much and she was taken in such a violent and untimely manner.” Rainer said. “Just knowing that so many people had my back and wanted me to get better and cared how I was doing, it helped me so much in those early days.”

While she hasn’t participated in rides on busy roadways, Rainer said she’s back on her bike and pursuing other physical activities that she loves, including swimming, yoga and weightlifting.

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Natalie Rainer

She said while her physical health may never be what it once was, she remains steadfast in her mission to help others by raising awareness.

“I think it’s hard to unlearn some of this darkness that I’ve been unfortunately thrust into as a result of this accident, but I want to show up in a positive way and I want to use my voice to advance bike and pedestrian safety in our city,” Rainer said.

Brooks faces up to 31 years in prison when he’s sentenced in October.

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