Lakeville officer hit by drunk driver shares story ahead of 'Walk for Thought' fundraiser

Samantha Strandberg didn’t have to search far to find a career she loved, it literally walked through her door.

"I grew up in like a really broken home," Strandberg said, recalling the struggles of her childhood. "Both of my parents are actually drug addicts, so I grew up around law enforcement in our home all the time. That really drew me toward law enforcement because I saw that positive interaction all throughout growing up."

When she turned 18, Strandberg became a dispatcher for Ramsey County and soon moved over to the Minnesota State Patrol. She went to school for law enforcement and was eventually hired as an officer by the Lakeville Police Department.

"There’s nothing that I ever wanted more than to be a police officer and give that back," she said.

But her career and life took a sharp turn on July 31, 2021, when she responded to a call in downtown Lakeville for a man in a bar who was bragging about drinking and driving. After searching the area and even driving past the suspect’s house, she could not find him. So, she returned downtown to look one more time.

"I entered into the roundabout at 202nd and Holyoke, and that same person who I was looking for impacted my car, to the broadside of my squad car at 120 miles an hour," she explained.

The impact cut her squad car in half.

"I think I’m fortunate that he hit my car where he did, because had he hit it anywhere else closer to the front of the car, I probably wouldn't be here," reflected Strandberg.

But she suffered a severe head concussion. Doctors later explained that her brain essentially hit one side of her skull and bounced back and hit the other causing damage to both sides of her brain. She suffered from extreme migraine headaches, nausea and sleep issues. And then there was her vision.

"I couldn't perceive like where the floor was," Strandberg explained. "I couldn't multitask. I have pretty significant issues with short-term memory."

She is far from alone. The Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance estimates there are roughly 100,000 Minnesotans living with a disability because of a brain injury. About one in four adults are not able to return to work one year after their TBI. Part of the challenge for many survivors is that injury is something no one can see. And it’s part of the reason why Strandberg has been partnering with the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance to speak to survivors.

"I’m that one person for them that understands them and what they’re going through and not feeling like they’re so alone and that things can get better through the process," she said. 

Strandberg herself is now back on patrol with the Lakeville Police Department working the 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. "It gives me that good balance where I can stop out and play with the kids in the park and I can stop out, and I can see all the people that are out in the community and give back to them and interact with them," she said.

She’s also encouraging support for the Brain Injury Alliance’s Walk For Thought. The walk is the annual fundraising and awareness event taking place on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton, and a second location in Duluth. People can register online here

"This walk connects you with hundreds of people who are all going through similar experiences with you, who might have had things that were successful and what wasn’t," Strandberg explained. "And you can bounce those ideas and build those good relationships with each other so that you have that resource and that connection."

Strandberg still struggles with some pain and aftereffects of her injury, but she’s grateful to be back on the job patrolling Lakeville.

"I love that this gave me another purpose to be out there and being able to help on another platform," said Strandberg reflecting on her injury. "Not just being a police officer, but being somebody for someone else."