Problems vehicle accident victims face don’t end after the wreckage is removed from the road, a citation is written or the driver at fault is charged.
Some victims face months of recovery, years of discomfort or a lifetime of hurt.
“A lot of times, it’s a downward spiral from the moment they’re involved in the accident,” said Jon David Simpson with the Simpson Law Firm. “It starts with not having your vehicle. Then there’s the daily inconvenience of not being able to do normal activities because of the injury, losing time from work, dealing with unpaid medical bills and dealing with the insurance company if they deny a claim for coverage made by the victim under an insurance policy.
“From the moment of the accident, it’s a downward spiral of inconvenience, and as time goes on the nature of what they’re going through increases.”
Every time John Lewis turns onto Airport Road near Crestview, he instinctively turns down the radio and grips the steering wheel a little tighter. He knows where the utility pole sits with the marks made by his sport utility vehicle just five months ago, but he won’t turn his head to look.
Lewis, 44, says driving is getting easier, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever be calm when passing the scene of his accident.
Lewis was driving home about 1 a.m. from his night job as a security guard on Eglin Air Force Base last Sept. 24. He said he saw Matthew Kilcrease’s car coming down the road and knew it was much faster than the posted 45 mph speed limit.
Lewis moved his Dodge Durango to give the car more room, but when he looked up he saw the car swerve and knew what was going to happen. He lifted his hands over his face instinctively and felt the crash and his air bags deploy. The Durango rammed the utility pole, but Lewis was still alert.
“I was yelling at the guy and I opened up my car to go help and that’s when I fell to the ground,” he said recently at his home. “I didn’t even realize it until then, but both of my knees had been shattered by the engine during the crash.”
Lewis spent eight weeks in the hospital and has worn leg braces and used crutches and a cane. His doctors tell him his legs will never be the same, but he continues physical therapy at home.
“Pain is just something I deal with,” said the Army veteran who already was suffering back pain. “It bothers me, but I just don’t show it. It’s just another thing added to the list.”
Lewis says he is now looking at more than $30,000 in medical bills, but trusts that the insurance will come through. He says a hefty savings account and good employers have made it possible to move on.
“I’m determined not to let this ruin my life.” he said.
This week, Lewis says he will watch Kilcrease stand before a judge. The Florida Highway Patrol had determined the 22-year-old was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.164.
“All I want is to see them throw the book at him to learn a lesson,” Lewis said as he reached for his cane to stand. “He’s young and he has a child, so I’m not looking to take his money. I don’t want them to be easy on him, but I don’t want them to bury the kid.
“I just want this to be a wake-up call. We’re both lucky we made it out alive.”
A makeshift wheelchair ramp lies over the front porch steps of John Brandon’s home. A hospital bed he slept on for a month is in his living room.
The pain he feels with each step he takes reminds him of his motorcycle wreck last August.
“It’s been a struggle,” Brandon said at his home in Navarre. “The pain’s gotten better, manageable, and each time I do more it gets a little easier. But the doctors say it will still be a year before it starts to feel normal.”
Brandon, 50, was headed home from work on U.S. Highway 98 about 6:45 a.m. Aug. 24 when an SUV pulled in front of him. Brandon says he can still remember hitting his brakes and then ramming the right side of the SUV.
He woke up in the road and was able to roll onto the median. From there, he says his memory fades in and out.
Brandonhad two broken knee caps, four broken bones in his right foot, a broken ankle and a cracked vertebra. He was in the hospital a little more than a week and in rehab for two weeks before he went home. He finished physical therapy just last week.
The SUV’s driver, 74-year-old In S. Bishop of Navarre, was not hurt. He was cited for violation of right of way.
Brandonreturned to work as a contractor at Hurlburt Field in early January. He says the physical demands of his job are challenging, but the father of one knows he has to keep working.
Since the wreck, Brandon says he has not even entertained the thought of riding a motorcycle again. He says he had had close calls in the past, but after his accident he refuses to ride again.
“I broke an arm once before, but I’ve never been this severely injured or dependent on other people,” he said. “I’m done with the doctors, so now I have to start dealing with the lawyers and insurance.
“I never realized what it would be like to go through this until I had to go through it myself.”
Margarida Southard still fights the tears when she thinks about the last three months of her life. She says everything has changed and nothing will be the same.
Still, Southard counts herself lucky. She at least survived the car accident that fatally injured one of her friends and may leave another crippled.
“It’s very depressing,” Southard said, crying. “I have good days and bad days, but it’s always one day at a time.”
On Nov. 4, the 72-year-old woman was in the front passenger seat of a 2004 Nissan Altima headed home to Tallahassee on U.S. Highway 331 when 17-year-old Brittany L. Alford turned into the Nissan’s path.
The driver, 66-year-old Patricia Frohe tried to avoid Alford’s Jeep Liberty but the two vehicles collided. The back seat passenger, 63-year-old Sandra Rico, died two weeks later from her injuries.
“We were coming back from our annual trip. We rent a house every other year to go to the beach, outlet shopping and to play some games,” Southard said as her voice cracked during a telephone interview. “We had a good morning, went to the beach and had lunch at a place near Seagrove. When we were headed home is when it happened.”
Southard can remember screaming as she saw Alford’s Jeep turn left. She remembers Frohe yelling about the pain in her leg and the witnesses who came to the car and told her everything would be OK.
Her memory fades after that. Southard was in the hospital for more than a month with six broken ribs, a punctured lung, internal bleeding and bruising over her entire body.
Frohe is still in the hospital. Southard said doctors are considering amputating her leg, but no decision has been made.
Today, Southard says she goes through physical therapy almost daily. She hurts every day, but on cold days it’s worse.
Alford was given six months’ probation.
Southard is talking with a lawyer in the hopes of getting her payments straightened out.
For now, she says there’s a long road ahead with medical treatments and payments.
“People don’t know the physical, physiological and financial burdens,” Southard said. “In the end, I’ve been left with all these expenses when I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Angel McCurdy at 850-315-4432 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AngelMnwfdn.