An open letter to the man who ran over my daughter

[Note – this letter was written on the morning of September 15, 2012, only hours after the incident took place. I now have more and better information about what actually happened, but this is still an accurate portrait of my feelings at the time.]

Let me begin my letting you know I hold no animosity towards you. I have no need to seek revenge against you. But neither do I have any inclination to save you from your fate. You have, through your own actions chosen to bring enough trouble into your life that anything I could do to you would be minor in comparison.

I want you to know that you killed my daughter. You are quite fortunate in that there happened to be a nurse getting a drink at Starbucks who was able to start CPR immediately after she was struck. You are fortunate in that had this person not been there my feelings about you would be quite different. Though at this point my daughter may still die, that this person courageously stepped up to offer their knowledge and skills in the effort to save my daughter’s life allows me the space to not have to hate you.

At the same time you were unfortunate to have run over my daughter in front of that same Starbucks, where the Lynwood Sheriffs where were seemingly meeting en masse.  That the Sheriffs were quickly able to chase you down and arrest you also offers me the space not to have to hate you. My understanding of the situation is that you lacked either the sobriety or the courage, possibly both, to stop and deal with the damage you wrought. I am relieved that we did not have to further test your integrity or sense of honor.

I do want you to understand that you have affected my daughter for the rest of her life, and her family as well. As I write this, my daughter Annette, lay in a coma and we have no way of knowing the scope of the damage done to her yet. I want you to know that you have injured a bright, beautiful and vivacious young woman who has much to offer the world. My understanding of the incident is that when she realized you were bearing down on her as she crossed the street, she chose to sacrifice herself rather than see any harm come to her little sister.

Annette is outgoing and friendly. She is creative. She is a talented musician who learned on her own to play piano by ear. She is also a talented songwriter. She is intelligent and she reads constantly. My daughter is brave enough to stand up and speak in any situation. My daughter is an amazing young woman with a lot of talent and potential. Now, all of that could be gone.

As I stated earlier, I will leave you to your fate. I just want to offer you something to think about. I have no idea whether you are a contemplative or thoughtless person. Nor do I know if you are an idiot or smart enough to know better. I have no intention of trying to judge you. I am sure that I will have many opportunities to judge your character in the future, since it would seem that you were not sharp enough to avoid the justice system. I just wanted to make sure if you are not enough of a man to face what you have done on your own, that I have it spelled out for you.

I don’t need to hurt you or see you destroyed. I hope whatever punishment you receive is fair in relation to the damage that you have ultimately done. I do hope that you never harm another person. I hope you that you can face what you have done, and become a better person for it. I hope you realize that even if things come out as best they can, that you have damaged not only the wonderful young lady who you hit with your car, you also damaged everyone who loves her. Most importantly, I hope that my daughter is around long enough and retains enough of her faculties to offer you the opportunity to earn her forgiveness, however long that may take.

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The waiting is the hardest part…

Since Annette was transferred from the emergency room to the intensive care unit, I have been waiting. At first, waiting to see if she would live. Then came the waiting for incremental improvements. Waiting for doctors. Waiting for nurses, Waiting for hospital administrators. Waiting for people from the insurance company. Waiting for family who are on their way.

The only real time you have to grieve is when you are alone. Most of the rest of the time you act as the information desk/coordinator for everything that is happening. People are asking how she is doing, how you are doing, what’s happening now, what’s happening next. It is exhausting.

The doctors come into the hospital room and try to explain things to you. No matter how hard you concentrate on listening to them, you always miss something because your child is in the room with all these wires and tubes weaving into and out of their body. And they never promise anything, they tell you what their expectations are. It is all so overwhelming.

You sit there bored, waiting for anything, hoping it isn’t bad, and scared when something does happen. Hours pass without you noticing. The hours turn into days and weeks. The good things don’t happen fast enough. The bad things never stop coming.

The daily ebb and flow of the day take on gigantic proportions. Every day feels like a battle. Every visit is exhausting. Then, at the same slow, maddening pace that seems to control your loved one’s healing, you begin to realize that this is going to be your life.

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The emergency room

R and I got to the emergency room sometime after 10:00 P.M. We checked in at the reception desk and were told to have a seat, that we would be called. I decided to pace. R grabbed a spot against the wall and watched me.

I don’t know how long we waited before we were called. It was at this point that time took on a tenuous quality. I would be tired and bored out of my skull, but still tense and scared; time seemed to stand still, but whole days would pass almost unnoticed. Finally we were called into the emergency room and led to a small room with small, utilitarian couches on either side.

R and I waited alone, again for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few minutes. Two women entered the room, and sat opposite us. One introduced herself as a doctor, I am sure the other woman introduced herself as well but I cannot recall any detail about her. My attention was fixed on the doctor.

The doctor laid out Annette’s injuries and their extent before me. I listened calmly, digesting the information as quickly as I could. When she finished I asked her, “So the only thing we can do is wait and see if she wakes up?” The doctor shook her head in the affirmative and looked at me. R wasn’t reacting either.

The doctor quickly got a confused look on her face and asked me if I understood what she had told me. I said I did and explained what I was told back to the doctor. The doctor was not convinced, and asked me again if I understood. I explained again, this time in terms emphasizing that I understood how dire Annette’s situation was. Apparently we reacted a little too calmly to the information.

Annette suffered what was described as catastrophic brain injuries and was in a coma. I was told that she was not breathing at the scene of the accident, nor had she been responsive in any way. Apparently there was a person at the Starbucks near the scene of the incident who was quickly able to run out and administer CPR to Annette. This allowed the emergency room doctor to put her on a respirator and thereby save her life. However, the nature of the injuries to her head were such that we were unsure whether she would live through that first night or if she would come out of the coma. All we could do is wait and see.

The doctor and I made small talk for a while before H showed up, again I cannot say how long that took. When H came in the room I told her to sit down. The doctor told her the same things she had told R and me before. H’s reaction was more emotional than mine; closer, I suspect, to what the doctor was expecting from R and me.

The doctor finally asked if we wanted to see Annette. H and I both said yes; I cannot recall if R went to see her sister. It felt horrible. When I heard the facts of the incident I was honestly expecting a scene out of “Red Asphalt.” I was expecting a bloody, maimed mess.

I was amazed to see that she was all in one piece and actually very well physically (apart from some lacerations on her right shoulder, a broken fibula,  and minor abrasions scattered on her body). There was some blood in her scalp, but otherwise it was hard to tell that she had been run over by a car. After a little while we were told that they would be moving Annette into the ICU and that we would have to leave the emergency room.

I left to call my wife and tell her to come to the hospital. I told her I was going to call my sister, mother, and father next. She said she would call my sister. My sister ended up calling my mother.

I called my father, waking him up, and told him the news. He said he would get to the hospital as soon as he could. The problem for him was that he lives in New Mexico, a twelve hour drive; plus, he had no idea how long it might take him to catch a plane.

Within an hour, Annette was moved to ICU, my wife, mother, sister were at the hospital, and we all began the long, dreary process of waiting.

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The drive to the hospital

I live about 16 miles away from where Annette was run over. She was visiting her maternal grandmother at the time of the incident. Normally it takes about 20 to 25 minutes to get there. I know this because I have picked up and dropped off my daughters at their grandmother’s home innumerable times.

The ride over to the hospital took forever. I drove at normal freeway speeds, and the trip did not take any longer than a normal trip would. It just seemed to take forever.

I wanted to drive 120 miles per hour to get there, but I knew that this would do nothing but put me and R at risk, so I resisted the urge. R and I talked quietly, wondering aloud what had happened. Mostly it was a deathly quiet trip.

When we finally made it to our freeway offramp, I aimed the car toward the hospital. R quickly asked me if we could take a detour. I had an idea what she wanted, and I complied. She pointed toward a side residential street and I turned onto it. I drove until we were stopped by the sheriff’s crime scene tape. I parked my car and got out to survey the scene.

Annette was run over on a main street. 2 lanes each direction with room for parking on either side. She was using the crosswalk, though there were no lights or stop signs at this particular intersection. The entire intersection was taped off. Traffic was blocked. The whole street was shut down.

This is normally a very busy intersection. There are a McDonalds and a Starbucks on one side of the street, each in their own mini-mall areas. There are markets and drug stores and numerous other small retailers within the mini-malls. Normally this intersection would be teeming with people and traffic, it was just after 10:00 P.M. on a Friday, but that evening it was quiet.

I had never really pondered the area of an intersection, but looking at the area now taped off before me, it seemed huge. There were 3 sheriff’s vehicles and 3 deputies at the scene. I crossed through the crime scene tape and walked to a smaller scene situated within the enormous taped off area. It was a small area with two shoes on the street, small bits of torn cloth strewn about, and medical wrappings discarded on the ground.

As I approached the scene a deputy walked up to me. He asked if he could help me, a stern look in his eye. I asked if this was where a young girl was run over. He replied yes. I asked if I could take the shoes and articles of clothing. He asked who I was. When I replied that I was the girl’s father, the look in his eyes turned sympathetic.

He told the other deputies that I was the father of the victim, and explained my request. One of them informed me that they were still taking crime scene photos, but I could take the clothing after they were done. I agreed to this. Then another deputy came over and told me about the incident.

He explained that the car that hit her was traveling about 45 miles per hours. He said she was thrown 100 feet. Though this was all terrible to hear, the manner of the deputy telling me was kind and gentle. He advised me to go to the hospital and promised that they would gather up Annette’s things and drop them off at the hospital for me (which they did, but they were received by Annette’s grandmother and I never saw the stuff).

I thanked the deputy for his kindness and started walking towards my car. R had not crossed the crime scene tape. She had stayed behind it and waited for me. She asked me what the deputies had said. I explained what had happened, and then we solemnly drove the last mile to the hospital.

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The phone call

It was a Friday evening. My wife, my daughter R, and I had all experienced a long, tough week and decided that we deserved a good dinner. We went to a nice restaurant, had dinner, and were back at home relaxing when R came to tell me that her Uncle D wanted to talk to me. She was holding out her cell phone and I could see she was upset.

I don’t regularly see, or talk to my daughters’ uncle. Our paths rarely cross. Not that we don’t get along, just that we have few to no interests in common. I knew if he wanted to talk to me there had to be something wrong.

He told me Annette had been hit by a car. I asked how bad was it and he said he did not know. What he did know is that she had been transported to the hospital already. I told him I would get to the hospital as soon as I could and we ended the call.

At this point the story will start to get complicated without a little background info. I have two daughters, Annette and R. Annette and R have the same mother, whom we will call H. I am happily married, just not married to H. It will suffice to say that I do not get along to well with my daughters’ mother. D is H’s brother.

At that point I had no idea what kind of shape Annette is in, nor do I have any details about what had happened.  I know she was hit by a car. I was upset and more than a little scared. The only thing I do know is that I have to go to the hospital to see my daughter.

I told my wife and daughter what was going on and R said she was going with me to the hospital. My wife and I decided she should stay home. We knew I could call if I needed her to come to the hospital. R and I quickly got ready for our trip to the hospital.

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It all began on September 14, 2012

On that fateful evening my daughter Annette was run over by a drunk driver in a hit and run incident. That was the beginning of a harrowing journey through a parent’s nightmare. Harrowing not just because of what happened to my daughter, but also because of what my family and me have been forced to deal with since then.

Annette was crossing a major street on her way to McDonalds for an evening snack along with some friends and family. She was in a crosswalk and at least one car had stopped at the intersection to allow her to cross. A drunk driver impatiently swerved around the stopped car and barreled into my daughter. The sheriff’s deputies I spoke with informed me that she was hit at 45 miles per hour and was thrown 100 feet by the impact.

My understanding of the situation is that my daughter was not breathing or responding in any manner at the scene. She was dead. Fortunately for her there were nurses nearby, apparently buying coffee at a Starbucks on that very intersection, who were able to rush out and administer CPR immediately. This allowed doctors at the trauma center she was taken to to revive her and put her on a respirator, thus keeping her alive through the first night. She has been a coma since then, though at times she is responsive and can respond by using her left hand, opening her left eye, or sticking out her tongue.

There were several deputies meeting at that particular Starbucks on this particular evening who apparently witnessed the incident. The drunken driver was chased down and arrested a few minutes after the incident. Apparently, as the drunk driver was being arrested he admitted to striking my daughter and claimed he had to get away.

Part of the reason the drunken driver had to get away is that Annette was pushing a stroller at the time she was struck. My understanding is that the drunk driver spent the weekend in jail convinced he had run over a baby. Fortunately, this was not true. The baby who the stroller belonged to had been taken out of the stroller only moments before, due to a bout of fussiness. Though terrible, the incident was not as bad as it could have been.

Annette was walking with a young couple who are the parents of the baby, her aunt, and her little sister (who is not my daughter). I am sure they are all traumatized, but I have only brief contact with any of them since the incident. I cannot speak to the depth or nature of emotion or feelings for anyone else. I can say that I am devastated, and can only assume they are as well, perhaps more so for having witnessed the incident.

Thirty-two days have passed since that fateful evening. I am told by the doctors that attend to my daughter that it will be at least twelve to eighteen months before we know the full extent of my daughter’s injuries. What has happened thus far has been brutal and discouraging, with occasional glimpses of hope. I am attempting, in writing this blog, to reconcile all of my feelings and experiences so that I can understand and cope with what is happening to my daughter, my family, and me. With a bit of luck, perhaps I can help others as well.

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