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Accident victim: Please stop texting while driving

What was she texting?

What was the subject matter that could have made her forget she was driving? What was so darn important in that message that her vehicle, as Albuquerque police have noted, swerved out of its lane, over a curb, onto the sidewalk and into a woman walking her dog, dragging the woman under the vehicle for several feet and striking her once more when her body rolled out from under the car?

Kerry Houlihan would surely like to know. She was the woman walking her dog.

She is the woman who would like to walk her dog again someday, would like to walk again, would like to live again the way she did before that Feb. 9 afternoon when everything changed.

Kerry Houlihan, 41, played soccer and volleyball and ran half-marathons until she was severely injured in a Feb. 9 crash. Now she resides in an assisted living facility, unable to walk or feed or clothe herself. “I have a functioning brain,” she says. “Just not a functioning body.” (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)

“I am completely different now,” Houlihan, 41, said. “My whole life is upside-down.”

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The crash, which occurred just before 4 p.m. on Comanche near Inca NE, spilled open Houlihan’s abdomen and severed her left leg below the knee. It broke her right leg, jaw, shoulder, left arm and two vertebrae. It left her in a coma for three weeks, left her with a traumatic brain injury and spinal damage that took away memory and movement in her fingers and lower extremities. It left her, nearly 10 months later, incontinent and unable to eat, drink or clothe herself.

It left the driver, Marian Kelly Cobbett, 24, with not so much as a ticket.

A records search could not locate a traffic citation or criminal charge filed against Cobbett in connection with the crash, although other records indicate that Cobbett has a history of being cited for speeding and careless driving.

According to an Albuquerque police report on the Feb. 9 crash, Cobbett said she had begun to “mess around” with the stereo dial in her 2004 Toyota when the crash occurred.

But two witnesses said it appeared she was looking down and texting. The report lists “cell phone, driver inattention” as causes for the crash.

Calls and several texts to Cobbett were not returned.

“She should have known better than to text and drive,” Houlihan said. “She has majorly ruined my life.”

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That life had been a robust one, she said.

A police diagram of the Feb. 9 crash that severely injured pedestrian Kerry Houlihan shows that the vehicle struck twice – noted as P.O.I. or point of impact – as it swerved onto the sidewalk.

“I played on volleyball and soccer teams. I ran half-marathons. I went to the gym,” she said.

That afternoon, she was off early from work as a program assistant at Indian Health Service and decided to walk Oceana, her dog, before picking up her 14-year-old daughter, Maria Elena.

She was walking east on Comanche across from Mitchell Elementary School about five blocks from her home when she was struck from behind.

Her dog was not injured.

In the past 10 months, she has been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers, enduring life-threatening staph infections and the humiliation of having to wear diapers.

Although she cannot move much of her body, she still feels pain. As we speak, the stump of her left leg shudders and jumps occasionally in agonizing spasms. Once, the spasm was so intense it jolted her from bed and onto the floor.

Only briefly was she able to return home. But because most of her family lives out of state and can make only short visits, her care fell to her husband, Victor Salazar.

“I was doing the work of six people,” he said. “It was just too much.”

These days, Houlihan resides at the Bear Canyon Rehabilitation Center, where she is one of the youngest residents. Her husband brings her home-cooked meals each day.

“I’m spoiled,” she said.

She keeps in touch with the outside world through her cellphone and iPad, using voice-to-text and the knuckles of her gnarled, crippled fingers.

She watches her daughter’s soccer games on FaceTime, watches the world pass her by.

It is lonely here.

There is some optimism that months from now she will regain some use of her body and learn to walk with a prosthetic. Houlihan struggles to remain hopeful.

“It’s like I don’t know how to proceed in life,” she said. “I miss my old life.”

But when Houlihan decided to write to the Journal, it was not to complain, not to seek handouts or pity, but to warn of the dangers of texting while driving.

“Please stop,” she wrote. “It destroys families.”

Good people make bad choices. And those bad choices can hurt good people who never had a choice.

She said she hopes her story can stop someone else to save someone else. And she hopes more people will come to know what she knows all too well – that no text is that darn important that it can’t wait until the car is parked and the engine is off.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 


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