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Driver finally charged in devastating crash

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The apothecary for the care of Kerry Houlihan clutters what is otherwise a spotless kitchen – so many prescription bottles, pill organizers, bandages, catheters and creams that a second dining table was brought in to hold them all.

Houlihan requires about 25 prescriptions now. She requires assistance to do just about everything. Her once athletic body feels leaden, and her once sharp mind holds memory like a torn screen door.

But she remembers well what life was like before she was struck and nearly killed more than a year ago by a motorist who witnesses say was texting and driving.

And she cannot forget how much she has lost and how little the driver has.

“I don’t look forward to anything anymore,” she said. “She has completely ruined my life.”

I introduced you to Houlihan in a Dec. 6 column, detailing the aftermath of the Feb. 9, 2017, crash that devastated her but delivered not so much as a traffic ticket to the driver, Marian Kelly Cobbett, 25.

Several of you readers told me you called the District Attorney’s Office to express outrage at the lack of prosecution in the case.

I called, too.

Finally, on Feb. 5, just four days shy of a year since the crash, a grand jury indicted Cobbett on a charge of great bodily injury by vehicle/reckless driving, a third-degree felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

A hearing is scheduled for March 15 before state District Judge Benjamin Chavez.

Calls and emails to Cobbett and her attorney, Mark Keller, were not returned.

But it seemed a good time to return to see Houlihan.

When we met, she was living at the Bear Canyon Rehabilitation Center, pining to go home. She got her wish, and a part-time caregiver, a day after Christmas and three days after she turned 42.

It hasn’t been an easy transition.

“It’s so strange,” she said, as we chatted at her home, not far from where the crash occurred on Comanche near Inca NE across from Mitchell Elementary School. “I’m in my house, and I know where everything is, and now it doesn’t feel like my home. It doesn’t feel like my life.”

Houlihan had been walking her dog on the sidewalk along Comanche around 4 that February afternoon when, Albuquerque police say, Cobbett, who has a history of speeding and careless driving citations, was so distracted that she swerved out of her lane, over the curb and onto the sidewalk and slammed into Houlihan, dragging her for several feet before Houlihan rolled free and was struck a second time.

Houlihan’s abdomen was ripped open, and her left leg was ripped off below the knee. Her right leg, jaw, shoulder, left arm and two vertebrae were fractured. She was left with a traumatic brain injury and a spinal cord so damaged that a year later she cannot move much more below her neck than her right thumb.

Two witnesses told police Cobbett appeared to be texting when she ran up onto the sidewalk; Cobbett told officers she had started to “mess around” with the stereo dial.

Either way, Houlihan was injured so severely that authorities had not expected her to survive.

Her prognosis is unclear. The onetime sports and fitness junkie, accomplished professional and world traveler laments that her insurance will pay for only four hours of physical and occupational therapy a week, only 32 hours a week for a caretaker.

“It really sucks,” she said. “I was independent. I miss that. I really miss exercising. That made my life before.”

For her, she has yet to see any silver lining or any light at the end of a very dark tunnel. She is honest in her anger and her despair over what has happened to her.

If she is thankful for anything, it is for being home with her family and her friends. She is also thankful for readers like you whose calls to the District Attorney’s Office surely helped nudge along the charges against the woman whose actions took so much away.

“They talk about levels of grief and how the last one is acceptance,” she said. “But I don’t want to accept my life like this.”

Life like this means she can no longer clothe and clean herself, attend to her toileting, read a newspaper, help her daughter with homework, hold a cup, hold a spoon, hold her husband’s hand.

At night, she sleeps alone in a spare room. She demurs from calling out to her husband or teenage daughter to turn her. They need their sleep, she said.

She wonders how Cobbett can sleep at night. She wonders why the young woman did not admit to texting, why she did not stop to render aid, why she did not call 911.

And she wonders about the wisdom of Cobbett keeping her car keys.

“I can’t drive anymore,” Houlihan said. “So I don’t think she should, either.”

That seems a small price to pay, all things considered.

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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