ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I could feel her pain through the phone.
“I am trying hard not to cry,” Kerry Houlihan said.
But had she burst into tears, few could have blamed her. It’s been a tough couple of years since her world and her body were shattered irreparably when a young woman in a 2004 Toyota lost focus, left the road, jumped a curb and plowed into pedestrian Houlihan from behind, dragging her several feet then striking her again when her body dislodged from under the car.
Houlihan had been walking her dog on that sidewalk at Comanche near Inca NE that February 2017 afternoon.
It was the last time she walked.
The crash left her with a left leg severed below the knee, a traumatic brain injury, numerous broken bones, a ruptured abdomen, a misaligned spinal and pelvic structure. It left her unable to move anything but her face, right thumb and wrist; unable to move, work, eat, use the toilet or clothe herself.
Her Facebook slogan reads: Completely f—-d up since February 9, 2017.
As Houlihan nears the third anniversary of the horrific crash, there is little improvement.
And yes, the driver of the Toyota had her day in court. Marian Kelly Cobbett, 26, had faced felony great bodily injury by vehicle/reckless driving – and that only after my Dec. 6, 2017, column on Houlihan appeared to stop her case from slipping through the judicial cracks.
But after evidence could not corroborate initial reports that Cobbett was texting at the time of the crash or that she was speeding or impaired, the charge was reduced to misdemeanor careless driving, to which Cobbett pleaded guilty.
On Dec. 6, 2018, Cobbett was sentenced to 90 days – the maximum she faced – in the Metropolitan Detention Center.
State District Judge Benjamin Chavez postponed Cobbett’s restitution hearing until January.
That’s where we left off.
What has happened since then is an example of how quickly lives can change in a moment of driver inattention and how woefully inadequate our systems of justice and insurance are in providing compensation to victims of calamities not of their making.
“I just feel like every door is closing on me,”Houlihan said. “It’s one step forward, seven steps back. I can’t seem to get ahead.”
Cobbett’s restitution hearing was postponed to April. It was to be heard by state District Judge Daniel Gallegos after Chavez moved to the court’s civil division.
The case was also transferred to prosecutor Guinevere Ice after former prosecutor David Murphy was appointed a Metro Court judge in February.
At the April hearing, Gallegos heard arguments on a motion filed by Ice to force Cobbett to serve her entire 90 days in jail – that after the state learned Cobbett had served just a week in jail and about 40 days on an ankle monitor.
The judge denied that motion. Nothing happened concerning restitution.
Terri Keller, Cobbett’s attorney, said her client had appropriately served her sentence because the original judge had specified that Cobbett could be considered for the ankle monitor but had not weighed in on whether she was eligible for good time. That left the jail free to release her early.
As to restitution, both Keller and Ice agree that the state was unable to provide a specific amount to request because Houlihan’s insurance company had not provided the information needed to determine an amount.
And now that Cobbett has served her time, the court no longer has jurisdiction to enforce restitution.
Keller said Cobbett’s family has voluntarily paid Houlihan more than $30,000 and continues to send Houlihan a monthly check for $2,000.
Records obtained from the District Attorney’s Office put the amount closer to $16,000 – far less than what Houlihan used to earn in a year as a program assistant for the Indian Health Service.
Houlihan is still attempting to seek restitution as well as other damages through a civil lawsuit filed against Cobbett in June. But a settlement conference isn’t scheduled until next June, and trial is set for October 2020.
And then there’s the release Houlihan signed in June 2017 that provided her with $25,000 in exchange for freeing Cobbett and her insurance company from further claims.
But Houlihan said she signed that without a full understanding of what she was signing just 3½ months after coming out of a three-week coma, still fresh from suffering significant brain trauma from the crash.
“They say I signed it,” she said. “But I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Houlihan said, she keeps getting the runaround with lawyers and with Medicaid, Medicare, a slew of medical providers and a number of bureaucracies.
Repeatedly, she said, she has asked for a case manager to help her wade through the morass of records and requests she faces.
She worries. A lot. And she remains angry over the fate forced upon her.
“I wonder sometimes if I will end up homeless,” she frets. “It’s just unfair. She took everything from me.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.