WARNING: While this story is not overly graphic it might be upsetting to some.
Today, October 13, marks 30 years since my life change forever. Not like it might for most. I didn’t meet the love of my life. I didn’t get married, became a father, or win the Lottery. 30 years ago I was the victim of three 16-year old boys’ poor decisions. On Friday the 13th, a full moon hanging high in the sky, a rock about the size of a softball smashed through the drivers window of my truck hitting me in the head and continued to hit my best friend, seated in the passenger seat, in the neck.
What was suppose to be a weekend of horseback riding, camping, and spending time with friends became the beginning of a life where normal tasks would become obstacles.
We were traveling on Highway 18 just outside of Victorville, CA. With me was my best friend Terri, our friend Denise, and her son Rick. Denise’s family head up earlier in the day and we would be joining them. Back then Highway 18 was just a 2-lane road with few buildings on either side. I was driving my truck loaded with a truck camper and towing a two horse trailer carrying our two horses. We were loaded for a weekend of dry camping, no water or other amenities. We carried everything for us and the horses so needless to say we were heavy. We shared stories and comments about how it was Friday the 13th, full moon, and October the month of Halloween and scary stories. We had no idea how scary it was about to become. Then suddenly “BOOM”!
I thought we hit a huge pot hole in the road large enough for the truck’s tire to fall in and hit the rim. I thought the truck’s speed suddenly fell causing me to be thrown forward into the steering wheel. We were still moving. Everything I remembered from this moment on is based on what I heard. I tried to open my eyes but I couldn’t. I yelled “I can’t see! I can’t see!” Denise was seated behind Terri on the passenger side. I heard Denise say “I got it!” I slammed on the brakes bringing the entire rig to a stop. I put the truck in park and shut off the engine. Next thing I knew Denise was pulling out of the truck through the driver’s door. Denise is a nurse, I was lucky to have her there. I had no idea the condition of the truck or trailer. As Denise tended to me I told Terri to use my cell phone to call her brother David to come to our aid. Back in 1989 a cell phone was the size of a small briefcase and not very common. Lucky for us I’m a geek.
I know it wasn’t long before first responders began to arrive. I heard people asking me questions and I answered them. Oh yes, I am conscious during this whole ordeal. If I had lost consciousness, I am told, we would have driven into a small building that was a restaurant. Who knows if they were open or how many would have been killed, I have no doubt about that. While I was tended to police officers began their investigation. They found a plywood board leaning against a Joshua tree and a pile of rocks and three sets of foot prints behind the board. A K-9 unit picked up a scent and followed it to a house. They found 3 boys playing videos games. They compared their shoes to the prints and had the evidence to take them into custody. I would learn all this some time later.
Back at the scene I was loaded into an ambulance as was Terri. At this point I began to feel the effects of getting hit in the head with a rock. I was told by the EMT, I assume, because I had a head injury they couldn’t give me any pain medication. I already knew that. It’s true sometimes ignorance can be bliss. I knew it was only going to get worse. Terri and I were transported to Victor Valley Hospital. Seconds after being rolled in to the hospital I heard “Don’t let that ambulance leave.” They told me they were not able to properly treat me and were transporting me to Loma Linda University Medical center, a 45 mile drive. It was not a pleasant trip. The EMT did his best to make me comfortable. Terri would later be released and later we would learn she had a dislodged vertebra in her neck.
At Loma Linda they began to evaluate me. I remember little about what happened after I arrived. I do remember hearing my father’s voice. I had no doubt since you never forget your parent’s voices. At this point the pain was becoming unbearable. I gave my personal possessions to my father and that was the last thing I remembered. I must have passed out from the pain. I was told it scared my dad.
The next day I remembered hearing voices around me. I recognized many of the voices. One was introduced as the doctor that operated on me during the night. He told me I had lost my right eye and it had to be removed. The bones of my forehead and nose were broken, and my right eye socket suffered an orbital blowout. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. Without a doubt I was still in shock because I didn’t loose my composure. It took me years to deal with the emotional backlash of such trauma.
For the next several years I would undergo several more surgeries to reconstruct the bones in my head and face, months of recovery after each surgery, and learning how to deal with the lost of an eye. Something at simple as pouring a glass of water turned in to making a mess and learning how to perform such a simple task. I would bang my head on walls, doors, anything off my right side, and become angry yelling aloud and sometimes at those around me.
Throughout all this I had my family and friends. I had their support and I had their love. They tolerated my outburst and my anger and they didn’t hesitate to tell me when I needed professional help. Terri and her family noticed that I was showing signs of depression and I had not truly dealt with the trauma I suffered. They helped me find someone who would help deal with everything that happened to me. It took time but eventually I came to terms with everything I suffered.
I don’t remember if I ever truly thanked those that made such a difference in my life that night. My friend Terri who was able to reach my family to tell them what happened and get her brother David out to help when I couldn’t. David who drop everything and drove 75 miles to help. Later David would clean up the blood and broken glass from my truck and have the windshield replaced and never took a dine. Denise who took care of me until the fire department and EMTs arrived. A couple I never met who stopped to help us. The fire fighters and EMTs that treated me at the scene and transported me to the hospitals. The law enforcement officers and especially the K-9 who found those that inflicted injury to so many of us in different ways. To the individual from the district attorney’s office that called me and kept me apprised of the court proceedings. To the judge that presided over the case and really cared about what happened to me. To all of them and so many others, THANK YOU! I don’t think I could ever truly express my appreciation.
What happened to the three boys? One had a record for brandishing a weapon so he was sentenced to time in juvenile hall. I don’t know how long. The other two had no records so the judge sentenced them to 90 days of community service. Before you think they got off easy I was told by the representative of the district attorney’s office they were ordered to perform their service at the hospital’s ER. I was told they judge said he wanted the boys to experience the gore that such an injury accompanies. The judge also said he would personally call the hospital’s administrator to make sure the boys would not be shielded from the aftermath of such traumas. They would learn how to clean up the ER including blood. I liked that judge.
We take so much for granted in our life. From something as simple as pouring a glass of water to something as important as telling someone what they mean to you. I still have moments where I forget to appreciate the simple things. We should take a moment each day to reflect on what is important in our lives and remember to appreciate them. Life can change in an instant either for better or worse. Regardless of which we should never forget to appreciate the important things because everything can change in the blink of an eye.