SWANTON — Sarah Parker, 39, a mother of four who was left paralyzed after a tragic motorcycle accident on Aug. 1, was finally able to return to her home here, on Friday, Sept. 27.
Having to be carried into her house was difficult for her, but rolling around on the bed with her five-year old-daughter, Ava Jerome, seemed to be just the medicine to help soothe her soul.
“The smiles on both their faces were priceless,” said Sarah’s mother, Debbie Call.
That playtime helped Parker forget, if only for a moment, the pain and injury she had already endured and the long road ahead.
It is a journey she finds littered with questions about the cause of the accident, the injustice she feels and the uncertain times ahead.
Parker, who had been working two jobs and going to school, must find a way to rebuild not only her home, but her life. She has already accrued more than $200,000 in medical expenses and the person who police say was responsible for the accident was uninsured.
Parker also made it clear that she must find a way past her own anger.
In an interview on Sunday she said she finds strength in the generous outpouring of support from family, friends, colleagues, employers, and business acquaintances.
“I want to thank them all. I don’t want to forget anyone,” Parker said.
During the interview at her home, family friends, Heather and Jody Tanner, of Enosburgh, showed up with packages of laminate flooring they had purchased and will help to install.
That is just one of many projects needed at Sarah’s split-level ranch style home in order to customize it for handicapped living.
Parker estimated that a minimum of $10,000 would-be needed to transform her home, including changes to her bedroom, bathroom, doorways, flooring, appliances and stairways.
She said her laundry room is in the basement and it would be nice to have it moved upstairs, but there are other priorities to consider.
“The Visiting Nurse Association is working with me for two weeks, and they are helping to figure out the modifications needed for the house,” Parker said.
“Construction on the deck and ramp started this Monday. That will be nice because right now it takes two people to help me wheel up a flight of six stairs to get in and out of the house,” she added.
Luckily Parker was able to get that part of the project funded by the Vermont Department of Independent Living.
Dave Pierson, of Green Mountain Harley-Davison, in Colchester arranged for funds from their Moose Foundation to pay Parker’s mortgage payment this month.
Her employer, Redstone Villa, Inc., supplied Parker with $400 worth of groceries, Marilyn Savoy, director of Adult Education at Northwest Technical Center in St. Albans (where Parker has taught Licensed Nursing Assistant classes), has offered assistance, and Community College of Vermont has waived her tuition for the psychology class she was unable to complete.
Parker also was surprised by the administration and staff at Redstone Villa when they gave her the unexpected news that she had been chosen the Vermont Healthcare Association’s pick for its Licensed Practical Nurse of the Year award, which she accepted at the annual banquet held at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington last Tuesday night (see article, more photos on page 7A).
Parker was nominated by Redstone Villa’s Executive Director John Danforth and by Anita Mason, the facility’s director of nursing.
In his nomination letter Danforth explained how Parker’s main goal was to put the residents’ needs first.
“Sarah is always compassionate and courteous to the residents, families, and staff … she frequently purchases and brings in items for the residents who do not have families to shop for them,” Danforth wrote.
“An important part of Redstone is missing without her and we are all awaiting her return to make the facility complete once again,” Danforth said in the nomination letter.
“We are also working on some other unique ways to help her,” he added.
Even with all the good news she has to report, Sarah, suddenly became quite, and looked away. It makes her feel guilty that she just cannot get her mind away from a feeling of injustice.
Her mother knows exactly how that feels.
“I am usually a very forgiving person, but I just can’t get past this,” her mother added. “This is a terrible injustice,” said Call of the accident and its aftermath.
“I can’t help but wonder how can this case be closed?” Parker said of the investigation into the accident that occurred at the intersection of Route 7 and Woods Hill Road in Swanton.
“I’m still trying to understand what happened. I remember driving, it was sprinkling, but it was not raining heavily, and the roads were not wet and slippery like it said in the police report,” said Parker seated on the deck at her home.
She looked over to see Ava playing out in the yard; the yard that she now needs two people to help carry her down a flight of stairs to reach. “I just wish I could have the freedom to go down there and be with her, but I’m relegated to the deck,” she said.
Parker felt too embarrassed to discuss additional personal care she now requires.
“This has been a whole life change for Sarah,” said her mother, who has been in nursing for 28 years.
“Her 21-year-old daughter, Kelsey is now her caregiver. Can you imagine how hard that has been for them?”
“This just doesn’t seem fair,” Parker added.
She said it was as though the police report painted the other driver, Kaitlyn A. Lefebvre, 22, of Enosburg Falls, as the victim, when it told of her being in tears after the accident.
“But it makes no mention of me laying there bleeding half to death on the road,” Parker said, her voice cracking as she tried to stop her own tears from welling up.
Parker doesn’t recall the actual time of impact (it was 4:15 p.m.), but remembered telling her boyfriend, John Jerome, that she was going to be fine when he called her at work to let her know it was starting to sprinkle.
He had offered to drive her recently purchased Harley Sportster, her first motorcycle, home and let her drive the car, but she felt confident after her Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles motorcycle training courses. She had owned and driven the Harley for about three weeks
“I had driven in the rain before, and I knew how to handle the bike. I was driving down the middle of my lane just as I had been taught to, in case there were puddles building up on the edges of the road,” Parker explained.
“I was being careful, I was driving 35 to 38 mph; under the speed limit.”
The collision with a car pulling out from Woods Hill Road into Parker’s lane on Route 7 left her with a severed lung, mangled legs, a gaping laceration to her chin and missing teeth.
“Case closed?” Parker said, again choking back tears.
Call asked, “Is it standard practice that the victim of a crash is not interviewed by the police before they close the case?”
The state uniform crash report was filed by Trooper Michael Mattuchio, of the St. Albans barracks. According to that report, Parker had been taken from the scene of the by the time he had arrived.
Mattuchio spoke with a crying Lefebvre at the scene, where she informed him that she wasn’t sure she had insurance. It was later determined she didn’t and that she had caused the accident.
After speaking with the driver of the 2006 Ford Focus, the trooper went to the Northwestern Medical Center but arrived just as Parker was being prepped for transfer to Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington. Mattuchio never did speak directly with Parker but did speak with Jerome.
Mattuchio said it wasn’t until 13 days later that he learned from Parker’s insurance company that she had been paralyzed.
Parker’s lawyer, Michael Sabbeth of the Law Office of Shillen and Mackall, of Woodstock, has contacted the Vermont State’s Attorney in Franklin County to voice his concerns about the accident investigation.
“It (the accident report) inadequately reflects the severity of what actually occurred,” Sabbeth said.
“It could take a while to get a response, but I have sat down with the partners at my law firm and we intend to use all the resources available,” he said of the legal inquiry into the accident.
“We will do everything within our abilities to get some sort of justice for Sarah,” Sabbeth added.
“Sarah needs a lot more grassroots help for the financial and medical catastrophes she has and will continue to suffer,” said Sabbeth. He explained that he acts on his client’s behalf as her lawyer but also as a person whose dear friend was paralyzed as a result of a motorcycle accident several years ago.
“We need to seize the momentum while it is here, while it is fresh in our minds, and not let Sarah’s needs be forgotten.
“She’s a giver, she was the LPN of the year, she has devoted her life to caring for and helping others, now we need to help her,” Sabbeth said.
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Friends and co-workers are planning fundraiser events to benefit Sarah Parker, but the details are not yet available. Those interested in assisting may log on to the Sarah J. Parker Fund page online or visit the “Showing Support for Sarah J. Parker” Facebook page for additional news and updates.