Saturday, August 23, 2008

Young boy battled seizures caused by drunk driver

On Sept. 17, 2005, Michael Hensley, 12, called his mother to tell her that he and his nine-year-old friends Joseph Evans and Dustin Davis were on their way home for a sleepover.

After hanging up Tami Hensley went to the end of the driveway to look for the boys' bikes.

They never came.

She got worried and called Michael. No answer. After a few more unanswered calls, she called again and got a pickup. All she could hear was someone saying, "Son, you've got to lay still."
Tami and husband, Blake hopped in their car and headed out to find their son. One street away from their home, they pulled up to every parent's worst nightmare. Blue and red lights cut through the night air and lit up the autumn trees.

Blake stopped the car and jumped out.

"I went right by Michael," he said. "I'm his father and I didn't even recognize him."

Michael and Joseph had been riding a bike around 8 p.m. when a drunken driver hit them. They went flying - both more than 70 feet across Isley School Road in the northern part of the county.
Dustin had been a little bit further ahead on another bike, but heard it happen. He rushed back to pull the boys out of the street and went for help.

Helicopters were called in to fly both of the boys to Duke University Medical Center. Paramedics attempted to stabilize them for transport. Blake helped where he could while a firefighter calmed down Tami away from the chaotic scene.

Michael started seizing. It took all of the firefighters and Blake to hold the boy down, but the seizure still picked them off the ground.

"After the seizures, I couldn't tell if he had died or not because he was so still," Blake said.
It took a while for paramedics to prepare Michael for the flight. They warned Blake that Michael might not make it to Duke.

Blake fought those thoughts and held out hope. Finally, the helicopter took off and the Hensleys drove to Durham to wait for news.

Meanwhile, their preacher and other family had a prayer circle for the boys.

"I think that was what saved him," Tami said, choking back the tears. "God was with him."

Michael was in intensive care for three days and was moved to a regular room for another two. He had two skull fractures, a concussion, a collapsed lung, broken teeth, multiple road rashes on various parts of his body. There were stitches in and around his mouth, on his chin and on his elbow and a bruised eye that was swollen shut. He had combative seizures.

Joseph was also taken via helicopter to Duke with serious injuries from the accident, but made it through the ordeal. He is back on the honor roll at his school with no major continuing health problems.

Kathy Lail had hit the boys, but thought it was a deer. She told authorities that she got out to look for the deer, but it was nowhere to be found so she thought it ran off. She went to her sister's house with a shattered windshield and a mangled hood. They returned to the scene a little while later and she turned herself in to police.

Authorities determined her intoxication level at the time of the accident was .12. She pleaded guilty a year after the accident to driving while impaired, driving with a revoked license, and two counts of felony hit and run.

"I think maybe the courts are too lax on drunk drivers. It is too easy for them to get back to driving," Blake said, citing the fact she was already on a restricted license for a prior DWI. "I think it is too lenient. She almost killed two kids ... I think she got a paltry sentence."

She was released in March after serving 19 months at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in Raleigh. She was also ordered to pay $17,217 in restitution to the families, but that doesn't even begin to cover their medical bills. Tami said the bills are more than $100,000.

"She got the least amount of insurance she could have with coverage for $30,000 on one person," Blake said as he thought through all the bills they have paid. They received $20,000 for uninsured motorists, but they've had to pay everything else. "I just feel like she should have been responsible for whatever wasn't paid, but it doesn't go that way and the bills are ongoing."

THREE YEARS LATER, Michael is doing better, but still has painful reminders of the accident every day.

He has special $1,000 glasses for double vision, which help, but don't eliminate the problems with his eyes. Words on white paper appear to move, so everything he reads must be on gray paper. He sees a specialist at Duke and another from Colorado.

He must go to the McCauley Family Learning Center twice a week, adding up to $400 a month. He was in 7th grade when the accident happened, but it put him back at a 5th grade level. Now he is going into 10th grade and is only now up to a 7th grade level. He also has an individualized education plan at school for the traumatic brain injury.

He has caps over the broken teeth, but those may have to be replaced with fake teeth because the nerves were showing when he got the caps. He also has a large scar under his chin, as well as on his hands and knees.

Tami has estimates of how much the teeth would cost if necessary, as well as surgery to minimize the scars. The estimates are stuffed in a thick leather binder with all the reports, bills and even pictures to remind Tami how lucky they were.

"You look at the pictures and think about where he is now and you just realize how lucky he was," Blake said. "How lucky we all were."

He said she could have gone further down the road and taken out a family.

"We are lucky the way it went," he said. "We didn't lose anybody."

ALTHOUGH IT HAS been a rough three years, Tami and their daughter Kristal, 18, they said they have forgiven Lail.

"I think I've kind of mellowed a bit towards her," Tami said as she thought hard about the past few years. "I just hope that maybe she did learn a lesson. Maybe she's not drinking anymore. Maybe she's getting her life together."

Michael's feelings toward Lail are more complicated.

"I'm mad because she did something stupid," he said. "I'm mad that she is making my family go through so much pain."

Lail could not be reached for comment, but the Hensleys are hoping that their story will help others think twice before getting in the car after drinking.

They also said they will never forget all those who helped Michael get to where he is today, including North Carolina State Highway Patrol Trooper S.W. O'Shields who went "above and beyond," and Vicky, a woman who lived near where the accident occurred, sat with the boys until authorities arrived.

As for Michael, he is onto a new challenge - battling the high school dating scene and getting his own license. He also has big plans for the future. He likes law enforcement, professional skateboarding, NASCAR or the Coast Guard as possible career options.

"He was always a good kid, but he is more humble now than he used to be," Blake added. "He is more laid back than most 15 year olds."


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