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Published: Thursday, 10/5/2006

UT settlement, faith help injured student move on; $3.2M to be paid in 2003 postgame tragedy

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The mob hoisted the football goal post over the railing of a campus bridge, bashing a trapped Esther Munn in the face.

She fell off the bridge. A friend's quick hand grabbed her shirt and held her paralyzed body above the Ottawa River.

The Sept. 20, 2003, accident cost Ms. Munn years of her life, as the petite University of Toledo student, a trained dancer and aspiring actress, had to learn again how to walk, this time with a thick metal cane.

It quietly cost UT's insurers $3.2 million. The Ohio attorney general, which represents the university, has settled a lawsuit filed last year by Ms. Munn and her family.

"While nothing can change the course of history or erase the unfortunate incident from our collective memory, this settlement hopefully provides the Munn family some closure," Larry Burns, university spokesman, said in a statement.

The university declined further comment because of a pending lawsuit by Joe Moening, a student hurt when he was trampled on the football field that same night by jubilant fans after an upset win over the University of Pittsburgh. The fans celebrated by ripping the goal posts out of the Glass Bowl.

UT has since improved security to prevent similar incidents from happening at football games.

Under terms of the settlement dated Sept. 14, 2006, Ms. Munn will receive a payment of $924,999. During the course of her life, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. will pay Ms. Munn $5,000 each month and a lump sum of $200,000 in 2011.

Her mother, Grace Munn, will get $150,000. Her father, Daniel Munn, will get $1. Their attorneys will collect at least $941,386 through 2012.

But tucked between the numbers is a different testament to Ms. Munn. UT will give her more than 40 hours each of free tuition for the completion of bachelor's and master's degrees in theater and vocal music.

A devout Christian, she thanks God that souls don't break as easily as bodies.

"I'm still going to be a performer," Ms. Munn said. "And of course, looking at me now and looking at my medical records and all that, you're saying, 'You really need to change your major. This isn't possible.'•"

The goal post knocked Ms. Munn, then 22, unconscious. A student named Chris - she does not remember his last name - carried her off the bridge.

Ms. Munn does not blame rowdy students for what happened. She believes the devil was responsible. "This was not just an accident," Ms. Munn reflected. "I really felt that this was a plan by the enemy, first to wipe me out. And if he couldn't wipe me out, to at least keep me from what I was called to do."

Once safe, Ms. Munn awoke to a paramedic's questions, "Can you move your legs, can you feel your legs?" She couldn't. Panic began to creep in, and then Ms. Munn thought of Psalm 118:17. "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord." The words calmed her.

Progress was slow. After Ms. Munn's first week in the intensive-care unit, hospital staff spoke to her parents about nursing homes. Doctors needed a sign.

Her family approached their pastors and elders at Foundation Stone Christian Center in Northwood. They prayed. The next day, Ms. Munn felt her spine. She was joyful, but the surge of pain kept her from sleeping through the night.

Years later, Ms. Munn can walk. She can even drive a modified Chrysler Town and Country. A spinner knob on the steering wheel lets her turn the minivan with one arm.

Her body is changed. Visible beneath the thick ringlets of hair is a scar that crosses her neck. Her right side has more sensation and feeling. The left side has more function. Ms. Munn must test a water's temperature with her right hand and turn the spigot with her left.

She is carefree in her smiles and laughter, a subtle defiance of her condition. As a hobby, Ms. Munn tends a garden of parsley, cilantro, dahlias, and pink daisies. "I don't consider the fact that the doctors think that I've reached the maximum of my recovery," Ms. Munn said. "I don't consider the fact that I have a fusion in my neck."

Faith weighs on her more than fact. God didn't plan for the goal post to strike her, she said, but instead used the tragedy to push her in the right direction.

"Already I've been able to share with so many people and encourage so many people, my therapist, other people in the hospital, " Ms. Munn said. "When I do dance again and am totally healed, everyone will know about it."

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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