Effects of crashes continue to haunt victims, families

Theresa Klein talks about the struggles she and her husband, Malcolm, right, have had after her crash on State Rt. 37, which killed two people and left her in a coma for 28 days.
Theresa Klein talks about the struggles she and her husband, Malcolm, right, have had after her crash on State Rt. 37, which killed two people and left her in a coma for 28 days.

The screen door shuts as Adrienne Klein blurts a quick good-bye, and her mother Theresa shrugs at the relationship lost with her 19-year-old daughter.

They used to go out to lunch together. Shop together. Just spend time together. They were best friends.

Then came "the crash"- a 2001 head-on collision along Route 37 that left Theresa in a coma for 28 days, in a wheelchair for a year, and with permanent brain, shoulder, and knee damage. She can't walk farther than the length of a room or lift anything above her elbow.

She knows she's lucky in one respect -- two people died that day -- but she still laments the loss for her daughter: "She lost her mom. Part of me died that day. I'm not the same person."

Beyond the brief articles printed in the local newspaper, beyond the short-term detours around crash sites, the serious crashes along Route 37 continue to haunt a select group of those involved, or with loved ones who died or were injured.

There are emotional struggles, financial struggles, and legal struggles. There are nightmares, new fears, and faded memories. There are doctors' appointments for some and funerals for others. Some endure both.

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Harold Meeker has two steel plates in his right leg he knows he'll carry with him to his grave -- from a 2001 crash that left him in critical condition for nine days.

And he'll have the memory of that car turning in front of his pickup. Of his pickup spinning from the collision. Of his wife of 42 years dying in his lap.

"It was instant," the 67-year-old said. "That was the only good thing about it."

Iranian immigrant Farah Amini collapsed Feb. 24, 2000 -- the day police delivered the news her husband was killed in a head-on crash. She not only lost her husband -- she lost the breadwinner for her two young children.

A small insurance settlement was depleted in two years, and she was nearly penniless when she met her second husband and moved to Virginia.

While the financial problems are behind her, the emotional ones remain. It's still tough to talk about the crash. And her second husband, Arion, worries about the children, particularly the youngest, who was 4 when his father never came home.

"Even to this day," Arion said, "I think he's wondering, 'Where is my father?'"

The Kleins can't dig out from their financial hole.

Her husband Malcolm quit his job driving a truck to help take care of Theresa.

But disability payments haven't kept up with the bills. The couple has drained their savings and filed for bankruptcy.

She can't remember the crash -- witnesses blamed her for crossing the center line and slamming into a convertible.

She can't ever forget the ramifications: 200 hours of community service, a $3,000 fine, and the knowledge that her actions left two people dead: "I think about it every day."

A witness to another crash, David Blankenship, wishes he could forget what he saw.

He still sees that Ford Explorer in front of him, speeding around a corner in northern Fairfield County and flipping four times in the ditch.

He still sees the 4-year-old's lifeless body in the road. He still hears the mother screaming her son's name, and still smells the alcohol on her breath.

She ended up going to prison for two years for driving drunk.

He ended up with more than two years' worth of nightmares.

"That really messed me up pretty bad," the truck driver said

Residents also struggle. Some have petitioned state or local officials for improvements or to crack down on speeders. Others have told friends and relatives to avoid the road.

Amy Seager still worries she'll lose another child to a crash -- two years after her twin 17-year-olds died when a pickup truck driver reaching for a cellular phone slammed into the teens' car.

She's spent the past two years lobbying the state to make it illegal for drivers to use cellular phones. She points to evidence of their dangers, but she's met stiff resistance.

As she ruffles through a file cabinet of letters and studies at her home outside Lancaster, she said she feels an obligation to make something good come out of her daughters' deaths.

"It's not that I enjoy doing it," she said.

"I feel like I have to do it."