What was supposed to be a quick walk to class on a rainy morning transformed the lives of two USF students after being hit by a car at an intersection left them with a long path to recovery.
Senior Olivia Gray and junior Shannon Scott were waiting to cross the intersection of Fletcher Avenue and Magnolia Drive to attend their morning classes when they were hit by a car Sept. 1. The driver was arrested by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office while the two students were being taken to Tampa General Hospital, according to Gray.
Scott said the traffic light was red when they got hit by the car. The car went to the bus lane in an attempt to pass the other cars, but instead of slowing down, the car went on to the sidewalk where they were standing, she said.
“I was just waiting for the crosswalk light to let us cross and something told me to look left, and I see a car on the bus lane coming straight toward me, and by the time I noticed it, and really understand what was happening, it was already too late for me to move,” Scott said.
Gray said she woke up five minutes later over the guardrail, near the crosswalk and a ditch. Her clothes and backpack were soaked as the rain continued to pour, and she found herself dialing her boyfriend to let him know about what had just happened.
“It was almost like it was a dream state because I had my AirPods in, and I didn’t really hear him coming. I just remember my music was playing, and I just see this gray blur coming on my left side,” Gray said. “I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t move, he was just coming right at us.
“I just remember the initial feeling of the car hitting me. It was just like getting hit by hot metal, it was almost like the worst feeling I’ve ever felt. But I’m glad I blacked out because I did not want to feel anything else.”
About a minute after being hit, Scott said she woke up next to Gray. Her first instinct, she said, was to look down at her toes and move them around to make sure she wasn’t paralyzed. She didn’t feel much pain then as the adrenaline rushed through her veins, though the injuries would later compromise much of her life for the time being.
“My adrenaline was high, very high,” Scott said. “I didn’t really feel the pain that much until I was in the back of the [ambulance], but I just remember wiggling my toes to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed. My number one concern was making sure that I was OK. And once I noticed that I [could] wiggle my toes and I was fine, I was able to breathe a little bit better and calm down.”
The driver, she said, tried to flee the scene. Their attempt, however, failed as bystanders trapped their car in the road, preventing it from moving. Others who were present where the accident took place called 911 to take Scott and Gray to the hospital and called the police to report the incident.
Scott was able to speak with her parents, who live in Hollywood after one of the eyewitnesses picked up her phone to make the call. After hearing the news, her parents drove to Tampa immediately to stay with Scott in the hospital and during her surgeries.
“They rushed [to Tampa] so fast to be on my side and I’m forever grateful for that,” Scott said. “I don’t know if I could have gone through the two surgeries without them being here, because my parents [are] my rock, so I lean on them a lot, especially now.”
Both received serious injuries from the accident — some of which robbed them of the independent life they used to have in Tampa. Gray got hit mainly on the left side of her body, which ended up breaking her tibia and kneecap and tearing all the ligaments and tendons in her knee. The car’s impact also broke her pelvis in two places and one vertebra, and she had to get stitches on her head as she was concussed.
“The pain was quite significant early on,” Gray said. “I needed to take a lot of oxycodone just to get by, but eventually, the pain started to lessen as the days went on. Obviously, it got better once I got home, and now I don’t even really feel any pain in my leg, so mostly just soreness.”
As for Scott, she broke both her legs, of which her left leg had more serious injuries as both the tibia and fibula were broken. She had to undergo two surgeries as her bones came out of her skin. She also fractured her sternum and left wrist.
Scott also had internal injuries, including bruises on her lungs, a laceration on her liver and a small concussion. She received care from Tampa General Hospital for two weeks and, on Sept. 16, she started rehab, which will last 10-14 days.
“Before all this, I was independent, but now I have to rely on people … But I know that soon enough I’ll be back to my normal self. It just takes a little bit of time,” Scott said. “With rehab today, we … worked on me trying to stand on my right leg to gain more stability in my right. I can’t put any weight on my left leg for another three months because of how bad it broke.”
At the trauma bay, Gray said her leg injuries were so serious she thought she wouldn’t be able to walk again as the pain intensified.
Gray stayed in the hospital for four days and underwent one surgery on the knee to repair the joints. Now at home, she is getting ready for her next surgery to repair all her knee’s tendons and ligaments.
Both Gray and Scott are staying at home with their parents as they take the time to heal. They have been depending on others to perform daily routines, including going to the bathroom and getting out of bed.
“This is like the worst part of recovery, just having to have people help me do things that 5-year-olds could do,” Gray said. “I’m just a very independent person [and] I love living on my own, with my friends and stuff. [Needing] help when going to the bathroom is a little bit degrading, but I know it’s necessary so my life can remain stabilized.”
The costs associated with surgeries and treatment are high, and as medical bills start piling up, Gray and Scott said they plan to hire a lawyer and press charges against the driver. They both hope to settle into a deal so their families get compensated for the accident.
Gray’s recovery journey will last for the entirety of the fall semester, and she estimates she will have to use a knee brace for the next six months. Scott won’t be able to put any weight on her left leg for the next three months and she expects to fully heal by February.
“At the beginning of October, I would probably need some assistance still, but I’m just doing things on my own and that sort of thing. Probably beginning-to-mid-October, I’ll be able to go back to my apartment.”
When it comes to school, Gray, a criminology student, said she has been keeping up to date with all her assignments and catching up on any missing content while Scott has been considering taking a break from some of her biomedical science classes until she is able to give her full attention.
“I don’t think I can catch up at this point, so I might end up dropping two courses along with the lab and just focusing on my other classes, and making sure I get those done in a timely fashion,” Scott said. “So, my goal is to graduate on time, hopefully.”
For Scott, the accident has taken a significant mental toll, with thoughts circling around the infinite ways the accident could have turned out.
“Lately it’s just been hitting me with different emotions,” Scott said. “So, yesterday I cried because I just wanted to go home and be normal again. I was mad at myself a couple of days ago because I was like ‘I should have driven. This accident wouldn’t have happened if I had driven my car. I would still be in Tampa having classes and with my roommates.’”
Despite the physical and mental toll, Scott said she is grateful for her life and is working to understand the meaning behind such transformative events.
“My accident could have been worse. I’m lucky to be alive because a lot of people that get hit by cars tend to not survive,” Scott said. “So, I’m very thankful I am alive. … These things happen for a reason. I just need to figure out the reasoning behind it and put it into use for myself.”