Matthew Slattery will turn 13 on Thanksgiving.
His youthful exuberance caught on a video shot just months ago is now at the very best held captive behind frustrated and non expressive eyes as he struggles with intense physical and occupational therapy.
It was August 16th.
Matthew, his older bother Peter and his mother Susan were driving back from a family reunion in Cleveland when a semi truck slammed into the back of their car as they slowed for traffic.
Susan, a well known professor at Stevenson University was killed almost instantly.
Peter was badly injured but stable.
Matthew, doctors say, lost eighty percent of his blood and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
The pain may be as evident in his father's eyes. Ed Slattery couldn't go on that trip to Ohio yet his life was transported to a place he will never escape.
"You prioritize. You get the best information you can and you make the decision and live with it. " You're doing a lot of living with it? I'm doing a lot of settling for and what I'm settling for stinks."
|On August 16th Matthew, his older bother Peter, and his mother Susan were driving back from a family reunion in Cleveland when a semi truck slammed into the back of their car as they slowed for traffic.|
While Ed's older son is walking again and back at school, his wife, his children's mother is dead; Matthew, a ghost of what a 12 year old should be.
Matthew’s accomplishments are limited to a slight nod or holding his head up.
An epic battle between mind and body is waging in this child. Blissfully unaware of what happened, his father fighting his own war on reality, grief and at times desperation.
"There's no compensation, there's no amount of grace on this planet that can compensate for losing my wife, more importantly my children losing their mother. I try to hold on to the graces, I try to recognize the graces, but I also know they are not enough."
Because none of it had to happen.
The trucker who barreled into the Slattery family admitted to police he fell asleep at the wheel.
While final reports are still pending, investigators found the trucker was still within the limits of drive time allowed by federal law.
But it is that standard experts say kills 12 to 14 people a day.
"These are rolling time bombs. Every time you see a truck on the highway you have no idea whether a trucker has been driving for 5 hours or 15 hours."
Joan Claybrook is the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a well known advocate for reducing the hours truckers can drive or ‘hours of service.’
Currently the regulations dictate truckers can drive no longer than 11 hours with 10 hours off.
Those regulations could change by as early as next year. After several successful lawsuits by safety groups, the federal government is currently looking at how many hours a trucker could drive in any one given shift. That proposal could be made public any day now and it could be the new standard in the industry no later than next July.
"We think there will be a substantial change in the rule but we don't know. And if there isn't, then we are going back to the courts," warned Claybrook.
According to a study by the National Transportation Safety Board, upwards of 40 percent of truck fatalities are caused by fatigue, 5000 Americans die each year.
Claybrook who is also a board chairman for the ‘Truck Safety Coalition’ doesn't blame the drivers themselves, but the pay by the mile structure she says encourages going faster and driving longer.
"These are sweat shops rolling down the highway. Truck drivers don't have the control that they should, they don't get paid that they should and they work extra long hours and they exhaust themselves and we're the people who are the victims."
|University remembers Susan Slattery||Dozens pray for Susan Slattery|
|Professor killed in car crash||Students continue professor's work|
The American Trucking Associations disagrees saying the current driving regulations work for the most part and have resulted in a 20 percent decrease in fatal truck crashes last year.
The group also contends reducing drive time hours will cost Americans more for their goods.
"That's a small price to pay because the price I am paying, the cost of having cheaper goods, I am bearing that whole cost," said Slattery.
The Slattery family is expected to file suit soon against Estes Express Lines out of Roanoke, VA for the accident.
Matthew Slattery has already had several brain surgeries and faces untold amount of physical and occupational therapy. His prognosis is still unknown.
History truckers and hours of service