Andrew Pearson’s motorcycle broke down on the side of the Route 1 near Kingsville. Michael Hatfield was trying to cross Liberty Road in Carroll County.
The two young men don’t know each other personally. But they both know what it’s like to be hit by a car and to watch a blurry streak of taillights fade out, off in the distance.
INFOGRAPHIC: Maryland hit-and-run stats
Between 2010 and 2012, 3,502 people were injured in hit-and-run accidents reported in four of Maryland’s major counties and Baltimore City, according to figures provided by Maryland State Police. Twelve people were killed by drivers who didn’t stop over the same period of time.
These are the stories of two young men who survived…
“He is walking again. He has limp. The cold weather doesn’t help,” Betty Colson, Michael Hatfield’s aunt, said.
Hatfield was 18 years old when he was struck by a Mazda on Liberty Road at Ridge Road in Carroll County on Sept. 14, 2013.
Doctors reconstructed his legs with metal rods and pins.
“He’s actually very lucky he didn’t lose his legs,” Colson said.
His lower body took the full force of the collision with the Mazda, although he suffered a head injury when his body smacked against the pavement. It was about 11:45 p.m. when Hatfield was flown to Shock Trauma. It was hours before Colson would find out.
“Good calls don’t come at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “Right away I knew something was wrong and that something had happened.”
It was Michael’s father on the phone.
She launched a Facebook group to track down the driver of the Mazda and to set up a place where hundreds could show their support. “Carroll County is tight-knit,” Colson said. “It spread like wild fire.”
The first post simply read:
“On 09/14/13 @11:40pm Michael Hatfield was struck & severely injured by a hit & run driver at the Route 26 & Route 27 intersection in Taylorsville, MD.
This page is being set up to offer support to Michael & to assist in spreading the word so the driver of the vehicle can be located & prosecuted.”
Investigators tracked down a woman suspected of hitting Hatfield about three weeks later. Tania Brown, a 47-year-old West Virginia woman, was charged with a set of hit-and-run offenses, according to a release from Maryland State Police. She was arrested without incident on Oct. 3 in New Jersey and would later be extradited to Maryland. Her case was forwarded to Circuit Court, which was postponed this week.
“Now things have calmed down on this side,” Colson said. “I can tell you he has bounced back quick. … He almost had to.” Hatfield however will suffer a lifelong impairment as a result of the accident.
She now uses the Facebook page “Justice for Michael Hatfield ” to update followers on his condition and spread other news stories of hit-and-run accidents.
She said the accident is a chapter Michael is looking forward to putting behind him and that it was important for those responsible to be held accountable.
But Andrew Pearson doesn’t have and might not get that sense of closure.
“Broken tibia, broken fibula, broken metatarsals, torn ACL, torn LCL, and damaged peroneal nerve,” Andrew Pearson, of Lancaster, said. “ The swelling was so severe there was talk of amputation, and the doctors said if I hadn't been wearing steel-toe boots they almost certainly would've had to amputate.”
Pearson pulled over to the side of Belair Road just beyond Mt. Vista Road in Kingsville. He was heading home after visiting his girlfriend in Perry Hall in March 2013.
He saw the car coming and was able to jump out of the way. But still the front bumper clipped his leg.
“In the following weeks I had a titanium rod inserted into my tibia, had screws inserted to hold my fibula together, had LCL surgery, and a surgery to assess the damage to the nerve,” Pearson said. “Three months later, I had ACL surgery, as they thought all the surgeries at once would be too much trauma. I ended up staying in Johns Hopkins Bayview for about two weeks before I was transferred to Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital for another two weeks.”
As he laid there, he said he remembered cursing obscenities at the car as it drove off.
“No brake lights or anything,” Pearson said. “As other drivers and the paramedics arrived, I stated ’I'm getting real tired of this shit!’ remembering back to the first time a careless driver nearly killed me on a motorcycle 17 months prior,” Pearson said.
But he was more worried about shocking his girlfriend Alex.
“It's impossible to explain the emotions when your girlfriend arrives and sees your mangled body laying on the road, minutes from her house,” Pearson said. “I yelled at her to stay in the car, I didn't want her to see.”
The accident took an emotional and
financial toll on Pearson who had to drop out of Temple University because of all medical bills he incurred.
“The accident bankrupted me, forcing me to withdraw from Temple University, where I was studying engineering,” Pearson said. “I now attend a local tech school for computer-aided drafting. My parents also moved to Australia in September, where they'll be for 4 years. The transition from being a happy university student to a completely independent, miserable tech school student is a drastic one.”
It’s almost startling how aware Pearson is over his emotional state throughout the ordeal of healing from his accident.
He remembers being almost violently angry in those first few days at the hospital.
“It's easy to stay positive in the hospital, where you are cared for around the clock and constantly pumped full of morphine,” Pearson said of the weeks that followed. “Friends and family come to visit you, it's not so bad. The bad part comes a month or two later, when the news of your accident has died down and you're back at home. I became quite depressed as all my friends continued on with their lives and didn't bother to check up on me.”
Eleven months later and Pearson’s leg is still a little swollen and the bones haven’t fully healed.
“The most long-lasting injury was that of my peroneal nerve,” Pearson explained. “That nerve runs the length of the leg and allows for the lifting of the foot. I suffered from foot drop for a number of months, where I had no control over my foot and it hung limp.
“Over time I regained a bit more control of it, but I still cannot move it fully and it has nowhere near the normal amount of strength,” he continued. “It goes without saying that I racked up a large number of scars covering my leg, but chicks dig that so it's all right with me.”
He laments that the accident has taken the joy out of riding his motorcycle. He said the it was four months after the accident in July when he got back on his bike for the first time, again heading to his girlfriend’s house in Perry Hall.
“I was terrified,” he said. “It's a frightening feeling to legitimately not know if you're going to make it home alive. I am also less motivated to ride my road bicycle, which I used to love to do, knowing that there are people out there who will run me over and leave me for dead without a second thought.”
He said the whole ordeal left him with an “unhealthy amount of cynicism.”
“I'm more negative, don't like being around people, don't trust people, and have an even bigger distaste for law enforcement who did absolutely nothing with my case,” Pearson said. “I still love motorcycles and riding, it's my passion and I'll be damned if I'll let some coward ruin that for me. But yes, I am more cautious in every aspect of my life now, especially on the roads.”