'I should never have survived that accident'
William Geary was waiting on a red light on Biddle Road in Central Point on Dec. 21, 2010, when the rear trailer of a tractor-trailer detached and slammed into his Chevy Silverado, flattening it like a pancake and trapping him in a mass of twisted metal and shattered glass for an hour-and-a-half before rescue crews were finally able to remove him.
After rescue workers lifted the trailer off the Silverado and cut off the top of the cab, Geary, 60, was rushed to Rogue Valley Medical Center for treatment of a broken neck, spinal fluid leakage, a broken wrist and fractures of his left fibial and tibial plateau, according to Geary's attorney, as well as nerve damage in his right arm and wrist.
In June, Geary and his wife, Barbara McCormick, filed a lawsuit against the truck driver, Philip McCulloch, and his employer, Express Transport Corp., for $4.5 million. The suit alleged McCulloch was driving recklessly, the brakes on the rear trailer were out of adjustment and the tractor-trailer had mismatched brake slack adjusters.
Now, on the one-year anniversary of the accident, Geary and McCormick have settled out of court with Express Transport for $1.4 million in compensation, bringing an end to more than six months of hearings, depositions and attorneys.
"Six months ago, I never thought that I would be here where I am today, spending Christmas with my family," said Geary, at a news conference Wednesday. "I should never have survived that accident.
"I just can't believe I'm here. I'm 6-foot-4. There's nothing left of that truck — it's smashed like a pancake — and how I even survived, it's just beyond my means to comprehend."
"Trucking accidents are not like regular car accidents," said Thomas D'Amore, Geary's attorney. "Trucking accidents usually result in death or serious injury."
D'Amore explained that the most likely explanation for McCulloch's behavior was a combination of fatigue and stress, although Express Transport refused to comment on McCulloch's mindset at the time of the accident. According to D'Amore, Express Transport fired McCulloch shortly after the incident.
McCulloch was cited with careless driving and making an improper turn by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and fined $795.
"We are big proponents of passing legislation to make sure drivers are well-trained, and making sure they're not forced to drive," said D'Amore, speaking about U.S. Senate Bill 1950, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enforcement Act, intended to improve truck safety laws. "Trailers should not tip over on top of other cars unless something very wrong is going on ... . It just doesn't happen that way."
Geary finally met McCulloch in person last month in Portland.
"He was very emotional; he cried and apologized," said Geary. "And I just let him know that he was forgiven.
"I just had to let go."
The $1.4 million settlement was reached after a mediation between Geary and the company, and covers more than $300,000 in medical bills, $400,000 in estimated future medical expenses, and $700,000 compensation for loss of work and quality of life.
"Most people in his situation aren't able to get the case resolved in a year," said D'Amore. "Many times these things drag on for several years."
"My bills are paid," said Geary. "I don't need a lot of money; I'm not going to get rich off of this.
"I got my apology."
Geary received more than $6,000 in community donations, and now plans on paying it back by donating some of the money from the settlement to local service organizations such as ACCESS, which helped him pay rent during his recovery.
"That's one of my plans, to donate to ACCESS," said Geary. "They handled me with dignity. I didn't feel like I was a second-hand citizen.
"Any money that I have, they need it, and they need help right now really, really badly. This is an opportunity for me to give something back. To me, ACCESS is probably the closest I can come to doing that."
Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.