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In King's Words

Kings erstes Interview nach seinem Unfall
(28.08.1999)


By Deborah Turcotte, Of the NEWS Staff


BANGOR - Author Stephen King, recovering from injuries he suffered when hit by a van more than two months ago, has a body filled with pain and a heart carrying many emotions.


He is grateful for being alive, frustrated at not being able to write as often as in the past, and angry because the driver who hit him still has a license.


"It's God's grace that he isn't responsible for my death,'' King said during an interview Friday afternoon at his home.


King and his wife, Tabitha, also an author, spoke to the Bangor Daily News in an exclusive interview arranged by their Bangor attorney, Warren Silver. It was the Kings' first public conversation since that Saturday afternoon in late June when King was hospitalized in serious but stable condition with multiple fractures to his right leg and hip, a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a scalp laceration.


Excerpts from the interview will air on WZON-AM, a radio station owned by King, between 6 and 9 a.m. Monday.


The Kings' lives for the immediate future will be unlike anything they've known in the past. Personal appearances have to be canceled, including those for his next release, "Hearts in Atlantis,'' which will appear Sept. 14. Insurance companies and police officers have to be contacted on a regular basis. Normal family gatherings have to be altered to accommodate immobility and rehabilitation.


King, 51, was seriously injured June 19 when a light-blue Dodge van driven by Bryan Smith, 42, of Fryeburg, went off Route 5 in North Lovell, a community in Oxford County in western Maine.


Smith was distracted by his Rottweiler, named Bullet, drove onto the shoulder and hit King, throwing him over the van's windshield and into a ditch. King just missed falling against a rocky ledge.


King was walking against traffic, carrying a book titled "The House'' by Bentley Little, when he saw Smith coming toward him. In about a second and a half, King turned a bit to his left to try to get out of the way.


That probably saved his life, officers said later.


On Friday, the Oxford County District Attorney's office in South Paris referred Smith's case to the next grand jury session Sept. 30. District Attorney Norman R. Croteau said the grand jury will decide what, if any, charges should be brought against Smith.


There's one thing that King wants: the revocation of Smith's driver's license.


"He doesn't have anything that I want, believe me,'' King said Friday afternoon. "The only thing that he has that I would like to see taken away is his driver's license.''


Smith's driving record with the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles includes several offenses in the last 10 years. He has been convicted of driving to endanger and failing to stop upon the signal of a police officer in March 1998. He also was convicted of failing to produce evidence of insurance in 1991, operating under the influence in 1989, and of four speeding violations, two each in 1988 and 1994. In August 1998, he was charged with driving with a suspended license, but that charge was dismissed.


"The bottom line is: What the state does to him is the state's business,'' King said. "What the grand jury does to him is the grand jury's business. But he has no business on the road. He's a danger to himself, and he's a danger to others.''


What angers King is what he's been told about Smith's virtual brushoff of the incident as simply an accident with minimal consequences.


"We heard that his response is, ‘What's the big deal. It was an accident. I didn't mean to hit him.' In this guy's mind, that makes it an accident. Well guess what, you have a responsibility when you're on the road to watch what you're doing,'' King said.


The referral to the grand jury was good news for the Kings. "I'm glad somebody's going to take some action,'' he said. "I wish it had been sooner because this guy has no business being on the road. He's dangerous.


"He's probably out there driving now,'' King continued.


Smith, like others who may become distracted by animals, spilled soda, fussy children, or cell phone conversations, should have pulled over to the side of the road to tend to his loose dog, King said.


"The other thing we've got to keep in mind, too, is that we've all had a situation where we're riding with an animal, the animal can jump up on the seat and distract you ... and you can swat at it and lose your attention on the road,'' King said.


"But my understanding is that one of the witnesses is saying that this guy is down by the entrance to our road, which is almost a half-mile from where he ultimately struck me,'' he continued. "At that point he is wandering back and forth. So, it isn't like he was suddenly surprised and hit me. I wouldn't have a problem with that if that were the case. But this is going on for a while and he just didn't stop.


"That was just carelessness,'' he said. "I never had a chance.''


Tabitha King said she believes Smith is legally responsible and should be punished for reckless driving. "State law does require that you drive with due caution,'' she said. "There's a lot of things, like ... being distracted ... [that] come under existing law. Somebody's got to make an interpretation and say, yeah, this comes under driving to endanger.''


The Oxford County District Attorney's Office was unaware if Smith had an attorney representing him. His telephone number is unlisted.


Silver said the referral to the grand jury "is a good thing.''


"Taking it to the grand jury indicates to me that they're looking into a more serious case,'' Silver said. "So I look at that as a positive thing.


"I'm very happy that the District Attorney's Office and the [Oxford County] Sheriff's Department are giving it a very serious look. That's the way it should be. Unfortunately it's taking a long time.''


Silver said it's too early to determine whether a civil suit will be filed in this case, but if there is a suit, it wouldn't be against the driver.


"Bryan Smith doesn't have anything to get,'' Silver said, without saying who might be the target of a suit.



The accident



On June 19, King was embarking on one of his favorite hobbies while at his summer home - a four-mile walk with about 1ñ miles of it on Route 5.


"I always take a book when I go on my walk,'' King said. "I never read when I'm on that part of the road because that's the one part of the road where you have no sightline.''


Like anyone who has been injured, he questions himself regularly about what he could have done to avoid being hit.


"If I had left the house three minutes earlier, I'm at the top of the hill and I can see this guy all over the road because that's what some of the witnesses said to the officers,'' King said. "If I'd seen that, I'm off the side and on the rocks to get out of the guy's way.


"That's the other side of good fortune,'' he continued.


After the accident, many, including officers, were questioning which side of the road King was walking on. Did he have his back to oncoming traffic, or was he walking against it?


King was walking against it, facing the van that was coming his way.


"That might, in some ways, make a difference,'' King said. "I don't know how it can when the guy's not on the road.


"I was walking where I was supposed to be walking,'' he continued. "And I was paying attention. And I wasn't on the road. I was doing everything I was supposed to do.''


King is known for carrying - or reading - a book while he's walking, something he plans to continue doing once he can walk again.


"Yeah, as long as I'm not on a main road or something like that,'' he said. "I wasn't reading when I was struck.''



‘Am I going to die?'



King doesn't remember the van actually striking him.


"I remember the van coming over the hill,'' King said. "I didn't at first.''


Oxford County Sheriff's Department Capt. James Miclon brought the Kings a videotape of the road where the accident occurred, which the state made of the scene, Tabitha King said.


"[Miclon] shows me this videotape of the road,'' Stephen King said. "He says to me, ‘I've been investigating these things for 20 years.' He looked at me and he said, ‘[There's] no way you're not dead.' They showed me the tape, and I gave him the statement that I could give him.


"That night, as I was trying to go to sleep, and I was drifting off, I got it all back,'' King continued. "The part with the guy coming up over the top of the hill. He just had the shoulder. And I remember thinking, ‘It's a bus. It's a bus on the shoulder of the road.' And turning to my left. That's all I remember. The next thing I remember was afterward. I had like a freeze frame of the rear of the van.''


Turning to his wife, he continued. "And didn't I say to you at the hospital ...''


"He asked me, ‘Was it a Dodge van?''' Tabitha King said. "And I said, ‘Yes.' And he said, ‘I thought so. I recognized the configuration of the van.' He thought it was white, and it was light blue.''


Smith stopped after hitting King. So did Lovell resident Chip Baker, who told Smith to call police. Smith returned a few minutes later.


"The guy who hit me was sitting there,'' King said. "He had a cane. When I came to, I was just lying there in the ditch. I said to him, ‘Please tell me it's only dislocated.' I could look down and it looked like the whole bottom half of my body was on sideways.''


King's glasses were knocked off his face and ended up in the van. Baker didn't recognize King at first because his signature glasses were missing.


The lenses since have been placed in new frames that were selected in Auburn, Tabitha King said.


A day after the accident, Baker said, he told King that he would survive his injuries. He said there are other people worse off than King, and that he'd be fine.


"I remember that,'' King said Friday before recalling another piece of the conversation. "I asked him for a cigarette. I haven't had a cigarette since the night before the accident.


"I took the Dodge van cure,'' he continued, with a chuckle.


Emergency medical technicans arrived within a half-hour. "The guy is like down in my face,'' King said. "He's just saying, ‘Stephen, is your wife at the big house?' I couldn't remember where any of them were. I couldn't remember where I'd been or what I was doing. It all came back to me slowly. I could remember the numbers of the house.''


"He didn't remember what house they went to,'' Tabitha King added.


"No. None of it,'' King replied. "But I gave the numbers.


"They asked me which hospital I wanted to go to - did I want to go to Stephen's Memorial in Norway or did I want to go to Northern Cumberland in Bridgton,'' King continued. "I told them that I wanted to go to the Bridgton hospital because that's where my last son was born, and they took pretty good care of me.


"I remember being in the [ambulance], and the guy saying, ‘Go really fast.' And we were. We were really flying.


"I asked the guy, was I going to die. And he said, ‘No, no, no. You're not going to die.'''



Wedding rings removed



King first was transported to Northern Cumberland Memorial Hospital before being airlifted by LifeFlight to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.


"‘I guess my condition is a lot more serious,''' King said of what he was thinking when he was wheeled to the helicopter.


En route, King's lung collapsed.


"I could see the sky. It was beautiful,'' King said. "I could see the blue sky, and I just couldn't breathe anymore.''


A tube was placed in King's lungs to let air in and he was able to breathe again.


But his hands were starting to swell, he said. Medical personnel cut off his clothing, took off his shoes, and then leaned toward him to talk about his wedding rings.


Tabitha King said Stephen wears two - the original band that was purchased for $7.50 - "$15 total'' for both his and hers - and a second she bought for him later.


"One had to be cut off, and is in pieces,'' Tabitha King said. There are plans to repair it. The other, she said, was pulled from his left ring finger.


At Northern Cumberland, Tabitha King said, she was handed one of her husband's shoes. "The other shoe they gave me at Central Maine.''


She didn't know what to do, or the significance of what that meant. "It was very chaotic,'' she said, because "he seemed very coherent at Northern Cumberland.''


Word of what happened to her husband, and the extent of his injuries, came in small doses.


"They did not let me see his body,'' Tabitha King said. "He had a huge gash on his scalp, and his hair was full of blood. That actually has disappeared into his hair almost completely.


"But the nature of his hip and leg injuries, I did not understand then, and it was some time before I did understand them,'' she continued. "But I did not know he had this problem with his lungs, or his ribs were broken or anything. They were finding more broken ribs the day he left Central Maine to come home.''



‘Two inches'



King realizes he escaped death by just a few inches, a small measurement in comparison to his enormous thanks to be alive.


"The things that I missed, I missed them by inches,'' he said about the way he hit the van and where he landed just shy of the rocky ledge. "Miclon said two inches - if I hadn't pivoted to the left, I'd hit the guy or the guy's van and either the top of my head comes off or I'm dead or I'm a vegetable because they've got the marks on the windshield.


"I went over the top of the van into the rocks,'' he said. "And I guess I missed that. My spine was chipped in four places. So I missed being a quadriplegic.''


His voice raised with excitement, and he looked toward the ceiling of the entertainment room in his home. "I'm glad. I'm delighted just to be here,'' he proclaimed.


"People come to see me and they say, ‘How are you?' I say, ‘Jeez, I'm glad to see you.' I'm glad to see anybody. I'm really glad.''


The thought of nearly dying frightens him, but only for a moment.


He has a one-word answer when asked what he was thinking when told he could have died.


"Gratitude.''


"I don't remember being hit,'' King continued. "It's almost like being hit by lightning. I was just walking along. This guy comes over the top of the hill. He's got the whole shoulder. You have like a second and a half to react. Miclon says, ‘If you turned the other way or if you hadn't turned at all, you'd be dead.'


"But I don't remember turning. So, I guess somebody's looking out for me.''



Physical therapy



King undergoes physical therapy for about an hour every day, with an additional hour of strenuous work every other day, said Julie Eugley, one of King's personal assistants.


"It's going pretty well,'' King said. "I'm a lot better than I was. They're teaching me to re-bend my leg.''


Rehabilitation is expected to last about a year, and even then King will not be able to walk at 100 percent. "Eighty-five, maybe 90 percent,'' he said.


King was laying in a hospital-style bed in an entertainment room immediately off the kitchen. On the floor next to him was his dog, Marlow, who was enjoying having her belly rubbed.


A beige strap was pulled through a halo brace that's secured to his lower right leg with pins that are drilled through his skin. King uses the strap to lift his leg, and pull it and the rest of his body off the bed. He shuttled across the room to a wooden chair, and sat on its hunter green pillows. Tabitha King adjusted a footstool, and King asked that it be moved away.


He pulled up his light-gray shorts to reveal scars that are forming over what were once holes in his leg. They, too, held pins that kept a brace in place on his right thigh.


"For the first six weeks, I couldn't move anything,'' King said. "Everything atrophies.''


The footstool is put back under his leg.


The first three weeks after the accident were spent in the hospital. In less than two weeks of that time, King underwent five surgeries. he had his sixth a few weeks ago to remove the leg brace from his thigh. A few more surgeries are planned, he said.


During the first few days, and with his glasses repaired, a heavily sedated King spent some time reading. "I listened to a lot of stuff on tape,'' he said.


"I don't think you remember a lot of the things you read,'' Tabitha King countered.


"I was just bombed on drugs and everything,'' King replied. "I didn't know what my situation was.''


Within days of his first surgery, doctors wanted King to try walking. They asked him, "What kind of short-term goals would you like?'' he said. "And it's like June 25 or June 26.


"And I'm saying, ‘Well, if you think I work really hard, the [Major League Baseball] All-Star Game's at Fenway Park July 13. Do you think I could get down there in a wheelchair?'


"I just happen to be looking over to the side, and these two nurses were giving each other these pitying looks, and it put chills in my heart.


"And I thought to myself, ‘I'm in a lot more serious situation than I thought I was,''' he continued. "And that's when I sort of realized that I'm just going to have to do a lot of rehab.''


In less than two weeks, King underwent five surgeries. He had his sixth a few weeks ago to remove the leg brace from his thigh.


King can bend his leg "somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees,'' he said. The doctors want him to do more than that - about 85 degrees more.


Rehabilitation remains a long process for a man who was working out regularly at the YMCA before the accident. But, he said, it's "on schedule.''


"I've got a lot of recovery to do,'' he said. "If I get the brace off by Halloween I'd be extremely lucky.''


Although he is angry to be seriously injured, he's not letting it consume him.


"I refuse to be infuriated because it takes too much of my energy and too much of my time,'' King said. "I've got a lot of other things to do. I've got to be able to bend this leg 135 degrees.''



Marriage



Tabitha King has been with her husband throughout the entire ordeal, putting her writing career on hold to handle all that's tossed her way since he was hurt.


For a couple of minutes Friday, Stephen King told his wife they hadn't attached an "electronic gadget'' to his leg. In a comforting voice she tells him they'll do it later.


"It's a gadget that goes on the leg that's supposed to shoot electricity into the bone and stimulate massive bone growth,'' King said. "I wear it because the doctor tells me I need it. If you or someone else told me this was going to help, I'd say, ‘Yeah, right.'''


Stephen King has taken four trips outside his home since returning July 9. Once was to the dentist to have work done on several deep cavities. Another was to the hospital for his sixth surgery.


Two trips have been to Borders Books Music and Cafe near the Bangor Mall, the second on Thursday night. King attended a reading by his friend, Tess Gerritsen.


At Borders, Tabitha King wrapped yellow caution tape over the end of his foot.


"The problem being is that his leg is too long, that it sticks out way in front of him,'' she said. "It's easy to hit his foot and knock it over the place. He just barely fit into the elevator.''


"The two trips to Borders have been rather fun,'' Stephen King said.


"A treat,'' Tabitha King added.


Tabitha King said that Thursday was a turning point for her husband. He was able to climb to the upstairs of their house and sleep in his own bed, she said, "with a special mattress.''


Tabitha King was the first to encourage her husband to start writing again about a month ago. She set up a workstation for him, and helps situate him in front of it.


"If it were just his leg, it would be one thing,'' Tabitha King said, mentioning the stress on his broken hip. "He's only good for about an hour before the injury hurts.''


Stephen King appreciates his wife, and they hugged for a few moments after the interview. "She's been terrific through the whole thing,'' he said. "She's been right there. This is what being married is about. She's really been a terrific supporter, and that's been good. It's been good therapy for me to get back to work.


"But as far doing what I've been doing before, I'm way down in terms of what I can do.''



Working again



"I'm doing probably a quarter to a third of what I would do if I was healthy,'' King continued. "I had to go back to work. And she concurred. And if she concurs, it's the right thing to do because she's the one who would get in my face and say, ‘You're working yourself to death, you're overdoing it.'''


The Kings are aware of the comparisons made between the accident and Stephen's books.


"I think what it comes down to is that Steve has imagined very many things so effectively that there are bound to be these sorts of coincidences,'' Tabitha King said."‘Misery,' for instance. I think you feel now that you got that right, didn't you Steve?''


"Yep,'' he answered.



Friends and fans



The Kings have been inundated by letters and cards - gestures from fans and friends all over the world that have overwhelmed them. "I was totally flattered by the reaction,'' Stephen King said. "People were sending great big birthday cards.''


"Great big get-well cards,'' said Tabitha King, correcting her husband.


"Get-well cards,'' King said. "I lost my IQ when that guy swabbed my head clean. I watched ‘Titanic' when I got back home and cried, and I knew that my IQ had been damaged.''

Source: BANGOR NEWS and on air on WZON-AM

   
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