Before & After: One accident changes many lives — (The Fayetteville Observer)

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The Fayetteville Observer

By Michael N. Graff, Staff writer

AURINBURG — Adam Vick tried to raise his head and torso from the pavement to speak. But his arms were held down by an eyewitness.

“My name’s Adam Vick!” Adam shouted. “Now let me up! I’ve got to keep running!”

Adam lay 200 yards from the entrance to St. Andrews College’s campus, near the end of an 8-mile practice run.

But he’d never been farther from a finish line.

Adam didn’t wear a shirt that warm late-September afternoon, the day he curled around a turn on Lauchwood Drive and a car driven by 68-year-old Mary Seales veered 8 feet off the road and struck him, rolling Adam up the hood and pitching his 140-pound body 55 feet the other way to an awful asphalt landing.

Seales faces DWI charges. Officers on the scene suspected she had an overdose of prescription drugs.

In the two months since, Adam has learned to peel his own bandages off his back. Three hours of plastic surgery left relatively faint scars. He can walk on his own. Last week, doctors told him he could resume driving. And he’s been approved to return to college next spring, when he’ll restart a junior year that was only a month old when the accident occurred.

A captain of the St. Andrews men’s cross country team, he was reduced to a fan two weeks ago at the Southeast Regional championships, where he watched his teammates live out his dream, winning the title and earning a spot in Saturday’s Division II national championship.

He hopes to run again some day. He’ll see.

But nothing will ever be normal. Not for Adam. Not for any of those who stepped foot into the nightmarish sequence of events of Sept. 21. If Adam is lucky in any way, it’s that he has fewer memories of the day than anyone.

“People tell me I’m lucky to be alive,” Adam says, his face frigid. “But I tell them, ‘You get hit by a car and tell me you’re lucky.’ She (Seales) took it all away. Yeah, I’m lucky to an extent. I guess I’m as lucky as somebody can be who got hit by a car.”

The runner
It was an ordinary day, really. Running was Adam’s safe zone.

A shaggy haired free-spirit with a heart for the outdoors, Adam defines himself as a calculated risk-taker.

Last fall, he and a teammate woke up at 4 a.m. and drove to Wrightsville Beach as Hurricane Ophelia approached. Adam caught one wave and called it a morning. He once jumped between the cars of a slow-moving train that was in his way on a running trail.

He spent this summer in Colorado, where he climbed four mountains taller than 14,000 feet. While he had his fill of adventure there, his main purpose was to practice with an elite training group in preparation for this season.

Adam picked up cross country in high school after his dad told him he had to play a sport. Since he couldn’t catch a football, he found his calling on the running trail.

He’s never been a top runner at St. Andrews. But his work ethic earned him the title of captain this year. Adam had two goals entering the season: to earn Academic All-American honors and to lead his team to national prominence.

He had all A’s and B’s last semester. And he was the Knights’ No. 5 runner, good enough for his efforts to count in the scoring during meets.

That day, though, he ran a slightly different route than his teammates because he needed to stay on a grass surface to avoid putting pressure on his aching knees and shins.

When he made a turn on the route, he passed one of the Knights’ women runners.

“Adam, you lost the rest of the team,” she told him.

“I didn’t lose them. They need to catch up,” Adam barked back.

That was at the 2-mile mark of the run. Adam can’t recall anything after that.

The doctor
Dr. J. Earl Bowling, who founded Bowling Eye Clinic in 1989, was working a short day Sept. 21.

He walked out the side entrance of his Lauchwood Drive office shortly before 4 p.m., holding office money in one hand and pulling the door shut with the other, when he heard the sound.

“I’ve been in my own accidents in the past and pretty much ascertained what I thought had happened,” Bowling said.

As Bowling snapped the door shut, he turned to his left and saw a body flying. He tried to re-enter his office and call help. After a second of fumbling with his keys, he just knocked, and one of his technicians answered and made the call.

Bowling walked toward Adam and found him unconscious.

Bowling has twice survived car accidents, one of which left him with a spinal injury. So his first thought was to stabilize Adam. His next fear was that another car would speed around the busy, two-lane turn, and kill both of them.

Gene Crabtree, the optician in Bowling’s office, came out to help.

Minutes later, medics arrived from Scotland Memorial Hospital.

“One of the first thoughts I was thinking was about my own children,” Bowling said. “And just how this could happen to anyone, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The teammates
Behind in the pack, Tim Bourke and Mitch Cooper joked about Adam’s endless run of nagging injuries.

Cross country teams, by nature, are close. The small roster almost forces friendships.

Though Adam wasn’t St. Andrews’ fastest runner — like sophomore Cooper or senior Bourke — but he was a pronounced leader.

This was going to be the Knights’ year. The previous Saturday, they were first at the competitive Wingate Invitational, a meet widely believed to be a preview of the Southeast Regional championship.

So they were loose that day, and comfortably razzing Adam in his absence.

But the smiles leveled off quickly as they came around the bend on Lauchwood and saw flashing lights. When the pack of shirtless runners in blue shorts approached the scene, an officer stopped Bourke.

“Did you guys have a runner run ahead?” Bourke remembers the officer asking him. “Can you come with me? We need to see if it was one of your runners.”

Cooper looked at the car, a 1998 Ford Taurus, its windshield caved in, its sideview mirror torn off and its hood dented, and he knew Adam was in trouble.

“It looked like a deer hit it,” Cooper said. “But it was Adam Vick that hit it.”

Bourke took off back to campus to tell coach Gary Aycock.

The coach
A week earlier, Aycock had delivered a grim speech to his team. The Knights had already lost their top runner to poor grades and another to homesickness, when a third also decided he wanted to return home.

“One injury can destroy the season,” Aycock told them after the third departure.

Then Bourke came running.

Initially, Aycock didn’t believe his frantic senior, because Bourke has a history of exaggerating. Not this time, Aycock quickly realized.

Within minutes, he jumped in his car and headed toward the scene.

At the hospital later, a doctor dealt Aycock a dose of even grimmer news.

“She asked me, ‘Is he a good student?’” Aycock said. “I said, ‘His goal is to be an Academic All-American.’ And she put her head down and said, ‘Be prepared; there is a chance he may never return to school.’”

The family

Don Vick, a regional salesman for a wholesale candy company, was working from his Salisbury home when Aycock called.

Adam is the third of four children for Don and Nancy Vick. With an eye on law school in the future, Adam was the child the family expected to sew a lifetime of success.

The extent of the injuries didn’t register when Don heard Aycock’s initial report.

Still, Don hustled to pick up his youngest son, 17-year-old Tyler, from school, and then to pull Nancy from her job in the Salisbury School System.

When the family reached the intersection of U.S. 52 and N.C. 49 near Richfield, Don’s phone rang again. It was Adam’s doctor at Scotland Memorial, telling him Adam needed to be transported. The doctor recommended Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Don turned right on N.C. 49 and headed there.

The family beat Adam to the hospital. Don watched as the helicopter transporting his battered son landed.

“I think that was the worst thing I ever saw,” Don said this week, choking up. “That helicopter coming in and realizing it was my kid.”

Adam’s laundry list of internal injuries included bleeding in his brain, a bruised lung and a bruised kidney.

Externally, he was a mess. Road rash left his back looking like a bear grabbed him from behind. His lip, his eyelid and his left ear were badly damaged.

The family and Adam’s best friend, James, who gained entrance into the emergency room by saying he was Adam’s brother, stayed with Adam while a plastic surgeon went to work.

Three hours later, Adam’s healing process began.

Remarkably, there were no broken bones, but Adam’s recovery, mentally and physically, has been a staged process.

Recently, after doctors told Adam he could drive again, Don wanted his son to join the family at a familiar lake near Salisbury. Adam had forgotten the way.

At his peak conditioning, Adam could run 60 miles a week. A month after the accident, it was cause for celebration when Adam made it to the mall with his friends using a cane.

The driver

“The only wish I had was that she could spend a week with him changing his bandages,” Don Vick said of Mary Seales. “To see the dreams he had and the things she took away.”

Seales has not yet talked to any member of the Vick family.

But, she says, she thinks about it every day.

“It was terrible, terrible, terrible,” Seales said in a phone interview this week from her McColl, S.C., home. “The worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

With her date in court set for Dec. 5, Seales declined to comment on the specifics of the accident. Driving while impaired by prescription drugs carries the same penalties as driving drunk.

Seales, who says she has never touched alcohol, had been prescribed antidepressants before the accident. She said she has cut back on the dosage since then.

A mother of four, Seales was widowed 15 years ago when her husband, Jimmy, died of a heart attack. He was a preacher in a Baptist Ministry in McColl, and the family is well-known in town.

Following the accident, Seales didn’t eat for a week. A diabetic, her sugar levels have gone sky-high lately, she said.

“I wouldn’t hurt nobody for nothing in the world,” Seales said. “This has almost killed me.”

Told of Seales’ remorse, Adam responded cautiously.

“Nobody ever means for an accident to happen,” Adam said. “Unfortunately it happened to me. Of course I’m angry. It’s a situation that of course warrants anger.

“I’m not going to hold onto anger for the rest of my life. Since the accident, I learned tomorrow’s another day. I don’t know if I could meet her. I’m certainly not going to be her friend and start going to church with her every Sunday.”

The place

Adam stood between a ditch and the street in front of Bowling Eye Clinic last week, his hands stuffed in his jeans pockets and his shoulders shrugged tight, as he walked gingerly toward the spot where the lives of the runner, the doctor, the teammates, the coach, the family and the driver were forever changed.

It wasn’t his first visit to the accident, but he was still skittish.

“I’m not really comfortable,” he said, moving closer to the ditch, nearly 15 feet from the side of Lauchwood Drive.

Traffic moved briskly along the road, which has a posted speed limit of 35.

A police report estimated Seales was traveling at about 30 miles per hour.

Reaching the spot where he landed, Adam pointed at a few pebbles scattered on the road. Doctors removed one from Adam’s back just last week. Last month, they removed some glass.

He then leaned over and looked at a discolored spot in the intersection.

“That’s my blood spot, I guess,” he said, letting out a single, nervous chuckle.

Backing off, Adam looked right and left, examining the route he swears he’ll never run again, a route he would have given anything to finish two months ago.

Staff writer Michael N. Graff can be reached at graffm@fayobserver.com or 485-3591.
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