Vinton: Street’s death led to guilt, suicide try — (The Gazette)

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The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City)

March 28, 1995

Author: Lyle Muller; Gazette staff writer

Girlfriend testifies about depression after accident

MARENGO – Kimberly Vinton testified here Monday that she felt guilty about leaving Chris Street in the wreckage of the car in which he died Jan. 19, 1993.

The combination of that guilt, trying to show a brave public face and fending off news media efforts to talk to her led her to attempt suicide on the first anniversary of Street’s death, Vinton said in Iowa County District Court.

“I felt, ‘What did I have to live for?’ I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t getting any stronger.”

Vinton spent an emotional 75 minutes testifying in the trial being held to determine liability and damages in the Street accident. Vinton, a high-school sweetheart who planned to marry Street in 1994, was a passenger in Street’s car during the Iowa City accident.

She told of how she woke up in the upside-down car on Highway 1 after a Johnson County snowplow rammed into the car’s left side. “I saw Chris’ body lying there,” she said.

Street’s waist and legs were limp. “Somehow I knew he was dead,” she said. “I didn’t see his head. I didn’t see his face or anything.”

Vinton scrambled to get out of the car. Then she felt guilty for not checking to be sure that he was dead and for not saying goodbye, she said while sobbing on the witness stand. “I want to go back and help him.”

Vinton, now studying early childhood education at the University of North Carolina, is suing the snowplow driver, Charles Pence, and Johnson County for as yet unspecified damages.

She suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs, separated shoulder and several other injuries, testimony showed. She still suffers some pain in her left shoulder, lower back and right leg, she testified.

But also troubling has been her psychological problems since the accident, members of her family and a doctor testified. She is treated for depression with the drug Prozac, prescribed in October 1993.

It was on that drug that Vinton tried to overdose in January 1994 after drinking two beers with friends, Vinton said. She woke a roommate, however, and the roommate took her to a hospital.

“It was an ongoing thing,” Vinton said of her decision to take the pills. “It wasn’t that one night I was feeling that way.”

She told of how she projected a positive attitude immediately after Street’s death because she wanted to be strong about what had happened. But members of her family noticed that she was slipping.

Whereas Vinton previously was organized and goal-oriented, she was letting things such as opening mail and doing laundry slide, her mother, Marlys Vinton of Indianola, testified. “She’s not too willing to plan too far ahead in the future,” Marlys Vinton said.

Kimberly Vinton talked little about the accident with her mother at first but did talk with her grandmother a few days after it happened.

The grandmother, Mary Sherer of Urbandale, lost her husband in a car accident in 1953, when he was 30. Sherer said Vinton asked, “Grandma, how did you get through this?” One month before the accident, Sherer had taken Vinton to San Juan, Puerto Rico, as a Christmas present to see Street play with the U of I basketball team.

Vinton said she would think about Street’s death as she recuperated at University Hospitals. “I didn’t understand why God took him away,” she said. “That whole scene sticks in my head to this day.”

As the 1994 anniversary of Street’s death drew near, Vinton’s ability to cope deteriorated. “I didn’t know how I was supposed to act in front of certain people,” she said. “I felt like everyone was watching me, thinking that I should be OK.”

Reporters calling her about the anniversary took a heavy toll, she said.

Under cross examination, Vinton said she also was feeling depressed because she worried about graduating from the U of I on time and because she had expressed interest in a former Street colleague who said he wasn’t interested in her out of respect for Street.

John Pendygraft, Gazette intern
Edition:  Final
Section:  A
Page:  1
Index Terms: TRIAL
Record Number:  114777