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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001
Might as well make it a trifecta, the past two have been rantings about driving and the legal system, so why not this?

In 1989 we were living in a small town about 20 miles away from the city where we now dwell. I call it our pioneering stage, we had bought a somewhat rundown house in the village and were hell bent on restoring it, making a profit on the resale and then movin' on up. The children were ages 5, 3 and almost 2.

Yeah, I had a problem turning off the old faucet for a while there.

Since Ally and I worked some distance apart we both commuted into the city. Every morning, she would pack the three kids into a second hand Volvo, drive them to a combination day-care / school not too far from where I worked, then proceed to her job. Evenings I would pick them up and return home. 30 minutes each way, with kids who were alternately sunny and sweet or screaming like hell. As they say, it built loads of character. I never did figure out if splitting up the driving chores with Ally was more for quality time or a relief driver strategy.

12 years ago, and I can remember the day better than any day before or since.

With me already at work, Ally sat at the same stoplight two blocks from the house she always used enroute to the school. When the light turned green, she paused, then started forward. Until an eighteen wheel truck hit her broadside in the drivers door at 45 mph.

The force of the impact picked that old Volvo up and planted it in a telephone pole to the right of the car, which snapped the pole, caused the engine of the car to actually drop off its' supports. At some point one of the truck wheels actually ran the car over.

Ally was pinned against the steering wheel and unconcious, bleeding from a half dozen wounds. Beth had been sitting directly behind her on the drivers side and had her forehead laid open with a deep cut. Bruises, they all had bruises, ranging from little facial ones to huge basketball sized contusions.

They were alive.

Something to be said for those old Volvos. When I looked at it afterwards, there was an honest to God steel beam running through the doors which probably saved them. Not something you see nowadays. After the EMT's and fireman got through with it, it was a convertable, since they had to cut the roof off to get Ally and Beth out.

When I got to the hospital a small army of candy-stripers surrounded Maggie and Ben, who weren't old enough to know how to articulate to me what had happened. I held them close, and when I ran my hand through Maggie's hair a shower of windshield glass fell out.

If ever I could have cloned myself into 4 people, that would have been the day. Beth appeared on a gurney for a moment, the bone of her skull clearly apparent through blood which seemed to have no end in sight. Ally was on another table, looking like she'd just been thrown through a meat grinder. Which, of course, she pretty well had been. The younger two just sat numb, and wondered.

Throughout that morning I ran from floor to floor, trying to be with them all at once. The worst moment was holding 5 year old Beth's hand just before her surgery, her begging me not to leave her, with tears that were stinging various facial cuts and making her cry all the harder. When I caught up with Ally, she was begging the nurses to let her see her kids, which they couldn't do as she was due in surgury herself. It got to the point where I had to assure her they were all still alive, because she just didn't know. She broke when I told her that Maggie and Ben would not be held in the hospital, would be released that afternoon, because they would be that much farther away from her.

It was, as I said, a small town. It had a small town hospital and small town ways. We went to a small town church and knew most of the small town members. Within 12 hours, the ladies of the church had organized house cleaning, babysitting and enough food to feed our brood for weeks. I was grateful to them for that. Still am.

There are still moments in life when you wake up in a hospital room at 5 am, in clothes you were wearing a day before, thinking about coffee and wondering where the hell you are. I can remember how quiet it was when I slipped out the front door for a smoke and to get a morning paper from the machine.

The big city paper had a big story with pictures on the local news sections' front page. Seems that the region was short one Volvo. You could tell from the picture it had once been a car. Barely.

I think it was at that point that the rage started to boil in me.

Among the dozens of visitors who came to see Ally and Beth in their joint room were two lawyers, partners in a local firm, both members of the same church we attended. I let them comfort her, say some words, maybe they even prayed over her. But I stopped them out in the hall on their way out. Looked in their Christian eyes and gave the command.

"I want you two to find the son of a bitch who did this and put his sorry ass on the cross, and the sooner the better."

I thought that was a clear enough directive.

It's an amazing thing when you sort out your mail after a thing like this. All of a sudden I was the most popular address around for legal teams. Inquiring letters came in from all over, asking about my need for prosecutorial services. That picture in the paper of a mangled car and three kids was as open and shut to them as if the trial had already taken place. And truth be told, it was a foregone conclusion in the opinion of everyone around that the truck driver and his company and their insurance would soon be scarecrows.

The insurance guy actually set up camp in the local police station. When I went in there 24 hours later to retrieve Ally's purse and the other stuff left in the car, he hopped off his bench and made an offer within minutes. I felt very civilized when I refrained from poking his head through the desk seargent's pass thru window. Because I had a hard time not envisioning my 5 year old's face, with a scar on her forehead that she will carry to the end of her days.

I learned a lot about how the legal system works, or doesn't work, over the next 3 years. That's right, 3 years. The lawyers from church actually managed to let this thing drag on that long. They mangled depositions, lost paperwork, cowed to the insurance company, didn't follow up on witnesses to the scene. They created elaborate scenarios on accident reconstruction with airplane photos. The lawyer for the trucking firm was an old pal. Get the picture? They essentially dragged the whole thing out in the name of billable hours and glad-handed the opposition to the point where I'm sure even the truck driver himself was feeling pretty releaved.

One word of advice I ignored but will pass on here. If you're ever faced with something like this, get yourself the meanest dog in the legal field. Employ the one who has a rep for punishment. Somebody with teeth. Not necessarily the one with the late night TV ad who sounds like he just moved up from the used car game, just get a sharp, single focused one who can curse and swear a little. Might as well get the asshole, because I guarantee you a judge won't let your uneducated self do the work. You aren't in the club.

If you think money was my motivator, you're half right. Let's be honest, there were big time hospital and after care bills, we needed another car, and everybody and their brother was touting counseling. We just wanted to go home and raise our kids, or what was left of them. The best counseling I knew was to hold and rock whichever child woke up at 3 am with nightmares, a big truck about to run over them again. The counseling they were advising was a means to add onto an already burgeoning, five figure medical statement.

With bumblestiltskin the lawyer leading the way, I knew the case was going down the toilet in slow motion. Any mention of going to trial about this brought on nonsensical rambling about lack of long term physical damage to Ally and the kids. About how the evidence might lead a jury to believe that Ally had actually contributed to the accident by running through the light too quickly (I REALLY reacted in a non-church like way to THAT one). It was like trying to educate the little element of hick in that lawyer to the reality of prosecution. Honestly, I felt like getting a fake law degree and taking the thing on myself. It was that bad.

End of the story? We settled, as it seemed it was the only way to get any restitution out of the mess. If I told you how much we actually wound up with, you wouldn't believe me. Because it was a sham. Let's say it was enough to get us the hell out of that small town and move back to the city.

They set up Beth with a trust fund for the money she received. I posted a bond to be named executor. The money, in essence, can't be touched until she reaches adulthood. I tried to access it when she had a need for braces and was told I'd need a court order to use her own money for her own health needs. On the other hand, I get to submit annual reports proving that the money has been untouched, for which the court appointed Commisioner of Accounts gets to charge me $75 to review. If I don't submit it, they send me a summons to appear before a judge and explain why I shouldn't be tossed in the slammer. He encouraged me to let a lawyer handle the preparation of these reports. I did, the first time. The lawyer charged nearly exactly what the interest gained on the account was for that year. He didn't get to do it again. Dammit, it's her money. At that, it's barely enough for a couple years at college.

The bumbling lawyers took their cut and decided to upgrade. Last I saw of them they were erecting a brand new office building from which they could shill to other law-ignorant dolts like me.

Every now and then, I'm reminded of what that day a year ago took of us. Ally lost something. That day. You wouldn't pick up on it unless, like me, you lived with her every day. It was a physical/mental thing which jarred her psyche and left me with someone who is a little bit less than on our wedding day. I'm not saying retardation, but it's leaning in that direction. A severe concussion? We'll never know. Small town medicine being what it is.

You'll have to forgive me my loathing of the legal profession. I'm sure some of you work for it, or have had positive things happen because of it.

But anytime a group of supposed professionals profit over the misery of others, it can't be anything but a lawyer, or two lawyers, who argue their way into believing that what they do is best for you.

Because no matter what, they will profit in the end. It is the nature of what they do. Think of how many poor lawyers you've known. If there are any, it's because they havn't caught on to the systems' working credo. Profit. By creating or enhancing situations which place your werewithal in their hands. Encourage a market for insurance money to be held as a resevoir for their needs. Elect lawyer / politicians to create legislation which perpetuates the whole mess, and to the advantage, ultimately, of themselves.

You say you can't fight City Hall? You're right. Look who's running it.

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