Connie McCarthy needed cat food and left her house in Northern Virginia shortly after 10 on a Saturday morning.
A flyer in the paper listed a good price at a pet store at Tyson’s Corner, so she steered her Honda Accord off Gallows Road onto the Capitol Beltway.
Less than a half-mile from the Virginia Rte. 7 exit, she was looking for an open space in the lane to the right when a White Mustang convertible suddenly veered into her lane. Connie swerved to the left and a GMC pickup struck the left rear quarter panel of her Accord.
The Honda struck the concrete retaining wall that separates the lanes of the Beltway, lurched into the air and rolled over. Connie watched the world go around one, two, three, four times before everything went black.
She woke up with a sore throat, gagging from the tracheal tube in her mouth. As the grogginess cleared, soreness set in. She felt restrained, as if tied to the hospital bed. She could barely make out the sleeping form of Charlie Hatfield, her boyfriend, in the chair near her bed.
Hatfield remembers dreaming Connie was awake, gagging. Then he realized her wasn’t dreaming. She was awake and she was gagging. He jumped up, ran out into the hall and yelled for a nurse.
Connie remembers several people coming into the room and someone fiddling with the IV. Then she went out again.
When she awoke again, the tracheal tube was gone, but her throat was so sore she could hardly speak. Charlie was there, along with her parents.
“How do you feel?” She doesn’t remember who asked. She nodded.
“You had us scared honey. You’ve been out for awhile.”
She mouthed the words: “How long.”
She remembers trying to gasp in surprise as she went under again.
A few hours later, Connie McCarthy was awake and able to speak in whispers.
“Did someone say I’ve been out for three months?”
“Yes,” the answer came from a nurse. “You were in a coma.”
A few minutes later, a doctor came in and asked how she felt.
“I’m sore,” she said. “Real sore.”
“Part of that is stiffness from muscles you haven’t been using. You had a closed head injury. Your brain was swollen. That’s what caused the coma.”
“We had to remove your spleen and you had some internal injuries, but they’ve pretty much healed.”
“Do you remember the accident?”
“Car wreck. You were in a wreck on the Beltway. Don’t you remember?”
“No, I don’t.”
“That’s not unusual with brain trauma. Your memory may come back and it may not. We have no way of knowing.”
“Do I have any brain damage?”
“I don’t lie to you. It’s too early to tell. We will have to run some tests. See if you have all your motor skills. It may just be memory loss. It may be more. We just don’t know yet.”
Connie McCarthy was lucky. It took her another five months to get her strength back, but she regained all of her motor skills. She still can’t remember the morning of her accident. She has recreated it because her roommate told her about the ad and the cat food and the police told her about the accident.
A witness saw the White Mustang convertible swerve suddenly into her lane and her move into the left lane to avoid it. The driver of the GMC watched in horror as her Accord rolled over “at least seven times” before coming to rest on its wheels. He called 911 from his cell phone.
“Suddenly, all hell broke loose,” Fredrick Hoskins, the driver of the GMC, remembers. “It wasn’t her fault. It was that son-of-a-bitch in the Mustang and he didn’t stop.”
No one got the license number of the Mustang and police never located the driver. Police filed no charges against Connie and her insurance company replaced her Honda Accord, which has sat undriven since the accident.
“She won’t drive,” Hatfield says. “And she won’t ride with me if I go on the Beltway.”
Connie says she will drive again, but she’s just not quite sure when.
“I don’t remember the accident at all,” she says, “but I still have nightmares about it. I dream that this White Mustang is chasing me and trying to run me off the road.”
Hatfield says Connie was in his car with him the other day when a White Mustang passed them on Leesburg Pike in Northern Virginia.
“She started screaming and started hiding down in the seat. Scared the hell out of me.”
Monica Askew, a psychologist who treats auto accident victims, says Connie’s psychosis is not unusual.
“Even though she can’t remember a thing about the accident, she was hurt and she has been told enough about how she was hurt to let it become a known fear.” Askew says. “She will have to learn to face that fear and regain control of her life.”
Askew says only Connie can face the fear and only she will know when she faced it and won.
“I will face it,” Connie says. “And I will beat it. But I have to be ready to do so and I’m just not ready yet.”
Askew wonders when Connie will be ready. Her accident occurred 11 years ago.