Tue, June 18

Commentary: Four years later, I can still hear the screams

Sabrina Champ

Sabrina Champ

I remember looking over at my fiancé’s face. He was just sitting there next to me, the sunlight shining through his long untamable hair, his bright blue eyes smiling. It’d been three days since we’d seen Stephanie, the midwife, but this time had been different.

This time there wasn’t something else to stress about, just reassurance that all was well. The issue I’d been anxious about was resolving, and she assured me there was no need to worry or be on bedrest anymore.

I was still paranoid. I already had an anxiety disorder, and having suffered several miscarriages before, it was hard to convince myself I could relax and enjoy my pregnancy. I told Stephanie how scared I was pretty much every visit, and she encouraged me that I could always run over to the ER if need be to make sure everything was OK when she wasn’t available herself. And I did. Several times.

The first trimester is the scariest, but I thought if I could just make it to that 13-week safety zone I’d calm down. Stephanie reminded me that everything happening that time was normal, all my losses had been by 11 weeks, and I was well past that as I was almost 16 weeks along.

We’d had a few ultrasounds, heard baby’s tiny heartbeat several times, and this time was going to be different.

It was payday, and the whole family was going to town. We weren’t rich, by any means, but he was working as close to full time as they’d schedule him. He’d been at his job for just over a year then and our budget wasn’t as tight as it had always been, so payday meant shopping, and the options are very limited in Rimrock.

We took the 17 down to Camp Verde and Jeremy ran in to get his check while we checked on my GMC. It had been sitting in the back parking lot for a week or so since it had broken down on his way to work, still full from the storage unit the guys had been organizing. Everything was still there and intact, and we assured the manager that repairs were in the budget and we’d get it moved ASAP.

Then we turned on to the Arizona 260.

Jeremy didn’t like driving down 260. It brought back memories of the wreck 10 years prior that had killed his father, Pastor Bill Hutchinson, and his two brothers, James and Matthew.

He was only 13 when it happened, and it affected him deeply. Ten years had calmed many of his fears, but we’d often talk of them when we passed their memorial marker, and I’m sure they were never far from his mind.

He didn’t like to take his eyes from the road, even long enough to light a cigarette. I glanced down when he asked me to light one for him. I was in the passenger seat with my legs crossed, my left ankle resting on my right knee, playing something on my phone. I dropped it in my lap and reached for the pack. It was laying right underneath the clock; it was a few minutes after 4. I glanced up at traffic and saw the truck.

This wasn’t just any truck. It looked normal enough at first. The sun was reflecting off a regular paintjob on a normal hood, shiny chrome and a wide empty windshield.

I couldn’t see the driver, but whoever it was wasn’t in their lane. He was very quickly headed into ours. I was so confused. Why wasn’t he in his lane? Who was he even trying to pass? Why was he still coming toward us?

Jeremy saw it, too, and was starting to panic. Could he get around him? Should he brake or accelerate? He screamed ‘Not again, not again’ as he swerved right to try to avoid impact. It was too late.

Suddenly everything was very still. Too quiet. Nothing moved but the windshield. It seemed like several minutes that I watched it turn into an intricate spider web, spreading ever so deliberately across my view until it was all I could see.

I thought of everything in that moment. Not really everything I’d done, but everything I hadn’t.

I’m still not sure if I understood what was happening yet when I heard 15-year old Richy scream.

He saw it coming and tried to fling his body in front of his little brothers. He had so much glass embedded in his back, and now has scars that will be with him the rest of his life.

Luckily, they escaped with only minor cuts and bruises. Matthew saw that his little sister had unbuckled at some point, and tried to catch her as she flew toward the windshield.

A scream pierced the silence, a scream I can still hear sometimes, especially on those nights when even sleep won’t let me escape the nightmare our lives became that day.

The steering wheel had me pinned my left arm to my seat. How confusing, when I hadn’t been driving.

I remember looking over at my fiancé’s face. He was just sitting there next to me, blood soaking through his hair.

His eyes were closed and I knew that moment that we’d lost him. Part of the side mirror was hanging near his throat. I tried to move my trapped arm to touch his fingers and suddenly he was screaming, then unconscious again.

I’d only blinked, but there were people outside his window. It was Jeremy’s sister, a local nurse who happened to be driving the same road, just several cars behind us.

She and his mother had parked and run to the scene of the accident to try to help until EMS arrived.

At first they didn’t even recognize it was Jeremy, he was so mangled. Both femurs had been crushed, and his left arm practically hanging by threads.

Once he was flown to a hospital up north, he had to be put in a coma for several days and undergo massive surgeries to rebuild his body, then extensive care and therapy while he eventually learned how to walk again.

I couldn’t hear her screaming anymore. I blinked and they were gone. Lights were flashing and there was this awful noise. Someone kept putting a sheet over my head. I wasn’t dead though, so I kept trying to throw it off. I just wanted to get to my kids. My kids ... Oh god. I could feel the wetness soaking through my seat. I knew then my water was broken.

Our vehicle was peeled like a tin can, and the sheet had been keeping some of the glass out of my hair. I ended up picking it out of my head for days. They kept asking things like my name, and if I was hurt, or knew where I was.

The SUV was trapped up against a guardrail that had kept us from rolling, and they had to cut it out to get my door open. They were saying they were trying to get me out. I kept insisting that if they’d just open the door, I could get out. Once I was free of the car, they were trying to maneuver me onto a board to get to a stretcher when I finally looked down. My pants were soaked in blood. One of my knees wasn’t were it was supposed to be. Then I remember screaming.

From there, I have flashes of memories here and there, mostly waking up in hospital beds screaming, begging someone to tell me if my baby was even alive. I went through surgeries I have no memory of. Even worse, I wasn’t able to be there for my kids as they faced the greatest trauma of their lives.

Sabrina Champ was one of the passengers in the vehicle that was struck by Seth Collins on Nov. 21, 2014 on SR 260 in Camp Verde. Collins last week was sentenced to 12.25 years in prison.