Eternally Yours

Life as Gloria Lamar knew it ended almost five years ago. But her heart beats on.

On the evening of the accident, Hoh had cooked Lamar dinner: Cornish game hens, sweet potatoes and a green salad. She had played guitar and they had sung together--Hoh remembers a Civil War song called "Hard Times Come Again No More." After dinner, he and Lamar set off, in different cars, to visit Hoh's daughter, Molly, in Longmont. The two women discussed a project they were working on, The World's Only Kid-Friendly Cookbook. Remembering, Hoh smiles. "I think they trademarked the phrase 'kid-friendly.'" After an hour or so, Lamar left for home.

Later that night, Hoh's son called and told him about the collision, having heard the news from Lamar's son. Hoh immediately left for the hospital. "I didn't know much about brain injuries," he says, "but I did know, being a scientist by background, that pressure in the head is a critical thing. So I asked the neurosurgeon to put a pressure gauge in her head, and he did. And there wasn't any fluid pressure. Which is good. Very good."

The MRI, too, showed only small signs of injury. "We thought we'd come in in the morning and ask her what happened," says Hoh. But the next day, he was informed that Lamar probably had axonal shear--a complete severance of the neurons in the brain. He didn't believe it. "People at the scene said that not only did she crawl out of her car, but she walked some sixty feet," he says. "She was moaning and talking, and she was trying to help this kid that hit her. None of that would have happened if she'd had axonal shear, because that takes out all of your communication capacities instantly."

Further shocks followed. Doctors told him it was unlikely Lamar would ever open her eyes again or breathe unaided. A nurse suggested withholding feeding to avoid the moral dilemmas that ultimately face so many families of coma victims. Hoh was given a handwritten note by the relative of another patient begging him to authorize the harvesting of Lamar's organs. "We were all in a state of shock," he says. "It went from something that we didn't think was overly serious to something that was terminal."

He insisted on the feeding tube, however. And after two weeks in intensive care, Gloria Lamar opened her eyes.

"The thing that annoyed me was, there wasn't really any medical advocate for Gloria," Hoh says. "We as a family had to figure out the mystery. What to do next, what is really happening, should we get a second opinion, who's going to be the conservator, should we let her go. How is Gloria? There wasn't a single person who could tell us. There's this guy from this place and the guy from intensive care and the story from the guy on the midnight shift. There wasn't a medical advocate who knew her whole story at any given instant of time. You had to piece together the hearsay."

Eventually the family found a rehabilitation center where Lamar could receive therapy and care. She was moved to Mediplex Rehabilitation in Thornton.

Meanwhile, Bauman had been charged with vehicular assault, reckless driving and driving under the influence. Police learned that he had turned right from Highway 66 onto 75th Street--going in the opposite direction from his home. He had turned back at a bend in the road, accelerated to over 60 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone and, although familiar with the intersection, driven straight through the stop sign.

"Had Mr. Bauman intended to avoid the collision, he had ample opportunity to do numerous things that would have accomplished that intention, ranging from coming to a stop as legally required, to braking, turning or simply lessening the pressure of his foot on the accelerator," wrote Detective William Bloxsom, an accident reconstruction expert later hired by Hoh. "Because Ms. Lamar was traveling approximately 66 feet per second and he was traveling at greater than 88 feet per second any action by Mr. Bauman that slowed him by even 1/4 second, would have kept the collision from happening."

The case never went to trial. A plea bargain was reached with Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter's notoriously lenient office ("He Aims to Plea," September 24, 1998). That September, Bauman pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in death or serious injury. He was sentenced to two months in jail, two years' probation and 200 hours of community service. Since he had told his probation officer, Melinda Leach, that he had no resources, he was ordered to pay Lamar, whose care was likely to cost $15 million over her lifetime, only $1,000 in restitution.

Had Bauman been found guilty of vehicular assault, he could have received a four-year sentence. (In a recent Denver case, Joel Broussard was given three years in prison and two years of parole after crashing into the back of a car at 100 miles an hour, leaving a six-year-old brain-damaged--though cognizant and functional--and blind in one eye.)

At the time, Boulder deputy district attorney Steve Louth told the press he could charge vehicular assault only if he could prove that Bauman consciously disregarded the risk of injuring another person, and "I just don't see how I can prove this here."

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