Battle Ground teen who lost leg in crash returns home (with video)

Justin Carey spent nearly a month in the hospital

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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photoLast week, Justin Carey, 16, made the difficult decision to amputate his leg at the knee after losing most of the lower leg muscle to an infection. Carey is now back at home and beginning physical therapy soon.

(/The Columbian)

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A fundraiser to help offset Justin Carey's medical expenses will be 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at South Pacific Café and Lounge, 15 E. Main St. in Battle Ground. Ten percent of food and drink proceeds will be matched by the company and given to Carey, along with proceeds from a raffle that will be held simultaneously.

Nearly a month after he was struck by a car at a Battle Ground intersection, Justin Carey is finally home.

June 10 was a typical morning for the 16-year-old. Carey woke up, got dressed and walked about 100 feet from his house to the school bus stop at Northeast 82nd Avenue and 289th Street, just like he had for the past two years. It was the first day of the last full week of his sophomore year at Battle Ground High School. He looked down at his phone …

… And the next thing he knew, he was in the hospital.

He said Monday that he doesn’t remember a Nissan Maxima hurtling toward him, hitting him and throwing him 150 feet into nearby bushes. He doesn’t remember lying there for an hour-and-a-half. Nor does he remember crying out for help, a faint sound heard by the man who found him, tow truck operator Charles Barrett.

Later in the hospital, when he was told about everything he had been through, he was confused.

“I looked down and saw both of my feet and I freaked out for the first couple of minutes,” Carey said.

The crash had broken both femurs and severed his femoral arteries. Though he was going through a difficult time, he was about to endure more.

About a week-and-a-half into his stay at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, Carey contracted an infection. Although, at first she was told it was a staph infection, Carey’s mother, Janette Chumley, said that it was later determined to be pseudomonas.

The infection meant a tough decision — whether to remove part of his leg or not.

“I knew we’d probably have to amputate,” Carey said. “My leg was dying … I didn’t want to walk around with dead weight.”

So his ninth surgery was to remove his lower right leg. He will undergo eight to 12 weeks of physical therapy before he is fitted for a prosthetic.

A member of his high school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program, Carey’s career goal was to join the military. Now, that doesn’t seem possible.

Despite the obstacles, Carey said he’s been keeping a positive attitude.

“I just know something good is going to come out of it,” he said.

He said he harbors no hard feelings toward Shaun Johnson, 46, of Vancouver, who was behind the wheel of the Maxima.

Johnson allegedly did not tell sheriff’s deputies who responded to the accident that she had struck someone, and deputies didn’t spot Carey lying in the bushes.

The accident remains under investigation, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Fred Neiman. Nieman said he couldn’t release more information about why Johnson didn’t talk to authorities about hitting a pedestrian, or whether she might have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He said the case would likely be forwarded to the prosecuting attorney’s office for charging decisions.

Although there have been bouts of anger after losing part of his leg, Carey said that he has a new perspective when he considers how things could have gone.

“I have more appreciation for life,” he said. “If Charlie didn’t find me, I’d probably have died. But he did find me, and he found me for a reason.”

Barrett stopped by the hospital and met Carey and Chumley a few days after the accident. They were anxious to thank him for what he had done.

“Hugging him and saying thank you doesn’t seem like enough for saving my son’s life,” Chumley said.

The family is also appreciative of everyone else who has been supportive, both financially and emotionally.

Home Depot donated time and materials to build a wheelchair ramp at their house. Smiley-faced balloons and signs filled with positive messages covered most of the white space of his hospital room. Carey’s girlfriend, Lexi Davisson, 14, has come to visit him nearly every day, doting on him with hugs and stuffed pandas.

Today, Justin is happy to be back in his room at home and listen to dubstep — electronic music — on his custom-built speakers.

“He doesn’t realize what a miracle he is, or what a fighter he is,” Chumley said.

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.