Teen who lost lower leg recounts ordeal

Amboy woman being retried in vehicular assault case; at issue is if she was impaired at time of crash

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

Published:

 

Much has changed in the more than three years since Justin Carey lost his lower right leg after being struck by a suspected intoxicated driver. He can no longer ride his bike, run or swim at the river. He has a prosthetic leg, but it only allows him to walk.

“I can’t usually keep up with friends if they want to go do something,” Carey said.

The then-16-year-old had planned to join the United States Army, and he was a member of the ROTC and the air rifle team. That dream ended when his right leg had to be amputated at the knee.

Carey, now 19, found himself on the stand again Wednesday afternoon to testify during the vehicular assault retrial for Shaun C. Johnson. The Amboy woman is accused of driving under the influence of methamphetamine and striking the Battle Ground teenager with her car June 10, 2013, while he waited for a school bus.

She was convicted by a Clark County Superior Court jury and sentenced in spring 2015. But an appeals court overturned her convictions for vehicular assault and methamphetamine possession after finding that the Clark County sheriff’s deputy who found the drug in her purse had searched it illegally.

Since the first trial, Carey graduated from Battle Ground High School, two years to the day after the crash. He said he plans to enroll next quarter at Clark College.

During his testimony, Carey said all he remembers from that day is waking up around 6 a.m., getting ready for school and walking to the bus stop at the corner of Northeast 82nd Avenue and Northeast 289th Street in Battle Ground. He listened to music through headphones while he waited.

The next thing Carey remembered, he said, was waking up in a hospital with his parents on each side of him and his legs in braces. He was in and out of consciousness for days as he underwent multiple surgeries to try to repair his broken femurs and a severed artery in his right leg, Carey said. Doctors were unable to save the dying tissue in his right leg and later amputated the lower half of his leg.

“I remember the doctor talking to me about it, going under and waking up to see my lower right leg gone,” Carey said.

He estimated he underwent more than a dozen surgeries during his weekslong stay in the hospital. It took weeks for him to adjust to his prosthetic leg.

Carey now suffers phantom limb pain — a sensation in which he feels pain where his lower leg used to be. The painful sensation makes it feel like his toes are curling. He’s tried different therapies, including acupuncture, but he said nothing has helped. Carey also struggles with cognitive issues as a result of a traumatic brain injury from the crash. His short-term memory is impaired, he said, and he finds it difficult to stay on task.

He’s been forced to change his lifestyle. “I do things more slowly and intricately,” Carey said.

His service dog, Shiva, helps console him when he has nightmares about the crash or daytime anxiety, particularly when he hears a loud sound or is in a big crowd.

The defense did not cross-examine Carey after his testimony. Johnson’s attorney, Shon Bogar, said his client is not disputing the teen’s injuries. He also objected to Carey’s mother, Janette Chumley, testifying. Bogar argued that her testimony would not provide any further evidence and could prejudice the jury.

Judge David Gregerson ruled against the defense’s objection.

‘God, please don’t take him from me’

An emotional Chumley told the jury about learning her son had been hit and not knowing where he was being flown to.

“I kept praying, ‘God, please don’t take him from me, please don’t take him from me,’ ” she said through tears.

She found him at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver after calling 911. She said both of his legs were swollen. He was covered in blood and had bruises on his face and leaves in his hair. Carey underwent a 7 1/2 -hour surgery, she said.

“As a mom, you can just feel when something is wrong,” Chumley said. She said she felt helpless.

In the end, doctors couldn’t save her son’s right leg, so they gave Carey a choice: try to fight infection or amputate. “It’s a really hard choice to make as a 16-year-old,” Chumley said.

Closing arguments are expected Thursday in Johnson’s retrial.