On Sunday, Colleen Kelly Alexander and her husband, Sean Alexander, drove to Guilford to visit her cat, who is staying with friends while Colleen continues her recovery from an accident that almost killed her. then headed back home to Clinton on the Boston Post Road late Sunday afternoon.
And then the unimaginable happened. Shortly after they crossed over into Madison, Sean Alexander says a driver approached the Boston Post Road from Neck Road, and, while looking in the other direction, pulled out, and hit their car.
Unimaginable. It was at the exact same intersection and just a short distance away from where Colleen, while riding her bike from Guilford to Clinton in October 2011, . The yellow lines that show where Colleen's body fell, after the accident ripped most of her lower body to shreds, still mark the road. The October accident almost killed her when she flat-lined in the trauma ward, and almost killed her again when doctors couldn't stop the bleeding. She had been making a remarkable recovery. And now this.
Memories from the first accident collide with the reality of the second accident
Colleen says she was stunned. Then, as memories from the first accident collided with the reality of the second accident, she says she became hysterical.
Madison Police arrived within minutes and paramedics were called to make sure no one was injured this time. Sean says the other driver received a ticket, and, after about an hour on the scene, he and Colleen made their way home.
Colleen says at first she was angry and upset. "I was losing it, just crying," she said.
"Please pray for us"
When she got home, Colleen talked with her friends on Facebook about what happened. "On the way back home from visiting my cat a woman ran the same stop sign where I got run over and front ended us where my body was bloodied in October. I had a total traumatic melt down reliving the entire accident. Please pray for us. I'm a total mess," she wrote. Her friends sent prayers and wrote words of love, support, outrage, and encouragement. Some pleaded with her to stay away from that intersection.
But, within about a half hour, Colleen had another plan.
"I'm advocating this week for a light to be installed and bike lane," she wrote to her friends. "Rather than avoid I want to help change it and make that area safer for everyone."
Seeking change, one step at a time
She said she first wants to raise awareness about the dangers of the intersection, and that she then wants to write to the local traffic authority.
"My responsibility on the police commission is traffic," he said. "And making such a request is quite simple. I started a procedure that is working quite well. I'm not saying the results will be simple. But the process of getting started is simple."
An email can get the process started
Cartledge said that Colleen and Sean, or anyone else, can initiate a review or request relating to traffic, signage, parking, traffic signals or related matters by sending an email to him at email@example.com, with a copy to Madison Town Engineer Michael Ott at firstname.lastname@example.org, and to the Madison Police Department Executive Assistant to the Chief Christie Hodge at email@example.com.
"That is put into our traffic log and we start the process on a first-in, first-out basis," he said. "So if [Colleen] would like to send me an email with any specifics she wants to put in about the accident, or request to have a review made, I would welcome that."
Cartledge said the review will take into account the fact that it is a state road, but also a town road, along with traffic speeds, the number of traffic accidents, and other factors. "We try to take everything into consideration and respond as favorably as we can," he said.
Despite the fact that she almost died twice several months ago, Colleen at first seems like just the person to take on such a task.
Dressed in red, and looking radiant
At her home in Clinton, on Monday evening, the night after the second accident, a door opens from a back room where Colleen has been receiving care from a visiting nurse.
The first clue we have that Colleen is on her way to the front room is that Sedona, Colleen's dog, stands up, grabs her blue squishy bone and heads over to greet Colleen, tail wagging wildly. Sedona walks with a limp and carefully. She is blind. Still, she's the first to know that Colleen is all set with her session and on her way. Colleen walks slowly in to the front room, dressed in red and looking radiant.
Colleen calls Sedona "her soul" because Sedona has been with Colleen for so long, and through other troubles. Despite Sedona's physical problems, she's pretty clear about her mission in life. She loves to swim and loves to fetch and loves Colleen and Sean.
Colleen walks slowly over to a chair, where she stops.
Whispered words of encouragement, and then tears
Sean, who stood up when Colleen walked into the room, walks over to Colleen, gently takes her arms and whispers words of encouragement as this woman, who not too long ago rode her bike for thousands of miles and participated in triathlons, slowly, painfully lowers herself, with Sean's support, into a chair. Yes, she's made a remarkable recovery so far, but she still has a long way to go before she is healed.
The organs, the muscles, the bones, the sinews, the veins, and the arteries in her pelvic area and leg were decimated. The surgeons are carefully rebuilding her. In the meantime she is in excruciating pain.
Sean has been devoted. He helps her and attends to her needs. She says she is so grateful for all he has done, but misses what they had before the accident. "I lay there feeling humiliated and gross," she says, while he unpacks and packs her wounds with gauze and changes her dressings before they go to bed.
She talks about the accident Sunday night, but with difficulty. Her smile fades, tears come to her eyes and Sean takes her hand.
"Up until last night, I was just in survival mode"
"I started thinking, am I cursed? What are the odds that someone blows the same stop sign and runs right into us?" she asks. She is silent for a moment, then wipes away the tears and continues. "But perhaps if this second accident didn't happen I wouldn't feel as fueled up as I do. Up until last night I was just in survival mode. I just wanted to heal."
Sean and Colleen said the emergency responders from Madison have told them they have responded to many other accidents in that area of Boston Post Road over the years.
Colleen says she has had many moments of anger and despair during her recovery. "I sob every day. I have panic attacks. I have anxiety. I'm a mess," she said. But she said she also considers it something of a miracle that she is still alive.
"What is it going to take for something to get changed?"
"This happened and I'm still alive. They keep telling me that if I wasn't a conditioned athlete, I would be dead right now," said Colleen, who used to ride her bike hundreds of miles on fund-raising trips for causes she believed in. "I flat-lined. I had to be resuscitated. I almost bled out several times."
"What is it going to take for something to get changed at that intersection?" she asked. "Is it going to take someone dying? It's a dangerous road. I am so angry. What if that girl [driving the car Sunday afternoon] had killed someone? For the rest of her life, she would be haunted."
In fact, Colleen's and Sean's anger now is not directed at the driver of the car Sunday, or even at the truck driver in the October accident. Their anger, and subsequent desire for change, is leveled directly at the triangular intersection in front of the Old School House Deli plaza, where Neck Road empties out on to Boston Post Road.
A complicated intersection
Neck Road splits off into two directions where it meets the Boston Post Road. From either split of the y-shaped intersection, drivers can turn right or left. In addition, drivers coming from the parking lot of the plaza, which includes a package store and another store, can turn right or left, from two entrances onto the Boston Post Road. So drivers coming from Neck Road on to the Boston Post Road have to evaluate traffic coming from multiple entrances before making a choice to pull on to the Boston Post Road, where traffic is traveling at 40 mph and that's only if people are going the speed limit. Many drivers travel much faster. Complicating that is a curve and small rise just before that intersection that conceals traffic coming from Guilford until right before it gets to the intersection.
So if a driver at the left fork of the Neck Road (as you look at the Boston Post Road) looks left first, then looks right to evaluate all of the other options before pulling out, they have to look left again before making the decision to pull out, then right again, then left again to make sure it's safe. Some drivers do, some don't. Then they have to floor it to make it out into the intersection safely before more traffic comes from the direction of Guilford or from the parking lot of the deli. Complicating matters is that on foggy or rainy nights, it's dark, even with the lights. On Monday night, the night after the second accident, the light right above the left fork of Neck Road was out, making visibility even worse than it usually is. If it's just snowed, snowbanks limit visibility as well. And there are driveways from homes on Boston Post Road emptying on to the road as well.
"That's insane," Colleen says of the intersection. She wants to take it on and change it. Colleen says she's a fighter. "I wasn't supposed to walk for six months, but I'm walking now."
"Somebody will be taken out of this world ... I don't want that to happen"
She said a light, and a bike path, on Boston Post Road are both worth fighting for. "If something isn't done, someone could get killed. Somebody's mother. Somebody's kid. Somebody's grandparent will be taken out of this world. I don't want that to happen."
Colleen knows she has to go slow, because she still has so much healing to do, and so many difficult and complicated operations to get through. She also needs to rest and get well. She hopes she can find people to help her with her quest.
She and Sean have already received some support that is helping them through these hard times. Colleen did lose her job, but she was able to retain her insurance benefits at least for the next few months. Their landlord offered to let them stay free in their house they are renting.
"We want to put our energy to a higher use"
Instead, Colleen and Sean decided they would pay half of the rent each month, and they plan to pay back the rest when they are able. Still, they said, if not for the generosity of their landlord, they would not have been able to stay in their home.
They hope they will similarly find support as they ask for a traffic light and bike path on Boston Post Road.
"We both think that a higher power is telling us to do something about this," Sean says. "Instead of getting angry, we want to put our energy to a higher use."