The Edmond Sun

April 10, 2013

Parents of car surfing victim speak out

Dad: ‘It’s the telephone call that no parent wants to get’

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — It was a about 8 p.m. March 22, a Friday, when Shelley Smith answered the phone from a number she didn’t recognize.

Police officers and other first responders were in the 2000 block of Running Branch Road where they found two teens lying in the street, according to an incident report filed by Officer Danny Austill. Fire and EMSA personnel were tending to the victims.

The teens had been riding on the outside of a Chevrolet Blazer, the report stated. One had been on the rear bumper holding onto a luggage rack. The other had been lying on the roof.

Officers took measurements and calculated the vehicle was traveling somewhere between 48-50 mph in the residential neighborhood, the report stated. After being ejected and tumbling away from the vehicle, Luke Smith, 14, collided with a mailbox. The impact left scuff marks from his jeans.

Phil Smith, Shelley’s husband and Luke’s father, said it was the telephone call no parent wants to get. The caller said they were at the scene of an accident and their son Luke was on the way to the hospital in an ambulance. Shelley called 911 and found out he was being transported to OU Medical Center, what Phil called the best trauma center of its kind in the state.

“That’s the kind of care he needed,” he said, his wife standing at his side as they spoke to reporters Wednesday morning at the Pediatric Medical Rehab Unit at The Children’s Center in Bethany. “Everything beyond that was a blur. I think we went into shock.”

At the hospital they were briefed about Luke’s injuries. They had no idea about their son’s prognosis or possibilities. That night, doctors performed an emergency procedure to relieve the pressure on Luke’s brain from a head injury. The next day he was stable enough to have his femur repaired.

It was not until Sunday afternoon that they were able to reduce Luke’s sedation level and bring him out of unconsciousness.

“We knew that he knew who he was and that he knew who we were,” Phil said, visibly struggling with the emotions related to retelling the story. “And every fear that we had at that point, for me, turned into extreme gratitude. We know that we still have a lot of work to do. But we know that the possibility of a full recovery is there.”

OU Physicians Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon T.R. Lewis said the type of injuries Luke suffered would be on par with those from a high-speed crash on an interstate, or if someone rolled their car down an embankment or fell from a very high height.

Falling from a car at a high rate of speed compounds the type of injuries, Lewis said. Luke broke his hand, his pelvis, his left femur, a substantial injury in and of itself, and he suffered a ligament issue in his left ankle. All those things complicate his rehabilitation, Lewis said.

“In general we have to advise our kids that they’re in charge of very dangerous toys lots of times whether that be a car or an ATV or a side-by-side utility vehicle,” Lewis said. “All those can result in lethal force against a young body.”

Jennifer Parrott, pediatric trauma program coordinator at The Children’s Center, said if someone escapes from car surfing with a few broken bones or abrasions they are lucky. Parrott said Luke’s injuries are to be expected from this type of activity.

“Anything less than that you’re very lucky to get away with,” Parrott said.

Justin Ramsey, M.D., a physician at The Children’s Center, said his expectation at the time of the accident would have been Luke would need multiple tests and multiple interventions.

“But Luke is doing extremely well,” Ramsey said.

Phil said he and Shelley owe a debt of thanks to the first responders who were at the scene, the medical staff at OU Medical Center and staff at The Children’s Center. He also thanked those who spread the word about the accident, resulting in thousands of prayers being said for the family.

“We believe that that has really made a difference in this entire story, what I have to call our miracle,” he said.

According to an article published in “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” since 1990 at least 99 people have died or sustained serious injuries as a result of car surfing.  

The second victim remained unconscious for 16 days before opening his eyes, Austill stated. At last check, he remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit. A number of teens were in the vehicle at the time of the incident. In a previous report, spokeswoman Jenny Monroe said the Edmond Police Department would be exploring possible criminal charges with the district attorney this week. | 341-2121, ext. 108