For Bernard and Margie deWit, the past three years have been a bittersweet reminder of the life they live and life they used to live.
Today is the fourth anniversary of the I-75 crash involving 25 cars that killed 11 people. That crash irreparably changed the deWit’s lives when their 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada was hit from behind by a UPS truck while parked in a cloud of smoke and fog.
The deWits have filed a lawsuit against the United Parcel Service for damages due to auto negligence in their accident.
The deWits were traveling southbound on I-75 from Michigan around 4:00 a.m. on January 29, 2012 when they approached dense fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire in Paynes Prairie, according to the Florida Highway Patrol report. Bernard deWit was following the taillights of a semi-truck. When he could no longer see its lights, he pulled over to a complete stop.
“He pulled off to the right side, what he thought was the right side of the road,” said Deborah Drylie, the couple’s attorney.
DeWit had in actuality stopped in the far right lane.
Upon stopping, Bernard awoke his wife, who had been sleeping, so they could decide how best to deal with the situation. As Margie deWit took off her seatbelt to exit the Bravada, they were rear-ended by Terry G. Stone, who was driving the UPS tractor-trailer, according to court records.
Drylie said Margie deWit was unconscious after the accident.
“Bernie tried to wake her and he couldn’t. It took some period of time before rescue was able to get to where they were because of a series of subsequent collisions that had happened,” said Drylie.
Margie deWit was taken to UF Health Shands where she was diagnosed with serious brain injury. She underwent surgery there and remained at the hospital for five weeks. She was then airlifted to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the couple lives, and was in an intensive rehabilitation facility for six weeks.
“She now requires 24-hour care because there are a number of things she cannot do by herself. It’s still difficult for her to talk, to talk in a way that you can understand her. She needs assistance with pretty much all of her activities, what are called activities of daily living,” said Drylie.
Bernard deWit was also injured in the crash. He had surgery for a detached retina and suffers from a back injury, according to Drylie.
“He’s also obviously had to adjust to a life with his wife of 41 years who is never going to be the same,” said Drylie. The couple has declined to speak directly with WUFT News at this time.
The deWits retained an accident reconstruction expert who met with UPS personnel to obtain information from the UPS truck at the time of the crash.
“There has been a review of something called the black box or a download from the UPS vehicle that shows that the speed that he was traveling at the time of the impact was approximately 30 miles per hour,” said Drylie.
Drylie believes the UPS driver should have pulled his vehicle over when he entered the fog and smoke bank instead of continuing to drive.
When contacted about the case, UPS spokesman, Dan McMackin told WUFT News, “It is our policy not to comment on pending or current litigation.”
Drylie said the deWits waited until now to file their lawsuit because they were watching to see how Margie deWit would recover and believe that, despite hope, it has become apparent she will not recover more than she has.
Her current medical expenses total more than $1 million. Their lawsuit seeks damages for those medical expenses, plus pain and suffering, and lost wages from UPS. Drylie did not have an estimate yet for that total amount.