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Legacy in the News: Girl's crash ordeal fans a flame

Front page of The Oregonian

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Last Monday the sun came out in Waldport and Casey Deckard decided to get out of the house. In the years since a drunken driver hit him, he's progressed from wheelchair to crutches, and now leg braces and special shoes allow him to walk about a block without help.

And on this day, he was able to ease the pain by enjoying the sun and finding a bit of peace. All that changed when his wife pulled up in the car.

"I could see something was wrong," he said. "It was in her eyes. They were watery, like she'd been crying. She asked me if I remembered Chris Carlson. Of course I did."

Carlson, who owns a construction company, was once a stranger. Three years ago after Deckard was injured when a drunken driver hit him head on, Carlson sent a crew to Deckard's house at no charge and had them put in a ramp to allow Deckard to recuperate at home instead of a care center.

Carlson's young daughter had been injured -- likely by a drunken driver. She was taken by Life Flight helicopter to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. Just as Deckard had been in 2009.

Katelyn, 9, and her grandparents were headed home from Eugene to Waldport on June 26 when their car was struck by a pickup that crossed the centerline of Oregon 34 near Tidewater. Investigators think alcohol was a factor, said Lt. Gregg Hastings, spokesman for the Oregon State Police. He said the case has been forwarded to the Lincoln County district attorney's office.

The driver, the girl and her grandparents were injured. Katelyn had broken ribs, bruised lungs and tears in her spleen and liver. She was cared for in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel.

In 1988, her aunt and her other grandmother were seriously injured when a drunken driver struck their car near the same location.

"These drunk drivers are driving a loaded gun," Carlson said. "It's tough to think about what's happening to innocent people."

Statistics gathered by Oregon's Fatality Analysis Reporting System the past 25 years show that nearly half of all Fourth of July holiday period traffic fatalities were from alcohol-involved crashes, he said. And since 1970 almost 300 Oregon motorists have died during the holiday.

After seven days in the hospital, his daughter was released and residents welcomed her home. Her injuries opened old wounds for Deckard.

"It's been a horrific journey. My legs were crushed, and I've had 12 surgeries. I have a hard time getting around, and I'm on disability. I've also dealt with depression and anxiety."

"I don't think the public understands the impact and damage of these cases," Deckard said. "They can ruin a life."

As for Katelyn, "Each day she gets a little better, but she will be recovering all summer," Carlson said. "If you look at pictures of the wreck, it's unbelievable that she's alive."

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