Statement of Dena Parker
March 23, 2004
My name is Dena Parker and I live in Childress, Texas. On the morning of August 29, 2001, my life took a devastating turn when I received the call that my husband Patrick had been in an automobile accident. I learned later that his neck was broken when his Superduty Ford F250 Supercab pickup truck rolled over and crashed. Patrick was still hanging upside down, strapped in by his seatbelt, as rescuers attempted to cut him out of the crushed truck cab with the jaws of life. Patrick has been living as a quadriplegic since that morning.
My husband worked for a utility company for 15 years. In 2001, he was assigned a new company vehicle, a 2001 Superduty F250 Supercab pickup truck. This “super heavy duty” work truck was dangerous, although its danger was hidden to us. My husband left for work early that morning while it was still dark, on his way to Wichita Falls, traveling on highway 287. About 30 minutes after he left our house, I received a phone call. The caller told me my husband had been in an accident, and when I began to panic, she told me that he had hit his head, but that he seemed fine. She said that my husband was talking to the people on the scene of the accident, and that he had given them my name and number and told them to call me. I drove to the emergency room in Quanah, Texas, where Patrick was taken. When I saw him lying there, I asked him if he was okay. I’ll never forget that moment, although at the time, I could not accept it, and still to this day am in disbelief that this happened to us. He said, “No, Dena. I can’t feel my legs.” I started to cry, and told him it would be okay.
I asked Patrick what happened. He told me he had hit a deer. Patrick avoided the first deer, but as he was correcting, he struck a second deer and lost control. The truck rolled. The rollover itself didn’t hurt my husband. He was injured when the roof of the Ford pickup crushed in on him. His spinal cord was nearly severed when his neck was broken, rendering him a quadriplegic at the age of 37. Our lives are forever changed.
Each morning now, it takes three hours to help him get up, eat breakfast, take a shower and get dressed. He has chronic nerve pain in his legs and has described the pain as “feeling like skin is being ripped off, like he’s in a microwave oven.” There are no words to describe what it’s like to watch the one you love suffer and be unable to help him. To understand the nightmare of this injury you must live it, though no one should have to. Every day you wake up hoping for something, anything, to get better.
Patrick has fought so hard trying to regain whatever function possible doing aggressive forced-use therapies, laser puncture, functional electrical stimulation, and other therapies, but with little result other than to maintain his body as best he can, attempting to keep his muscles from atrophying, his bones from becoming brittle and breaking, trying to keep from getting pressure sores, or injuring himself unknowingly as he has lost all normal “feeling” just below shoulder level. It’s an ongoing battle that never ends, but we fight it every day, hoping and praying for a breakthrough in stem cell research for spinal cord injury (SCI) within our lifetime.
As time passed, I began to hear other stories about other people involved in rollover accidents, some walking away, some, like my husband, not. I started researching and began to understand fully how my husband never had a chance. I learned about how the auto industry has refused to act on the knowledge and facts that they have long had, and failed to improve the “roof crush” standard, which tests the strength on only one side of a vehicle with the windshield intact to a maximum of only 1 ½ times the vehicle’s weight. I also learned that if a vehicle’s gross weight is more than 6,000 pounds, it doesn’t have to meet any roof crush standard, although the auto maker claimed my husband’s work truck did. I am not an engineer or an expert, but common sense tells me that glass will hold a great deal of pressure. Common sense also tells me it will break and then be unable to hold anything. Such a test does nothing to protect anyone involved in a real rollover accident. I know now that there are foreign automakers that have testing that better simulates the circumstances involving a real rollover, thereby enabling people to walk away from rollover accidents. A rollover standard should simulate actual rollover conditions, regardless if it is a dynamic or static test. I read that Ford owns Volvo, and later found out about the Volvo XC90, which has a roof that can hold well over three times the vehicle’s weight and beats our roof crush standard by more than 100 percent. If my husband had been in a vehicle such as that, he would have walked away, but my husband was driving a super heavy-duty work truck. We were shocked to find out that there are vehicles that weigh less, even passenger cars, that have thicker materials in the roof structure than that super heavy-duty F250 did. We learned that the A pillars had been downgauged (thickness of the metal for that part decreased) on two occasions, and that it also had an “open section header” connecting the A pillars, whereas even the F150 had a “closed section header.” This vehicle was unreasonably dangerous and my husband never had a chance.
The auto industry has been blaming drivers for these unnecessary injuries. People hear propaganda from automakers as they watch the commercials on TV about how strong and safe their trucks and cars are built. But, the auto industry has used excuses all these years NOT to do the right thing. There is a simple solution to avoid debilitating injuries like Patrick’s: Our government must protect consumers by forcing automakers to follow a tougher standard on roof strength. We have side impact tests and front bumper tests but a joke of a roof crush test.
Due to medical complications related to Patrick’s injury, we are unable to travel at this time to Washington, D.C., or we would be there to ask lawmakers face-to-face to step in and protect Americans. For now, the signatures I am gathering on a petition will be my plea to Congress to improve roof safety in vehicles.