In wake of fatal crash, Rockport woman thankful to be alive
Rockport — “It was like he levitated and dropped out of the sky in front of me.”
That was how 55-year-old Deborah Brady of Rockport described the seconds before a northbound vehicle smashed into the front of her SUV while she was driving home from work the evening of Sept. 11— a drive Brady said she's made many, many times in the past without issue.
But this time was different.
As she was leaving work that day — Brady is employed by Sweetser and moves among the organization's various offices depending on staffing levels that day — she thought about stopping in town at Dairy Queen for some ice cream.
She decided not to, though, and started driving south on Route 1, blissfully unaware of the events that would transpire as she neared the Armory.
“I was just driving and suddenly, there were headlights in my face,” Brady said during an Oct. 3 interview. “I don't even remember braking and then there was the crash.”
As she would find out, a vehicle driven by 29-year-old Kevin L. Hustus II of Belfast hit her vehicle head-on.
Hustus, an avid fisherman, hunter and family man, according to his obituary, died at the scene of the crash.
Fatal crash numbers
So far this year, there have been a total of 104 fatal crashes in the state, according to Department of Public Safety Bureau of Highway Safety data.
Nine of those crashes have occurred in Waldo County, three of which happened in Belfast.
Last year there were a total of 156 fatal crashes in the state.
According to the crash report, witnesses told police Hustus' vehicle drifted across the center line as he headed north on Route 1. It is not known what caused him to drive into the opposite lane and the crash remains under investigation.
Dazed and disoriented, Brady recalls looking down and seeing some blood on her arm. Her glasses were knocked off in the crash and she couldn't see clearly, but she said she didn't feel any pain as a result of her then-unknown injuries.
What she did know was that she wanted to get out of her car. First, she tried opening the driver's side door, which wouldn't budge. She also tried the passenger side door.
Finally, desperate to get outside, Brady crawled into the back seat and exited through a rear door in her vehicle. She was met promptly by an unknown woman whom Brady believes identified herself as a nurse. That woman kept Brady near her vehicle as emergency personnel began arriving at the scene.
While waiting by her vehicle, Brady said her vision abruptly went black and she feared the crash had blinded her. Noticing she was distressed, the nurse helped Brady sit back down in her vehicle as EMTs came rushing over. Brady later learned from a doctor that her loss of vision could be attributed to the trauma she suffered in the crash and that it signified she was on the verge of losing consciousness.
Sitting near the twisted wreckage of her vehicle, Brady said she remembers seeing flashing lights as she was loaded onto a gurney and placed in an ambulance. That's also the point when she started feeling the pain of her injuries, she said, as every bump sent white hot bolts of agony through her body.
She was taken first to Waldo County General Hospital but was then airlifted by LifeFlight helicopter — a ride during which Brady said she was convinced she was going to die — to Eastern Maine Medical Center to be treated for a broken arm and fractured sternum.
Before she was transferred, Brady was able to call her husband, Dan, who was asleep at the time. After receiving the somewhat incoherent message, Dan called the hospital and found out Brady had been in a car accident and was being moved to Bangor.
He wasn't able to get to WCGH before she was moved, but eventually found his way to Eastern Maine Medical Center where he spent the night trying to get what sleep he could in a chair in the ER while alternately feeding his wife ice chips.
Brady would remain in the hospital for a couple of days following the crash. At that time, she said everything above her waist was swollen, bruised and hurting.
The pain is manageable, Brady said, and she credits her Saturn SUV as the reason she walked away from the crash alive and without more serious injuries. For a time, she had been driving an older model PT Cruiser, she said, until earlier this spring when she and her husband purchased the SUV.
Had she been in a smaller vehicle, Brady said she doubts she would have survived.
It's been more than three weeks since the crash and Brady said feels better as more time passes. While recovering, she said her neighbors and friends have been bringing her meals and treats, which she happily accepts, and have even offered her rides to her doctor's appointments.
That doesn't mean it's been an easy road for Brady, who said she still feels like there's a yoke around her shoulders causing discomfort that, until recently, would often awaken her in the night. Brady is also working to make peace with the crash that very easily could have claimed her life that September evening.
Even though she relies on her husband or other people for rides, Brady said getting back into a vehicle has been a nerve-wracking experience. As an already self-described “back-seat driver,” Brady said she is now hyper aware of what is going on on the roads around her.
She said she will eventually start driving again but acknowledges the crash has forever changed her perception of the dangers of the road. Also, she said she anticipates it will be a long time before she starts driving at night again.
Even now, weeks after the crash, there are still questions about the night of the crash that she would like answered. What caused Hustus to cross the center line? What if she had stopped for ice cream like she had planned?
The answer to that latter question, Brady said, is that if it wasn't her vehicle that was hit, it could have been someone else, maybe a driver who had a small child in the vehicle. It's a small comfort Brady holds onto as she processes the crash and her emotions related to the incident.
She feels sorry for Hustus' family who have to grieve his death, but sometimes she also feels angry because the crash could have claimed the lives of others. Still, Brady knows the outcome could have been much, much worse.
“I'm very grateful to be alive and breathing,” she said. “Hell, I can walk and I'm not crippled.”