Catching up with ... Golf champion recovering slowly after accident

Karen Darrington says, ‘This has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.’

kterhune@idahostatesman.comJanuary 1, 2014 

Karen Darrington says she’s grateful for the encouragement her husband, Phil, right, and others have given her as she heals from being hit by a car Oct. 7.

PROVIDED BY KAREN DARRINGTON

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  • Other victims recuperating as well

    The other eight people who were injured in the crash are doing well, family member Travis Hobson said.

    “Most everybody is healing at a normal or acceptable rate and is back on track towards a full recovery,” he said.

    Hobson, who was at the church to attend his mother’s funeral when the crash happened, said Darrington’s injuries were the worst of the group. The 5-year-old boy who was run over — who with Darrington was one of the last to leave the hospital — has returned to school.

    “We’re just happy that everyone is happy and healthy and alive,” Hobson said.

  • Driver faces misdemeanor charge

    Lafoy Richards, 86, was not cited immediately after the Oct. 7 accident because Richards’ vehicle was going to be inspected for possible mechanical problems, the investigating officer wrote in the incident report. A misdemeanor charge of inattentive or careless driving was filed on Oct. 30.

    Richards is scheduled to enter a plea on Jan. 8 at a “pro se” arraignment, which means he was not represented by an lawyer at the time the hearing was scheduled. The summons issued in the case alleges Richards drove across the LDS church parking lot “in an inattentive, careless or imprudent manner.”

    Richards declined to talk to the Statesman about the case, referring questions to his insurance agent, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

    The accident happened at about 2:45 p.m. Here’s what occurred, according to the incident report filed the next day:

    Richards’s car was backed into a parking space on the west side of the church property on West McMillan Road. He told investigators he started his 2003 Toyota Avalon and shifted it into drive, “at which point the vehicle rapidly accelerated eastbound across the parking lot.”

    The Toyota sideswiped a hearse and a handicap parking sign, then hit nine people who were standing on the grass or sidewalk. All were part of or attending the funeral.

Almost three months after Karen Darrington was hit by a car as she mingled with friends after a funeral, she is determined to return to the game she loves.

Darrington, 55, was one of nine people hurt when a sedan plowed into the crowd outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel on the corner of West McMillan Road and North Shamrock Avenue on Oct. 7.

The car, which was driven by Lafoy Richards, 86, according to police, hit her without warning moments after she had stopped to chat with a friend.

“I didn’t hear the car, I didn’t hear any screaming,” she said.

The force of the impact lifted her onto the white Toyota Avalon. Darrington remembers the moment she realized the car was barreling toward the brick wall of the church as she remained crumpled on the hood.

At the last moment, the driver swerved, throwing Darrington off the hood and onto the ground. Her head slammed into the concrete hard enough to fracture her skull.

Still, she counts herself lucky.

“If he hadn’t turned I wouldn’t have survived, I don’t think, if I had hit the building,” she said.

Darrington opened her eyes to see a young man standing over her, praying.

“In our church, when people are ill or hurt, they give them what’s called a priesthood blessing,” she explained.

The lawn was strewn with others who had been hit, including a 5-year-old boy whose legs were broken when the car ran him over.

Emergency vehicles were already speeding toward the church, past Darrington’s husband, Phil, who had left the funeral a few minutes before his wife.

Police initially classified her injuries as “life-threatening.” Her temporal bone — at the side and base of the skull and surrounding her ear — was broken, and she had bleeding on the brain, doctors said.

Witnesses to the crash helped Darrington piece together what happened. Her memories of the eight-day hospital stay that followed are fuzzy.

Recovery is going well, if agonizingly slow, she said in December.

“I’m not a patient person; I like to be doing things,” she said. “It’s been really hard. I pretty much just stay at home.”

For a woman accustomed to being on the go, the new homebound lifestyle rankles.

“I’ve been going to the gym and getting in the swimming pool and trying to exercise in the pool,” she said.

Darrington wants to hit the course, climb on a bicycle, get out of the house.

The crash left her with back pain that never seemed to ease. Darrington scheduled physical therapy appointments, hoping it would help.

“(The therapist) was working on my back, but after three weeks it just wasn’t getting any better,” she said.

Although Darrington had already been subjected to numerous tests and scans, her doctor suggested an MRI, just in case.

The test revealed Darrington had a fractured sacrum, a triangular bone in the lower back, just above the tailbone and inside the pelvis. The injury had been missed during her hospital stay, she said.

It took time to notice other problems. Darrington lost her senses of taste, smell and hearing in her left ear when her head hit the ground.

“I didn’t realize that until I got home from the hospital; I had too many other issues I was dealing with,” she said.

A specialist said Darrington’s hearing may return as her ear heals. The rest is still in limbo.

“The taste and the smell, they may or may not come back,” she said. “I’ve lost some weight because I don’t really want to eat. I have to force myself to eat.”

For now, there’s nothing to do but wait — for the bones to mend, for promising news from a doctor, for spring.

Spring is golfing season.

“(I) put my clubs away in October and don’t get them out again until February, so I’m used to not playing this time of the year anyway,” Darrington said.

Doctors have cautioned her against strenuous activity too soon, so her golfing equipment remains put away for now.

“I haven’t tried yet,” she said. “I’ve done some exercises at the gym that simulate swinging.“

But Darrington is adamant that her injuries will not keep her from golf.

“I definitely plan on getting back into it,” she said. “That’s what I love to do, and it gives me a goal to work to while I’m laid up a little bit.”

A Twin Falls native, golfing was not originally part of Darrington’s plans. She attended Brigham Young University on a basketball scholarship. It was there she was convinced by a friend to try her hand at a different sport.

“One of my friends that I met in the dorms was on the golf team,” she said.

Darrington owned a set of clubs, but rarely used them.

“We’d hit whiffle balls off the mezzanine in the dorm, and she’d give me some tips,” she said. “The golf coach said, ‘Well, why don’t you come to practice?’ ”

Darrington did.

“I was really not very good back then,” she said.

But she was good enough to make the team, beating out another contender by only one stroke. After her freshman year ended in 1977, Darrington decided to focus on golf instead of basketball.

“I’ve just been playing ever since,” she said. “I just love the game, and I can’t believe how long it’s been.”

Darrington went on to win the Idaho Golf Association Women’s Amateur championships six times between 1979 and 1992.

Although she did not know the driver before the funeral, Richards and his wife came to visit Darrington in the hospital and again after she was released.

Darrington said she does not blame Richards for her injuries.

“I have no animosity towards them whatsoever: It was just an accident, a freak accident,” she said. “Fortunately, no one was killed, and we’re all getting better, so it’s just kind of a learning experience for all of us.”

She is grateful for her husband and three children who help and encourage her, and the friends who come by to visit, go for a walk or take her out to lunch.

“I’ve really been overwhelmed by all the love and compassion people have shown.”

The Statesman’s Kris Rodine contributed.

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