Terrible, late-night call, and family's ordeal begins Victim of drunken driver outlived chance for justice Chance to give final gift denied

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH A

March 08, 1992|By Mary Knudson | Mary Knudson,Staff Writer

Dinner was particularly good that night. David and I had eaten while we watched "Jeopardy" and talked over the day's activities. I remember so well how happy he was. He and Linda had just become engaged two weeks ago and they were both so excited. He planned to meet her at her house around 8:30 that night, but he hesitated in the hallway while we watched something very funny on TV. Then, because he thought he might be late, he phoned Lin and left a really silly message on her machine, said goodbye and left. That was the last time I saw my son as I had known him.

-- Nicci Bojanowski

David's mother

David was never conscious after the injury he suffered that night. But almost every day of the next 55 weeks, his mother and fiancee sat with him, in a hope for recovery that came to seem increasingly frustrated, meaningless, expensive and futile.

After a time, out of love, they both came to wish him dead -- as David himself would wish, they said, if he could speak. A rabbi and a priest agreed. But in Pennsylvania and Maryland, medicine, the law, bureaucracy, good intentions, bad information, institutional concerns, a kind of sabotage, perhaps, and the public guarantee of almost a half-million dollars in medical bills all combined to keep David alive for more than a year after he had ceased to show any signs of intelligent life. He had signed no papers saying that he would wish it otherwise, and no one had the authority to speak for him.

When finally he did succumb, he had outlived the ancient common law of Maryland, which holds that death must occur within a year of the assault for murder or manslaughter to be charged. As a result of this case, the legislature is now considering a bill to overturn that custom, which has existed here since Colonial times.

It was a Monday evening, the first day of October 1990, and juscool enough for a sweater, as David Bojanowski left home in Mount Washington and drove his old white Ford east onto Northern Parkway toward his fiance's home in Govans. He was 26 years old.

At the same time, Thomas Mitchell "T. J." Jones, 29, of 4018 Garrison Blvd. was approaching from the opposite direction in a 1979 Chevy van. He and another workman had been drinking through the day on a home repair job. Now he was taking the company van back to his boss. And he was late.

Nicci Bojanowski was standing in her back yard not long after, watching the darkness, when the staccato roar of a Shock Trauma helicopter overhead ruptured the silence of the night. She noticed that it was trying to land nearby. Lin Bauer, David's fiancee, outside with her dog, Rip, heard it, too.

The accident 15 minutes earlier on Northern Parkway, less than a mile from the Bojanowski home, had been a bad one. Baltimore police said that Mr. Jones, traveling "at an apparent high rate of speed," hit a dip in the road and lost control of his van near the intersection with West Rogers Avenue, close to the Jones Falls Expressway.

The work truck became a clumsy missile, jumping the center curb, crossing the grassy median, ramming the boxy Ford Granada on the driver's side. The car was so crumpled by the cab of the van that Baltimore police listed it as a compact on the accident report.

T. J. Jones, taken to nearby Sinai Hospital with only minor injuries, registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.19, nearly twice the reading necessary to be charged with driving while intoxicated.

David Bojanowski, smashed in his car, was flown to the Shock Trauma Center at University of Maryland Medical Center.

Nicci Bojanowski's phone rang at 11:30 p.m. It was her eldest son, Michael. The state police had found his name in the phone book. When the trooper said David had been pretty banged up, a sharp pain cut down Mike's back. He felt paralyzed. It was at a wedding, just two days before, that David and his girlfriend Lin Bauer had told Mike and his wife, Kathy, that they were going to marry. Now Kathy called Lin. They met at Mrs. Bojanowski's, and Mike drove them all to the Shock Trauma Center.

The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems world famous for pioneering the best in trauma care. Marylanders know it as the Shock Trauma Center. They expect miracles to happen there. Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don't.

The bad news was delivered by two doctors wearing surgical gowns: " 'Your son is in a deep coma," one of them told Mrs. Bojanowski. "He probably won't live. If he does, he will probably not regain consciousness.' "

Mrs. Bojanowski can't remember what was said after that. The room seemed to spin. Her heart was pounding.

Denial crowded out reality in her mind. "This can't be true," she thought. "I just saw him and he was fine."

The doctors took the family to the admitting area. To Mrs. Bojanowski, it looked like a huge airplane hanger with her son lying alone and still in the light:

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