Display of gratitude from accident victim

Gesture: A judge seriously injured in a car crash places a newspaper ad to thank those who saved his life.

May 25, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

His Saturday began like most others. District Judge Askew W. Gatewood Jr. did yard work at his house in West Baltimore and then took a drive.

But as he was driving in the 300 block of Frankfurst Ave. in southern Baltimore, a gray van struck his 1997 Mercedes, causing him to lose control of the car and strike a light pole.

After emergency crews cut Gatewood out of the car, he was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where doctors initially feared he wouldn't last through the night.

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Gatewood survived. And, nearly a year after the crash, he returned to the bench last month. To show his gratitude, he placed a prominent advertisement in The Sun this week, a day after the first anniversary of the accident.

"A year ago yesterday, the Southern District Division of the Baltimore City Police, Baltimore City Fire Department & Doctors & Staff of Shock Trauma, Joined Together To Rescue Me and Restore My Life. Thanks Again."

Gatewood, a Baltimore native who has been a city District Court judge since 1984, said he thought about having a lunch or picnic for the people who helped him.

"But I wanted something that everybody could see," Gatewood said. "I thought about a billboard over the Hanover Street Bridge, because it's in the Southern District, but I wondered whether the doctors would see it."

Not one to draw attention to himself, Gatewood was hesitant about being interviewed. He consented, he said, because he wants everyone involved to know how much he appreciates what they did: from the women he barely remembers standing at the car seconds after the accident, telling him they'd gotten a partial license number from the van, to the paramedics, firefighters, officers and hospital staff.

"What I'm really saying is, now that you've got me back together, thanks again," Gatewood said, sitting in his judge's chambers on North Avenue. "I'm riding around. I'm back at work. Thanks again."

Those who know Gatewood, 51, aren't surprised by the ad.

"I heard he goes to all lengths when he appreciates something," said Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, a chief resident in orthopedic surgery at Union Memorial Hospital. Douoguih was on rotation at Shock Trauma the night of Gatewood's accident and assisted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Andrew R. Burgess in operating on him. "Everyone I've talked to said that he's one of the most generous people you'd ever meet."

Officer Joseph Goldberg of the police department's Southern District said the ad is indicative of Gatewood's character.

"He's that type of guy that would say `Thank you' and not forget it," Goldberg said. "He's just a good all-around guy. Everybody likes him."

A 26-year veteran of the police force, Goldberg has seen many accidents. But nothing had prepared him for May 19 last year.

"The call came out as an accident originally," Goldberg said. "Whatever officer got there first called for an ambulance, and said it was real serious and didn't look like the guy was breathing. Then he got back on the radio and said, `Hey, it looks like it's Judge Gatewood.' I got in my cruiser and took off when I heard his name."

The driver of the van fled the scene, leaving Gatewood with several broken bones, including his left femur, which required emergency surgery.

"There was a trauma team that took care of his initial resuscitation," Douoguih recalled. "He was pretty bad off at first."

Burgess remembers being struck by how many people rallied behind the judge.

"We were overwhelmed by the sort of instant community support," Burgess said. "He seemed to be a really neat person from the beginning, and we heard he was a judge early on. We try to treat everybody the same, whether they're coming from the streets or a supposed VIP. Community leaders and family were at his side in a show of support that you rarely see here."

Gatewood spent about 10 days in Shock Trauma before being transferred to Kernan Hospital. He underwent more than 100 physical therapy sessions. He returned to the bench last month.

Although Gatewood's life seems to be back to normal, the experience has changed him. His sister, Pimlico Middle School teacher Barbara Kelly, has seen a difference.

"He has made sizable donations for different things that are going on," Kelly said. "He takes more time with you than before. He used to always be on the go, always busy, and now I see him spending more time with people."

Gatewood also has formed close bonds with Douoguih and Burgess.

"I have developed friendships through operating on people and treating people, but none as close as this," Douoguih said. "I consider him to be my mentor and my friend."

The judge acknowledged that he's more appreciative of even the "little things."

"I have to say that [before the accident] I took life for granted, by comparison," Gatewood said. "Being in a situation where someone has told you that they had to hit you twice with those [defibrillator] paddles to bring you back here, now every day is a good day."

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