It’s amazing how perspective can alter the perception of a death-defying car crash.
Consider Lacy Olson. The Omaha woman’s 4-year-old son, Zaedyn Olson, suffered a head injury when Olson’s boyfriend, Marquel Carter — strung out on drugs — caused two crashes. One nearly killed Zaedyn in his car and an elderly man in another. Zaedyn spent several days in Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
Wednesday, Olson stood literally and figuratively beside her man. She asked a judge to put Carter on probation.
“Luckily, (Zaedyn) fully recovered,” she said. “You wouldn’t even know anything happened to him.”
Consider Matthew Stratton. He saw his father, Gene Stratton, a retired jeweler and Union Pacific yard master, nearly killed by Carter’s actions. The crash not only broke Gene Stratton’s collarbone and four ribs — it literally knocked the fillings out of his teeth. He was 88 at the time.
Carter “almost killed my daddy,” Stratton said quietly outside court Wednesday. “I just wanted to be here to speak for him.”
Consider Judge Shelly Stratman. She has sentenced defendants for horrible fatal crashes. Never had she seen a wreck where everyone survived but had such wildly different views of the crash’s impact.
In one row of her courtroom, she had a victim’s mother advocating for the defendant boyfriend. In the other, she had a victim’s son detailing the toll the crash took on his father. At the defense table, she had a young man spilling tears over his actions.
“I don’t think you appreciate how bad it could have been,” Stratman told Carter. “I know (your girlfriend) says her son is OK. But there is an impact on another life that no amount of time can make up for. ... You’re fortunate no one died — and there isn’t a whole group of people here demanding that you be incarcerated for the rest of your life.”
Instead, Stratman sentenced the 28-year-old to 8 to 12 years in prison — a term that is cut in half under state law — for convictions on driving drunk, causing serious bodily injury, child abuse and leaving the scene of a personal injury crash.
Carter’s past includes a felony gun conviction and a lengthy list of misdemeanors for drugs, and last August, with his drug use spiraling, he went on a one-man tear.
Though he had never obtained a driver’s license, Carter drove Zaedyn to get a haircut. While Zaedyn sat in the barber’s chair, Carter sat in the parking lot — smoking “wet,” marijuana laced with PCP.
After the haircut, Carter put Zaedyn in the back seat, sans car seat or seat belt. He then promptly ran his 2013 Ford Focus into the rear bumper of a car carrying two women near 40th and Hamilton Streets. One woman hit her head on the windshield.Both suffered relatively minor injuries.
Carter sped away. Another motorist followed him. With Zaedyn unrestrained in the back seat, Carter weaved through traffic, hitting 85 mph on busy Military Avenue.
At Decatur Street, Gene Stratton, elderly but still fiercely independent, was on his way to a recycling center. He stopped, looked both ways and pulled across Military as Carter’s Focus screamed into his left front fender. The collision sent Stratton’s van spinning into a light pole.
Stratton spent the next two months fighting for his life. His son, Matthew, rattled off the numbers: 59 days, three emergency rooms, three hospitals, a collarbone broken in two places, four broken ribs, 121 pokes of his skin, one heart stoppage (he quickly revived) and one bout of pneumonia that nearly killed him.
“It was really rough,” Matthew Stratton said. “I credit part of (his survival) to clean living — doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink. This is a man I’ve never even heard say a cuss word.”
He’s tough, in part because of his decades in the rail yards and in part because of his faith. Gene Stratton’s interests have been varied: He could build a garage, compose a painting or set a diamond.
Or nab a catfish. Matthew Stratton recalled the day before the wreck, when he and his father went fishing at Two Rivers State Park. Then came the wreck. The injuries. The recovery. The resilience.
Two months after the crash, in mid-October, Gene Stratton finally went home to reunite with Irene, his wife of 65 years.
Matthew Stratton, one of six children and the youngest of four sons, was there. He fought off tears Wednesday as he recounted the sight — and his father’s fight.
“He kept saying, ‘I’m not ready (to die) yet,’ ” Matthew Stratton said. “I’m so grateful he’s still with us.”