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Irrevocable Damage : Victim of Freeway Tragedy Struggles to Control Bouts of Rage, Forge New Life

February 19, 1990|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the night of Feb. 29, 1988--a leap day in a leap year--Kurt Meyering and his girlfriend, Jane Casey, were heading north on Interstate 5, minutes after picking up Casey's new car, a bright red Corvette with a removable plexiglass roof.

They were listening to rock music at top volume on the car's pulsating sound system. As Meyering would say later, it was like a snapshot of the California dream--cruising on the freeway, in a " 'Vette," no less, with the skyline of "America's Finest City" in the distance and nothing but good vibrations on the road ahead.

It was every bit that way until "the incident."

The incident, as friends and family members refer to it, with a scowl or a sigh of resignation, forever changed Kurt Meyering's life. The miracle is that Meyering, then 24, lived at all.

He was driving the 1984 Corvette; Casey was in the passenger seat. As the car approached the Broadway overpass, a 6 1/2-pound chunk of concrete was hurled toward the car.

The projectile, which court records indicate was about the size of a cantaloupe and carried the force of an object traveling at 65 m.p.h., crashed through the car roof and struck the top of Meyering's head, shattering his skull.

Almost two years later, Meyering, a former fashion model, is unemployed and may never work again. Doctors say he has permanent brain damage but is lucky to be alive.

He lives with his family in Wenatchee, Wash., where his father sells and repairs televisions. Meyering is almost totally dependent on his mother, who gave up her job in an apple-processing factory to care for him full time. The family calls hers a labor of limitless love.

Doctors say Meyering, 26, has the intellectual ability of an 8-year-old. He suffers seizures, which leave him limp, weary and paralyzed with fear, sometimes for hours afterward. He cannot drive a car or ride a bicycle, and he worries that he has no chance for a love life.

He is estranged from Casey. For reasons the family declined to discuss, Casey and Meyering no longer keep in touch. They don't even know her whereabouts.

Meyering's mother says that Kurt sometimes lapses into fits of rage at teen-agers--the two boys implicated in the incident were ages 13 and 15--and at bicyclists or skateboarders who don't wear helmets. Sensitive to a fault, he doesn't want what happened to him to happen to them.

Like a child, Meyering has had to learn--or relearn--how to feed, dress and bathe himself and go to the bathroom without his mother's help.

He says he has no sense of smell, can no longer tap his foot to the music he craves (Culture Club and The Cure) and worries that, if anything ever happened to Trouble, his cat, he would fall apart. Meyering said "Rain Man," about an autistic savant, was the first movie he has "gotten into" since the incident. He loves the film, especially Dustin Hoffman's performance as the savant, "because that's me up there--that's a movie about me."

Last week, Meyering returned to San Diego to visit friends and consult with attorneys who have filed a $10-million lawsuit on his behalf, naming the state as primary defendant. The state is accused of failing to provide a proper guardrail on the overpass from which the teen-agers, each with a troubled past, hurled the concrete object that irrevocably altered Meyering's life.

David Rosenberg, Meyering's attorney, called $10 million "a realistic value for damages, because what we have here is a human being that was not what he was before."

Rosenberg said the suit also names C.A. Larson Construction, which managed the site where the teen-agers picked up the concrete chunk. Another suit, initially dismissed but now being appealed, seeks damages from General Motors, maker of the Corvette, and the dealership that sold Casey the car.

In an interview with The Times, Meyering said he longed to drive to the overpass and photograph it. He said he wants to remember the place where "the old Kurt died and a new one was born."

"I want to see the doctors who put my brain back together, and the one who saved my life by stopping on the freeway and helping me," he said. "I want to see the place where I lost two years of my life. I wish I had lost my arm, or my leg, but I lost a big chunk of my life.

"The hardest part for me has been hope--false hope. I want to be the self I used to be but can't be. I've lost a lot but do have a lot of hope. I can almost reach out and touch it, like a $1-million bill right there in front of me. But when I reach to grab it, it flies away. I miss San Diego a lot, but it scares the hell out of me. I feel I have to come here, though, to close one chapter and open a new one."

To a stranger, Meyering hardly appears unusual. He doesn't look much different from the man his best friend said women used to call "the hunk." He is tall and strong, with dark curls and a wispy Viennese beard. A cross dangles from one earlobe, a thin ring from another.

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