Wreck changes Victoria woman's health, finances forever

Feb. 2, 2013 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 1, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.

She barely survived a rollover accident Sept. 11, when she was ejected, head first, through the windshield.

In November, Roxanne Armstrong, 39, was optimistic as she learned to walk again, with her broken back, broken ribs, broken collar bone and shattered knee and ankle starting to heal.

She hoped to return to her two full-time jobs soon, one at Victoria ISD as a special education aide and another at Devereux.

Since then, though, she has lost the VISD job, has not been released to return to her other job and is in debt. With no end in sight, Armstrong said she thinks it may have been better if she had died.

"I think dying would have been easier. They would have missed me," she said of her family, "but at least I wouldn't have all of this pain and stress."

She added that she had life insurance - "We wouldn't have all of these bills. My funeral would have been paid for. They would have been fine," Armstrong said, even as her 18-year-old son, Michael Buzzell, angrily shook his head.

Despite having both car and health insurance, Armstrong personally owes about $40,000 in medical bills and cannot afford a new car.

She is physically unable to return to work, according to a medical report from Brooke Army Medical Center, equating to a loss of about $22,200 in personal income for the past six months.

She is a single mom. Buzzell is working full time at Dollar General to help pay the bills and is unable to continue work on his GED because they do not have the funds.

He pays the electricity and utilities bills, buys groceries and helps pay rent with his paycheck.

"It is weird. I can imagine doing it when she is 60 or 80 but not when she is 40," Buzzell said, adding that "stuff is expensive."

Even though he has been forced to take care of his young mother, Buzzell gets angry when she wishes she would have faced death instead of a difficult life.

Armstrong said she is determined to get back to work to ease the load on her son.

Because she can't afford to pay for physical therapy any more, Armstrong does the exercises meant to build her meager strength on her own.

She is still required to wear a back brace and often has to use her wheelchair after a couple hours of being awake.

"This doesn't make sense. Life should not be this hard because I had an accident," Armstrong said.

According to a 2009 study from the Federal Highway Administration, Armstrong's story is common, with the cost of a motor vehicle injury averaging $126,000.

Even with "full coverage" insurance, many people can end up paying a bulk of the expenses themselves.

"There is no such thing as full coverage," said Bruce Woods, a Victoria insurance agent. "That is saying that it is an open checkbook, and we are writing a check no matter what happens - that is not true. “Every line item of coverage has a limit, and the more you want the insurance company to cover, the more it is going to cost you.”

The minimum liability insurance required to drive in Texas must cover $30,000 per person per accident not to exceed $60,000 for injuries, and it ust cover a maximum of $25,000 in property damage.

But Woods said these requirements are easy to max out.

Liability insurance coverage does not cover the vehicle and medical expenses for the party at fault, leaving the person at fault in an accident – like Armstrong, who ran a red light – responsible for the expenses.

"How many cars do you see driving on the road worth more than $25,000?" Woods asked, snapping his fingers to show how quickly insurance requirements can be spent.

Armstrong's total medical costs, currently more than $200,000, is about three times the required injury coverage amount. The national average for injuries is double the requirement.

Sgt. Herschel Buck, traffic safety officer for Victoria Police Department, investigated Armstrong's crash.

Buck said people need to be more aware of the financial burden of crashes.

"I think if they realized how much money it costs - and we aren't even just talking about a serious accident - but even a fender bender," he said. "The amount of money is huge. That is where a lot of these traffic laws come from is from the insurance companies. ... It is a big, big burden on society."

In the United States, more than $300 billion is spent recovering from car crashes each year, according to a 2011 study by AAA.

Armstrong is still shocked that her independence was snatched away in only a few moments.

"I would go to get up, and you think your legs are going with you, but they don't, so I will just fall down. You think, 'What is wrong with me? Am I ever going to walk again?' And the pain is unimaginable," Armstrong said.

If she could redo Sept. 11, 2012, Armstrong said, she would not have tried to make the yellow light and would have worn her seat belt.

"I just remember burning; I thought I was going to die. Wear your seat belt; I went through the windshield and landed 15 feet away from my car," she said. "But I am still here. How did that happen? Why did that happen?"

To read the story about the September 2012 crash,click here.



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