Hoopeston teen paralyzed after rollover accident
HOOPESTON – Terri Prather was getting ready for bed when she got the call no parent wants to receive.
She got in her car and drove down a country road, hoping her 18-year-old son, Tyler Prather, had only had a fender-bender.
Her heart sank when she saw his Chevy pickup truck totaled in a field. Her son, who had been ejected, was lying nearby, barely breathing and with a broken neck.
"I prayed in the middle of the field, 'God, let him live if he still has his mind,'" Terri Prather recalled 3 1/2 weeks after her son's accident. "I didn't care how we got him after that."
The Vermilion County Sheriff's Department is investigating the Feb. 4 rollover accident, northeast of Hoopeston, that left Tyler Prather paralyzed from the chest down and injured passenger Casey Withers, 21, of Rankin.
Authorities are looking into whether alcohol was a contributing factor, Sheriff Pat Hartshorn said. "We haven't been able to interview him yet," Hartshorn said, adding that Tyler Prather had been in a coma.
The sheriff's office also investigated another accident that occurred around the same time and location. Christopher Land, 18, of Hoopeston, had been driving behind his friend and witnessed the rollover, another police report said. In his haste to get medical help, he ran his mom's car into a utility pole.
Land, who was not injured, told police he had consumed alcoholic beverages prior to his accident. In the report, the deputy wrote, Land showed no signs of impairment and was not ticketed.
Both accidents occurred shortly after midnight on 1630 East Road, about a half mile north of 4200 North Road.
Hartshorn said Tyler Prather had just passed another vehicle, hit loose gravel and lost control of his truck. Land recalled seeing his friend's truck go into a ditch, then roll several times.
Both passengers were ejected. They were taken to Hoopeston Community Memorial Hospital, then airlifted to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.
Withers broke his leg and had to have 10 staples in his arm, Terri Prather said. He was released after two or three days.
She said her son remains immobilized in a hospital bed in Carle's intensive care unit. He breathes through a tracheostomy and is nourished through a feeding tube.
"I just thank God (that) he spared him," said his mother, who talked about him, the accident and the "outpouring" of support they've received from the Hoopeston community.
Her son graduated with honors from Hoopeston Area High School in spring 2006. That fall, he entered Lincoln Tech in Indianapolis to study auto diesel mechanics.
"He got a job building cabinets his sophomore year," Terri Prather said. "Then he went into roofing. Then he decided he wanted to be a diesel mechanic. He had a Camaro. ... He was always tinkering with it."
Friends said Tyler Prather loved to hunt, fish, ride four-wheelers and mushroom hunt.
"He loved the outdoors," said roommate Chad Garrison, 19, of Hoopeston.
That weekend, Garrison and his roommate were home from school. The night of the crash, they hung out with a small group of friends. He said Tyler Prather was on his way home when the accident occurred. Terri Prather added that her son had driven a friend home, then went back to pick up Withers.
Since the accident, Terri Prather, husband Jim, their 15-year-old daughter Katie, and other relatives and friends have kept a constant vigil at Tyler Prather's bedside.
On Feb. 7, a neurosurgeon performed surgery on the teen's fourth and fifth vertebrae. The doctor told his parents their son was paralyzed from the chest down and gave him a 10 percent chance of walking again.
Tyler Prather's family was crushed. Friends broke down when they heard the news.
"I didn't want to believe it," Garrison said softly.
Terri Prather remains hopeful her son proves the doctors wrong.
"We've seen little miracles along the way," she said, adding that he moved his right hand Tuesday, his big toe on Wednesday. She won't let anyone tell her son of the grim prognosis yet.
"We believe God's going to have him back up on his feet."
Since the beginning, Terri Prather has documented everything in a journal.
"He'll be able to look back at it, and see how far he's come," she said. "Some day, he'll look back and read he was on a ventilator and not moving. He'll think, 'Now here I am trying to walk.'"
Meantime, Hoopeston residents have sent food, well wishes and more than 100 cards. WHPO's morning show host Becky Buss-Puetz is keeping listeners informed on the teen's condition.
Friends set up the Tyler Prather Fund at Iroquois Federal Savings and Loan in Hoopeston to help Terri Prather, a self-employed hair dresser, and Jim Prather, a streets and alleys laborer for the city of Hoopeston, with their son's medical expenses.
Local businessman Chad Dickison is organizing a benefit that will be held at the American Legion in Hoopeston on April 7, starting at noon. It will feature at least three bands, a DJ and chances to win raffle prizes, including archery equipment from Dickison's business, High Impact Archery.
Like many of Tyler Prather's friends, Dickison said he took the news of the accident hard.
"He's like my little brother," said Dickison, who got to know the teen through the store. "He'd actually run the shop for me when I was out of town."
Dickison recalled how expensive it was for his family 10 years ago, when his father was being treated at Carle for bone cancer. That's when he had the idea for the benefit.
"Jimmy and Terri are such good people," he said. "And (Tyler) is just an all-around good kid. We were just talking the day before ... about how he only had 10 months of college left. It just shows you how quickly things can change."