When Barbara Harris saw the object appear suddenly in the road, she assumed it was a large bag of trash.
“I didn’t think it was a boulder. It wasn’t there and then, all of a sudden, it was there. It didn’t make any sense to me,” she said in a phone interview Saturday. “I didn’t have time to swerve. It rolled into that lane. And I went to change lanes and it rolled into the lane I was in. By that time, I hit it head on, the car flipped up over it and then rolled.”
Yes, it was a boulder Harris hit around 4 a.m. Friday on Hull Street Road (U.S. 360) in Chesterfield County near the Brandermill-Woodlake area.
The crash hospitalized her with a fracture in her third lumbar vertebrae and a fractured wrist. She was waiting to be fitted with a cast that doctors hope will stabilize her spine and ease her pain, she said.
“And then, if not, I’ll have to go back to have surgery to have my spine fused.”
Friday, Chesterfield police said the driver, whom they did not identify at the time, wasn’t badly hurt, despite the overturned car.
“They weren’t seriously hurt because I would have been called,” said Sgt. James Lamb, Chesterfield police crash team supervisor. “So that’s the good news, right?”
As it turns out, an upside-down Harris removed the safety belt that was holding her in the vehicle. Alarmed at the smell of gasoline and fearful that a motorist would hit her overturned 2013 Ford Escape, she crawled out of the vehicle but was in too much pain to stand, she said.
Two men who stopped to help retrieved her cellphone and her glasses, which flew off during the collision. An ambulance took her to the hospital after about 15 minutes, she said.
Her eyes were flushed of gasoline when she arrived at the emergency room, said her daughter, Ashley Harris.
“My mom’s a pretty tough cookie,” she said. “We haven’t really tried walking yet. They won’t let her get out of bed at this time.”
Chesterfield police Lt. David Sumner was uncertain why Barbara Harris’ injuries were not initially deemed serious by police.
“I certainly would consider a broken back a serious injury,” he said.
Sumner said Lamb may not have been aware of the severity of Harris’ injuries when he spoke to a reporter Friday.
Harris, 64, is a supervisor for Universal Health Services with George Washington University Hospital. She lives in Amelia County, and her work has offices there and on Parham Road, where she was headed at the time of the crash.
State highway crews removed the boulder, but Harris and her daughter would like to know where it came from, “because this is not the norm and no one can seem to find out who it belonged to. I think it was a preventable accident if someone had just tied their load down or been more careful,” Ashley Harris said.
Her mom has a totaled SUV and faces thousands of dollars in medical bills and an uncertain recovery, she said.
“It’s just heartbreaking that somebody misses a boulder that big and says nothing. I just didn’t want somebody to think that they just dropped a boulder and everyone’s OK.”