By CHARIS ANDERSON
Standard-Times staff writer
July 26, 2008 6:00 AM
For State Trooper Ellen Engelhardt, time stopped five years ago.
It stopped when a red Volvo, driven by 18-year-old William Senne, slammed into the back of her cruiser at nearly 100 mph early in the morning on July 26, 2003.
Ms. Engelhardt, a Marion resident, had parked her cruiser in the breakdown lane of Route 25 in Wareham to investigate an accident. No one knows if she even saw the Volvo coming.
The crash left with her massive head injuries, but she survived it and the surgeries that followed. She woke up from a coma and can now breathe on her own.
But five years after the accident, Ms. Engelhardt - this once vibrant woman who served as a state trooper for 22 years - still lives in a Middleboro rehabilitation center in a vegetative state, unable to walk, or to talk, or to eat unassisted.
"We don't really know what she knows," said her daughter, Lora Tedeman. "Unfortunately, it really hasn't been much of a change like we had hoped there would be."
The severity of the head injuries Ms. Engelhardt survived, combined with her age - she was 50 at the time of the crash - led doctors to be pessimistic about her chances, said Ms. Tedeman.
"You never know. You do hear people come out of it, so we always try to be hopeful," said Ms. Tedeman.
In many ways, Ms. Engelhardt's condition has stabilized and she no longer has any swelling in her brain, according to her daughter. Now her ailments stem from her inability to move: urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses, bed sores.
Ms. Engelhardt does do some physical therapy, said Ms. Tedeman, but the amount of therapy is based on how the patient responds: If the patient improves, the amount of physical therapy is increased; the patient doesn't respond to the therapy, the time in therapy is reduced, according to Ms. Tedeman.
Her mother has not shown much improvement, she said.
Ms. Engelhardt's muscles are atrophying from lack of use, so her therapists continue to do range-of-motion exercises with her to prevent, or at least slow, that deterioration, her daughter said.
Since Ms. Engelhardt can't stand on her own, her therapists will strap her onto a table, then rotate it to vertical to mimic standing. Ms. Engelhardt's blood pressure and oxygen levels are monitored throughout the exercise, and "she just doesn't react well to it," Ms. Tedeman said.
The rehabilitation center also includes Ms. Engelhardt in sensory stimulation activities, such as bingo games, and Ms. Tedeman plays music in her room when she visits, she said.
"It's very limited, given that she needs 100 percent assistance, and she's not really responding," Ms. Tedeman said.
Time has stopped for Ms. Engelhardt, even as it continues for those around her.
Ms. Tedeman got pregnant about a year after the accident and now has a 3-year-old son she brings with her almost every time she visits her mom.
"She never got a chance to meet him," Ms. Tedeman said. "She'd be spoiling him rotten if she was able to."
In a way, her son was a gift to the family, said Ms. Tedeman, a spot of joy that helped get them through the difficult aftermath of the accident.
But that joy is tempered with the sadness of knowing Ms. Engelhardt will never really be able to interact with her grandson, Ms. Tedeman said.
"It was very hard going through that without her and raising a son and her not knowing," she said. "Hopefully, she hears him."
Rick Teves, Ms. Engelhardt's longtime boyfriend and a state police sergeant, said he still visits Ms. Engelhardt, although not as often as he used to.
"But that's just because life goes on," he said.
When he visits, he said: "I don't even know if she knows I'm in the room. Years and years of doing that - obviously, it's harder on her than it is on me."
But trying to engage with someone who can't respond takes its toll, he said. It is hard each and every time, and it doesn't get any easier, he said.
Mr. Senne, the man who hit Ms. Engelhardt, pleaded guilty in January 2005 to charges of operating under the influence to cause serious bodily injury and of driving to endanger.
He was sentenced to 2½ years in jail and was released on Feb. 10, 2007, according to Coria Holland, a spokeswoman for the state's probation service.
Mr. Senne is about 1½ years into his five-year probation, during which he must complete 500 hours of community service at a head trauma center and must also abstain from drugs and alcohol.
According to Ms. Holland, Mr. Senne is in compliance with the terms of his probation.
Mr. Senne did not return calls for comment.
Neither Ms. Tedeman nor Sgt. Teves expressed anger toward Mr. Senne at the time of his sentencing, and they both say they are not angry now.
"At first, of course we had anger, and it would kind of come and go," Ms. Tedeman said. "Being angry, it just doesn't help anyone and holding on to that, it hurts you more than it helps you."
Sgt. Teves feels the loss of Ms. Engelhardt more keenly than any anger toward the man who took her away.
"He stole my best friend. ... I miss her every day, and I miss what we had together," he said.
"I'm not going to say I'm angry at him," he said. "He essentially took a wonderful person and put her in a place she doesn't need to be. She doesn't deserve what she got."