Oklahoma State Parade Crash Survivors Carry Unseen Scars

Jan 11, 2017

The wounds for victims and family members of the OSU Homecoming Parade Crash are still raw. They gathered together on Tuesday to support each other on what was supposed to be the first day of the jury trial for Adacia Chambers, the woman accused.

Rumors had been swirling for more than a week that a plea deal was possible in the Adacia Chambers case, and instead of coming for a jury trial, dozens arrived ready to read victim impact statements about how those moments frozen in time last October still impact them every day.

Kelly Harrison is now 30 years old. She told the court she misses the Kelly who arrived at that parade.

"Every single one of my therapists told me they were treating my injury as if I was an amputee because I have three independent joints that are injured, which is complicated. I have to wear orthotics permanently. I can't lay on my right side because of the pain."

Before the crash, Kelly months away from finishing her PhD at the University of Kansas, training for a marathon, and getting ready for her friends wedding. She had already picked out her high heels to show off her best feature, her legs. But now, her leg is shattered, everything is exhausting, she still hasn't finished her degree, and she says the months of having her parents help her do simple things such as go to the bathroom were humiliating.

"I do think the scars are absolutely disgusting. I got a tattoo on one to make it less ugly, but it's not. It's ugly."

But like Kelly, the physical scars from those few moments at the OSU parade crash are visible, the emotional ones are not. Victim after victim told the court they struggle with everyday tasks, such as cleaning their house or remembering a grocery list and the depression and PTSD harms their family dynamics and their ability to work.

After agreeing to the plea agreement of what in effect is life plus 10 years for the charges of second degree murder and assault and battery respectively, Chambers read her own written statement. She told the court that it was difficult to wrap her mind around what she did, that she was suffering from severe psychosis at the time of the crash and had never been diagnosed despite seeking treatment. She cried as she told the court she hoped people could forgive her and that she could look into the eyes of each victim and apologize.

District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas said after the hearing that the mental health claims were a ruse, not a real issue.

"Keep in mind, they just waived that defense, and this bit about it's because she doesn't want to put the victims through anymore, you heard her cry through her own statement but shed not a tear during the victim statements. This is about trying to avoid 46 consecutive life counts."

Austin says she knew the trial would be difficult for the victims, and she wanted to seek justice and prevent Adacia Chambers from doing future harm. The plea agreement was a way to avoid that for the victims though she wishes Chambers would have taken more responsibility.

"Basically what that means is she's saying I don't want to take responsibility for it, I'm just going to say that if I go to trial, the jury may find me guilty."

Defense attorney Tony Coleman (left) watches as Floyd Chambers, father of Adacia Chambers, takes questions from the press following Tuesday's court proceedings.
Credit Rachel Hubbard / KOSU

The no contest plea also prevents any of the statements in the criminal trial from being used in any subsequent civil trials for financial damages. Chambers' attorney Tony Coleman said he gets that this is painful and that a lot of people could care less about whether or not she is remorseful.

"There were several victims and family members that spoke on behalf of victims all expressed that they didn't care why this happened, but we should all care why this happened. Our mental health care system in the state of Oklahoma is in shambles."

Floyd Chambers, Adacia's father, was present for Tuesday's proceedings. He had taken her to numerous mental health facilities in the years leading up to the crash but says he was turned away. He says he plans to push for better mental health legislation in the coming session to avoid future tragedies like the one his daughter caused in Stillwater.