“It was one of those phone calls as a parent that you never want to get.”
Monday, April 4, 2005 was the day that changed Nicole Maher’s life forever.
On that day she and her boyfriend Brian Meisner were struck by a drunk driver coming home from school. At the time, she was a high school junior in South Carolina and only 16-years-old.
Nicole Maher said, “It was just like any other day at school, I remember leaving the school parking lot and stopped to talk to a friend. That was the last thing I remember.”
Tom Maher, Nicole’s father, received word of the accident from Vicky Maher, his wife.
“Nicole has been in an accident. Brian is dead. They think he was decapitated. I cannot find out anything about Nicole,” Vicky said to her husband on the phone.
At the scene of the accident, the entire front of the car was covered in a cloth. Brian was pronounced dead at the scene. He was not wearing a seat belt when the accident happened. Brian was found folded in half.
“If Brian was wearing a seatbelt during the accident, there is a very good chance that he would still be here with us today,” Tom said.
The accident occurred at 3:30 P.M.
The driver that hit their car was three times the legal limit of blood alcohol content. He was coming from the liquor store that was right down the road from where the accident occurred. He was driving between 70 or 80 m.p.h. coming around the bend. Nicole tried to avoid the car but there was not enough time.
When the man hit their car, the engine went up into the car, destroying Nicole’s knee.
Brian’s mom was concerned when Brian was not home yet. She called Tom to see if Nicole was home. While on the phone, Brian’s mom looked out of her window into the backyard and saw the accident. She asked Vicky if Nicole had flower seat covers and Vicky said yes.
Vicky was panicked after she got off of the phone with Brian’s mom. She jumped into her car and not even five minutes later, arrived to the site of the accident.
The roar of the helicopters could be heard from the ground. At the time, they were taking photographs and recording video of the accident.
Tom said, “ I would say that [Nicole] was a couple blocks from the house when the accident happened, a couple blocks from turning into Brian’s development.”
At the time of the accident, Tom Maher was near GreenVille Hospital. He drove straight there as soon as he heard about the accident.
He was waiting in the waiting room when the doctor asked if they could go back to a room and talk.
“Right away I am thinking she is dead because he wants to talk to me privately,” Tom said. “He told me that she is alive and she is okay but they wanted to keep her sedated.”
Nicole had a minor brain bleed, fractured skull, broken nose, broken left hand which needed a plate put in it, broke all three bones in her right leg and a blown out knee. Doctors were unsure if she was going to be able to keep her knee.
“I was in a medically induced coma. I had a brain injury so they had to let it heal and calm down,” Nicole said. “I woke up Saturday. I remember waking up but I did not remember what time it was but the first thing I said to my mom was, ‘Where’s Brian?'”
Nicole was in a wheelchair for almost a year and used a walker or crutches to get around. She could not put any weight on her leg. She went through a year’s worth of physical therapy.
Nicole had a month left of her junior year. She had to finish the school year at her house and had teachers come by to bring her the materials.
The man that crashed into Nicole and Brian survived. He was conscious the whole time and did not have as serious injuries as Nicole. They took him to the hospital right after the accident and tested his blood alcohol content.
He was taken into custody right from the hospital.
He was charged with a second DUI, open containers in the vehicle. He was in custody for a little while, then was bailed out until the pre-trial.
The charges were not finalized until a year later.
He was to serve 10 years in prison due to injuring Nicole and being sentenced for manslaughter. Though, he was released two years ago.
“It changed her a little bit. She could not get herself up to go to school,” Tom said. “She just turned 29 so she is going to do what she wants to do. I cannot control her.”
Nicole had it planned that she wanted to graduate high school and go to college. She wanted to join a nursing program. She wanted to get a bachelor’s degree and have a fun time in college with her friends.
The doctors told her that she would not be able to become a nurse because she could not stand and be on her knee for long hours.
“After the wreck, I learned that anything can happen. This accident happened at 3:30 in the afternoon. I learned to live life to the fullest and have fun,” Nicole said. “Because Brian passed away, I was not able to continue and have a good life so I started not to care about as much anymore.”
The drunk driver tried to make excuses as to why the accident occurred and even said that his grandmom just died and that he was depressed.
“I like to go out and have a drink but to drink as much as he did is selfish because you are not caring about anyone but yourself,” Nicole said. “You can easily hurt someone else or yourself and it just irritates me when people do that stuff. It is something that could have been avoided.”
It did not take Nicole long to get back into a car after the accident. However she would get visions when she was sleeping about it. She could not drive for a year after the accident due to her injuries. People were surprised that she could get back in a car so easily.
She was on medication for depression and anxiety.
Nicole said to others, “I am going to have to drive to get through life. I was still scared but I knew that I had to drive. I need to have a car to have a life. I am more worried about certain kind of turns.”
After the accident Nicole talked about the accident at different schools to inform them about the dangers of driving under the influence.
Nicole has been comfortable speaking about the topic and knows that her story can change someone’s outlook on drunk driving.