It was a bittersweet reunion for Anthony “Tony” Pedeferri last month, as 180 friends and relatives flocked to his parents’ home on Union Hill. The Redmond native said this homecoming felt “like being alive at your own funeral.”
Tony’s life was irrevocably changed on Dec. 19, 2007. He was working as a California Highway Patrolman.
During a routine traffic stop, a driver who was high on marijuana and Ecstasy plowed his pick-up truck into the car that Tony had stopped. The driver of that car was killed and Tony was thrown 60 feet.
The accident closed Highway 101 North for about 12 hours.
Tony’s spine was severed at T1, both lungs collapsed and most of his ribs were broken. He spent seven weeks in intensive care in Ventura, Calif., then was flown to Craig Hospital near Denver for rehab. He returned to California in July and came to Redmond in mid-August with his wife Carrie and daughters Samantha and Hannah.
The party in Redmond was also a homecoming for Tony’s parents Peggy and Jon, who had been by his side since the accident.
WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME
On the day of the crash, Tony was working in a different area than he normally did.
“They usually like motorcycles to be in a congested area. This was near the water where traffic moves very fast,” he said. “But I did everything the right way (followed standard procedures for a traffic stop) so I have no regrets as to how I reacted.”
Two months before the tragedy, he finished in the top 25 percent of the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship, one of many triathlons in which he had participated.
Now 37, Tony attended Emily Dickinson Elementary, Evergreen Junior High and Redmond High, class of 1989. He went to Arizona State University for one year and then returned to his home state, graduating from University of Washington with a BS in laboratory medicine in 1994. He went to the California Highway Patrol Academy in 1995 and has been with the patrol for 13 years.
His favorite memories of his youth in Redmond were “growing up on five acres, having room to ride motorcycles on our property, just all the freedoms here.”
FREE NO MORE
We asked Tony what consequences the DUI offender has suffered, if any.
“The driver was not hurt at all,” Tony said. “He pled guilty in August 2008 to gross vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated and he also had drugs he was planning to sell. There’s also another provision for paralyzing someone. He’s in jail. His sentencing is on September 11, his own birthday. He was 20 years old, had a very bad driving record. His license had been suspended and reinstated several times.”
Meanwhile, Tony continued, “I can’t live like I used to. … I’ll never walk again because my spinal cord was severed, not just damaged. If I was only paralyzed, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
What could be worse than becoming paralyzed?
“My brain stem injury affects how I swallow, how I talk, how I see,” he explained. “I have a nerve injury on my left side and general nerve pain through my whole body, a constant burning pain like when your arm falls asleep. My athletic background is gone. …My lungs have been so damaged they’re probably at two-thirds capacity. My ribs and collarbone were so broken that I can’t do a swimming motion anymore with my arms.”
We asked how his family is dealing with his inability to work.
“My wife still works and I’m on one year of full pay, which will end in December. If they don’t know my standing, I can go on another form of disability for about two-thirds pay for a few months, then retire with half-pay, tax-free for the rest of (my) life. I might be reassigned in some capacity. It’s what I would prefer but ultimately the choice is what’s best for my family.”
Tony recently met actor Kevin Costner while he was putting on a concert for the City of Ventura and promoting his movie “Swing Vote.” Costner’s best friend wants to stay in touch with Tony, to raise money for people with disabilities. Tony’s also been introduced to a group called Challenged Athletes and invited to speak at company team-building events or youth groups such as Boys and Girls Clubs.
He said his message for kids is to “focus on choices that you make in life and do everything you can when you’re young — experience all you can, because you never know how your life may change. At work, we have a Smart Start program for parents and teens who come to the highway patrol. I tell them stories about when I was a teenager. I was just lucky — not drinking and driving — but doing dumb things behind the wheel.”
Through his duties as a patrolman, he has witnessed many sad endings: “I’ve seen young kids kill their best friends, or their girlfriends. They have to live with it.”
In addition to his devoted parents, Tony’s had support from his brothers Mark and Andre and of course, his loving wife and children.
Carrie said Tony’s ordeal has made her think more about the influence of drugs, even prescription drugs, and has made her really notice other people with disabilities.
In even the most mundane ways, the family’s life has been altered by Tony’s accident.
“It used to take me 20 minutes to get ready for my day. Now showering and dressing takes two hours,” he said. At his parents’ home, he’s had to shower in the garage with a hose because the bathrooms are on different floors. Only one door, the sliding door to the patio, was wide enough for his wheelchair.
Public buildings these days have ramps and other accommodations for the disabled, but people in wheelchairs still feel isolated, he said.
“The kids have matured a lot,” Carrie added. “They’ve been extremely helpful. Their dad’s still involved but in a different way.”
Peggy remarked, “At this age, they knew him before the accident and can also accept the changes.”
Still, the girls are just nine and seven years old.
By the time you read this story, Tony, Carrie, Samantha and Hannah may be back in California. Tony invites you to visit his Web site, www.pedeferri.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It may take me a long time to respond, but I will read every message,” he promised.