Sally Miller Groenier drove past what looked like the aftermath of a car accident on Edgar Road in Webster Groves. She did not yet know that her 16-year-old son had been hit by a truck in that spot just minutes before.
Groenier was at Siteman Cancer Center where she works. She said she had prepared to leave to go pick up her son from the Starbucks near Webster University, where he and his friends regularly chose to meet to hang out and study for classes. She said his friends were busy that day and he went there alone.
“Normally he doesn’t like to be picked up super early because he spends all his time with his friends going over school stuff and everything,” Groenier said.
Groenier learned that her son was involved in the accident when she received a call from the police officer on the scene.
“He called me and said ‘I’m sure you already know about your son.’ But that was when I first found out,” Groenier said.
Webster Groves High School sophomore James Groenier was hit by what he said was a Ford Ranger truck while crossing the northern crosswalk at the intersection of Edgar Road and Garden Avenue Sept. 12. He was dragged to the southern crosswalk of the same intersection.
“I remember I was holding my phone when I was hit and I watched it fly from my hand all the way to the other side,” James said. “And I kept thinking ‘why is there so much pressure?’”
James said he remembers a group of Webster University students crossing the street from the other side. They witnessed what had happened and sprang to his aide. One student told someone to call 911. Another kept the driver of the truck from leaving. They even went so far as to move James from under the truck and out of the way of oncoming traffic.
“They actually picked me up and brought me to the sidewalk,” James said.
James’ arms, thighs, and stomach sustained severe injuries and his left shoulder showed symptoms of ligament and tendon damage. He also had minor head injuries along with fractured and broken bones in his legs.
“The front of his shorts was gone. There was nothing left,” Sally said.
James’ family said he would have sustained much more damage to his torso if he had not worn his backpack. They said the trauma surgeon told them it had swung to the front of his body and protected most of his chest from trauma. James said that he had just gotten the backpack from Amazon a few days before.
“That was what [the doctor] said probably saved his life,” Sally said.
Long road to recovery
James has been wheelchair bound for the past four months. He goes to physical therapy sessions to help him regain full mobility in his legs.
“He has a hard cap with our insurance, which means he gets only 60 visits and that’s all that’s covered,” Sally said. “It’s $625 for each session of physical therapy.”
On top of his physical injuries, James said he also suffers from mental trauma and shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I remember the walk sign at the crosswalk,” James said. “I was actually bothered by it for months because, you know, you hear it say ‘walk’ and it usually gives you a feeling of safety.”
Paul Groenier, James’ father, said James had to miss months of school because he could not endure the physical challenge of traveling to the high school and moving into the classrooms.
James said his therapist will give him an estimate on how long it will be before he can walk on his own again, but it will probably be five months from now.
“It’ll be over a year since the accident before he can walk normally,” Paul said.
Glass half full
Fellow classmate Owen Ragland has known James for only a year and a half, but he said they became quick friends. He was part of the group of James’ friends that would hang out at Starbucks.
“At first I felt guilty. We normally would go to Starbucks together, but we didn’t on that day and he walked there by himself. Later I was just freaked out about what happened to him,” Ragland said.
Ragland said the idea to hold a benefit for James came from his mother when she mentioned showcasing some musical acts for a fundraiser.
“We had around $8,000 raised on his GoFundMe page out of the $10,000 goal,” Ragland said. “We are hoping to meet that goal and maybe even go over it.”
The benefit has grown to now feature a variety of acts including the Webster Groves High School acapella groups, local indie pop band Bella & Lilly and Elizabeth Teeter among other performances.
“This has been a bonding experience for all of us. I’m just glad that something good came out of this,” Sally said.
The benefit will be held in the Webster Groves High School auditorium March 10. Attendence is free and contributions to Groenier’s recovery funds are accepted. Donations can also be made at https://www.gofundme. com/james-groeniers-healinghelp.