Family deals with life after accident with drunken driver

Still feeling the impact

Still feeling the impact

April 25, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - It's been nine months since Jim Ostmann's car was pushed into a telephone pole by a sport utility vehicle with a drunken driver at the wheel, but time has not healed his foot - now in a second cast - or the anger he has toward the man who caused the accident.

Ostmann, 38, spent about three weeks at Washington County Hospital following the July 13, 2004, crash just blocks from his Foxleigh Meadows home on Marsh Pike.

Ostmann listed the injuries he sustained in the crash: His ankle, nose and bones around his eyes were fractured.

His heel was crushed, his bowel was lacerated, his ribs broken, a lung collapsed, his shoulder torn and his spleen had to be removed.


His right foot was shattered and had to be rebuilt with two 3-inch screws.

Since August, he has used a motorized scooter to get around. He said he can't bear weight on his foot until June.

"This guy has totally turned our lives upside down and inside out," Ostmann said.

He was referring to the driver of the SUV, Jeffrey V. Bitner, 35, of 149 S. Carlisle St. in Greencastle, Pa. Bitner was treated at the hospital and released.

Bitner pleaded guilty on Feb. 16 to driving under the influence in connection with the accident. Washington County District Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. sentenced him to one year in jail, but suspended eight months of the sentence.

Long ordered that upon his release, Bitner be placed on 18 months of unsupervised probation.

Bitner's blood-alcohol content was tested at Washington County Hospital about two hours after the 9:55 p.m. crash and was recorded at 0.16, according to police records. That is twice the legal limit of 0.08.

'Barefoot through the glass'

On the night of the accident, Ostmann was headed home from a class at Hagerstown Community College and called his wife to let her know he was 10 minutes away. Shortly afterward, he stopped in his 1995 Honda Accord on Marsh Pike, waiting for southbound traffic to pass so he could turn left onto Gentry Drive - an entrance to Foxleigh Meadows, a minute from his Chippendale Circle home - when the beautiful 70-degree night turned ugly.

Bitner, in a Dodge Durango, was about three cars behind him. As Ostmann was turning left into the development, Bitner passed the cars behind Ostmann in the left lane and hit Ostmann's car on the driver's side door, pushing him head-on into a telephone pole.

"At exactly 10 o'clock, all the electricity in the development went out," said Stephanie Ostmann, 40, who was expecting her husband and began to panic when she heard sirens.

She called a neighbor to ask him to backtrack her husband's path home. Soon, her neighbor's wife and another friend delivered the news that her husband was being extricated from his car.

Jim Ostmann, who said his front airbag did not deploy, said he was unconscious for 10 minutes after the impact. It took rescue crews about 30 minutes to free him from the wreckage.

"I remember seeing lights, a red Durango on the hill. I kept asking, 'What happened? Did I kill somebody?'" Ostmann said. "I told them I couldn't breathe and my gut was killing me."

Stephanie Ostmann managed to get to her husband, despite her friends' efforts to shield her from the scene.

"They let her come up and kiss me before they took me in the ambulance," Jim Ostmann said.

"I ran barefoot through the glass to get to him," Stephanie Ostmann said.

The sentence

At Bitner's sentencing hearing, Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell asked that Bitner be given the maximum sentence of one year and emphasized that the accident caused injury to Ostmann, according to a recording of the Feb. 16 court proceedings.

The Ostmanns, who were dismissed from testifying at the Feb. 16 hearing because the prosecution expected Bitner to request a continuance, were not happy with how their case was handled.

When it turned out he would serve only four months, the Ostmanns were angry.

"My sentence is for a lifetime because I'm never gonna have lateral motion of my ankle," Jim Ostmann said.

They grew more upset when they learned Bitner was approved for work release on March 24. His projected release date is May 27, according to court documents.

A Washington County Detention Center spokeswoman said on Friday that Bitner no longer was on work release. She could not provide an updated projected release date.

"What's sleeping in a jail for four months gonna do?" Jim Ostmann asked.

Stephanie Ostmann said a recent meeting with State's Attorney's Office prosecutors eased some of her anger, but she remains frustrated that Bitner did not get a heftier sentence.

The impact

The Ostmanns say that as a result of the accident, the hospital visits, insurance and court dealings and Jim Ostmann's limited mobility, their marriage has suffered.

"I really resent the position (Bitner's) put us in," Stephanie Ostmann said.

They have three boys - Hans, 5, James, 61/2, and Lars, 3.

"My husband and I have nearly divorced three times," said Stephanie Ostmann, a stay-at-home mother.

She said she used to count on her husband to give her a break from the children, but now she has to take care of him, too.

"Let me tell you, running up and down those stairs a hundred times a day gets pretty old," she said.

Ostmann, who works from home as a GE Healthcare marketing manager, said he has to scoot up and down the stairs on his buttocks because of his foot.

Jim Ostmann said he gets paranoid when he travels in cars now. He has bought a "big truck" with "all the airbags you could possibly want in it."

He has to travel the path of the accident regularly. His son, Lars, asks him each time which telephone pole he hit.

Jim Ostmann leaned over to ask Lars what Bitner did the night of the accident.

"He did drinking and driving," Lars said as he played with the headlight on Ostmann's scooter.

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