By Juliette Goodrich

(KPIX 5) — A 911 call to report a drunk driver contributed to a crash that left a Bay Area woman paralyzed, and now she hopes others learn a lesson from her tragic misfortune.

Rebecca Forkey was athletic, independent and on her way to a workout on May 5, 2013, and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She was driving along Interstate 680 North, between Livorna Road and Rudgear Road, just south of Walnut Creek, when a drunk driver strayed into an adjoining lane. That caused another car to swerve into her lane, forcing her off the freeway into an embankment, causing her car to roll over eight times.

“Initially, I wasn’t really expected to live or make it through that first night,” said Forkey.

Days later, Forkey woke up from a coma. She was paralyzed from the neck down. “I am fused C4 through C7, C1 being your first vertebrae … so, right about neck level.”

But it wasn’t until weeks later that investigators figured out exactly what had happened on the road that day.

Just ahead of Rebecca was the impaired driver, weaving in and out of lanes. But another driver was next to the drunk driver, and on the phone calling 911 to report the swerving car.

During a deposition, the driver was asked: “At any time during that minute-and-a-half time period, did you consider moving farther over to the right to get away from this approaching, weaving vehicle behind you?

The answer: “No, I did not.”

Forkey’s lawyer, Timothy Tietjen, said the driver spent three minutes on the phone with the 911 operator as the drunk driver swerved near him. “And importantly, every 911 operator warns the drivers that report drunk drivers to stay away from the impaired driver.”

The driver on the phone with 911 did not see the impaired driver coming into his lane until it was too late. He swerved into Rebecca’s.lane and.she swerved to avoid him, and lost control.

“I know that the man, who was kind of trying to play hero, was just trying to help,” said Forkey. But in trying to help, he not only put my life in danger but he put himself and everybody else’s life in danger.”

The man who thought he was helping by making a 911 call that day and following the impaired driver changed Rebecca’s life forever. He was on the job driving for a car company when the accident happened. Forkey won a multi-million dollar settlement, money that will help Rebecca pay for a lifetime of medical expenses.

“I focus on my rehabilitation,” said Forkey. “I kind of treat it like my job, just so I can get the most independence back.”

The impaired driver, Kathleen Harding, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Rebecca is facing a lifetime of challenges which requires a great deal of mind over matter.
“Just living life not being in pain is a big thing for me.”

The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving says if you spot a possibly drunk driver:

  • Stay as far away as possible.
  • Do not try to pass or signal to the driver to pull over.
  • Try to notice details like the car’s license plate number.
  • Pull over and call 9-1-1.

Juliette Goodrich