Trucker in Massive Rig Destroys Two Families in His Sleep

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Just over four years ago, Doug Bouch drove his tractor trailer into Susan Slattery's car on an Ohio roadway, killing the 47 year old and critically injuring her two sons. Police say Bouch admitted dozing off before the accident. The crash's impact on the Slattery family and Bouch is an evolving tale of loss, forgiveness and denial. It's playing out as fatigue is blamed for many of the trucking accidents that kill almost 4,000 Americans a year. (Source: Bloomberg)

On Aug. 16, four years to the day after the highway accident that tore apart his family, Ed Slattery confronted the man who killed his wife.

The two sat on the front porch of the truck driver, Doug Bouch, whose triple-trailer plowed into Susan Slattery’s car. Ed Slattery had rehearsed this moment dozens of times. True, he fought to have Bouch put behind bars, but he had also forgiven him and wanted a chance to heal together.

Days earlier, Slattery and Bouch spoke for the first time on the phone. Instead of the remorse he sought from Bouch, Slattery heard mostly anger as the trucker told him that Slattery’s wife had “an expiration date.”

Still, “I was hoping to hear his story,” said Slattery. “And I was really hoping he would listen to me.”

On a sunny Monday in August 2010, after attending a family reunion in Cleveland, Susan Slattery started home for Baltimore with her two sons. Matthew, 12, sat in the front passenger side of their red Ford Focus. Peter, 16, sat in the back. Douglas Bouch was driving behind the Slatterys on the Ohio Turnpike, heading home to Greenville, Pennsylvania. Bouch, a 30-year industry veteran, told police he had slept three hours and 20 minutes before starting work at 3 a.m. He had hauled three trailers to Indiana. He was pulling three more back when Susan Slattery braked for a construction zone just before noon.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Ed Slattery and his son Matthew, 16, at their home in Timonium Maryland on August 11, 2014. Close

Ed Slattery and his son Matthew, 16, at their home in Timonium Maryland on August 11, 2014.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Ed Slattery and his son Matthew, 16, at their home in Timonium Maryland on August 11, 2014.

Bouch’s rig barely slowed before ramming Slattery’s Focus into another semi-truck, careening into five more vehicles and bursting into flames, according the police report. Susan Slattery, 47, a mathematics professor at Maryland’s Stevenson University, died within minutes. Peter’s pelvis and eye socket were broken. Matthew was near death, his skull crushed. Bouch escaped unhurt.

‘Dozed Off’

“I was coming down the hill and I guess I dozed off,” Bouch told the Ohio State Highway Patrol amid the carnage. “When I opened my eyes I saw brake lights, people coming to a stop. I could not stop, I could not veer. I looked for an out but there was nowhere to go.”

Matthew Slattery, now 16, suffered a traumatic brain injury. He is confined to a wheelchair and speaks only with difficulty. Peter, 20, has recovered and attends college, but he won’t discuss that morning. Their father, Ed, an economist who skipped the trip, now spends much of his time caring for Matthew.

Bouch, a religious man, lost his job, was sentenced to a prison where he says he was beaten, and lives with the pain of driving the truck that killed Susan Slattery.

Doug Bouch speaks during an interview at his home in Greenville, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 7, 2014.  Bouch, who is a Baptist, said God had a plan for Susan Slattery to die that day and for him to drive the truck. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Doug Bouch speaks during an interview at his home in Greenville, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 7, 2014. Bouch, who is a Baptist, said God had a plan for Susan Slattery to die that day and for him to drive the truck. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Their combined experiences add up to a tale of loss, forgiveness and denial that is still evolving.

Renewed Scrutiny

The Slattery crash on Ohio’s east-west artery along Interstate 80 is part of a larger tragedy in which sleep-deprived drivers are pushed to their physical limits, contributing to trucking accidents that kill almost 4,000 Americans a year.

Excerpt from the statement Doug Bouch gave police after the accident. Click on the image to read the full statement.

Excerpt from the statement Doug Bouch gave police after the accident. Click on the image to read the full statement.

Just last week, four members of a Texas community college women’s softball team were killed when a tractor trailer collided with their bus on an Oklahoma highway. Federal safety investigators have said there is no indication the truck slowed down before impact.

Trucker fatigue gained new attention when a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. driver went at least 24 hours without sleep before his tractor-trailer hit a limousine carrying comedian Tracy Morgan, according to a police report.

The June 7 accident on the New Jersey Turnpike critically injured Morgan and killed comedian James McNair. Trucker Kevin Roper has pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto. Wal-Mart said yesterday that Morgan was to blame for his injuries because he was not wearing a seatbelt. The company said earlier it’s cooperating with the investigation.

Long Hours

America’s 2 million truckers are a vital cog in a supply chain built to meet the ever-growing appetite of consumers and businesses for just-in-time delivery of just about everything.

Truckers end up paying a steep price in the form of long hours and low pay as shippers seek to reduce costs, said Anne Ferro, former head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the U.S. trucking regulator. While railroads have consolidated into a few strong companies with bargaining power, thousands of trucking firms, large and small, compete fiercely over prices.

“In an economic system that continues to drive the last penny out of the supply chain, the transportation sector and freight movement, and trucking in particular, gets squeezed the hardest because it has the least leverage,” she said.

Tracking Systems

Under a federal exemption that dates back to the Depression era, trucking companies aren’t required to pay overtime. Drivers are typically paid by the mile. U.S. lawmakers and regulators have battled for decades over how to limit fatigue. Under current rules, drivers can work up to 14 hours a day, including 11 hours of driving. If they average 70 hours in a week, they must rest 34 hours, including two consecutive nights from 1 to 5 a.m.

Companies are turning to electronic log books and tracking systems to monitor their drivers’ movements and hours of service. While the new technology reduces paperwork for drivers, some complain that their companies use the systems to spy on them, at times cajoling them into cutting short their rest breaks to stay on schedule.

In dispute is how often those pressures end in highway crashes. The industry points to government statistics from 2011 citing fatigue as the primary cause in about 2 percent of fatal crashes. Safety advocates say the rate is far higher and claim trucker fatigue kills hundreds each year. In a 2006 federal survey of truckers cited in congressional testimony this July, 47.6 percent said they had fallen asleep while driving in the previous year. Yet unlike drugs or alcohol, there’s no test for fatigue after a crash.

Greater Flexibility

The industry maintains regulations have made it harder for drivers to take a break when they need to because they’re usually running up against on-duty time limits and feel pressure to complete their runs.

“If the driver pulls to the side of the road, he gets a ticket,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Give us the flexibility to take a break when we need a break.”

Over 700 commercial drivers died on the job in 2013, more fatalities than in any other kind of work. Truckers also have significantly higher levels of obesity, diabetes, smoking and hypertension than the average American.

Truck Safety

Bouch was fortunate to survive the crash that killed Susan Slattery. Still, his employer at the time, Estes Express Lines of Richmond, Virginia, fired him the next day, he said. Months after the crash, Estes and its insurers entered into a mediation that resulted in a $40.8 million payout to the Slatterys, one of the largest truck crash settlements ever.

Fatal Crashes

Estes, a family-owned company with 6,920 drivers, was involved in 15 fatal crashes in the last two years that killed 18 people, according to records compiled by the government. Those 15 fatal crashes are the 8th most of trucking companies with more than $1 billion in revenue, although not all the accidents were attributed to driver fatigue.

A review of reports on eight of those accidents shows bad weather and other drivers on the road primarily caused the crashes. A 71-year-old Estes driver died last year in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, after swerving to avoid a 16-year-old girl who turned her car in front of him. The truck hit a bridge railing, and the cab flipped into a creek. The girl, unharmed, pleaded guilty to failure to yield.

Susan and Ed

Susan Palmer was one of seven children from a high-achieving family in Cleveland. She excelled in math as an undergraduate at Miami University of Ohio and got a doctorate at the University of South Carolina. In 1992, she taught at Southwest Missouri State University, where she met Ed Slattery, who taught economics. Four months later, they married.

Ed Slattery, who had two children from an earlier marriage, began a new family with Susan. Peter was born in 1994. The Slatterys took teaching jobs in 1995 at Alabama State University. Matthew was born three years later. Ed Slattery said his wife loved her life, leading summer science camps, reading Harry Potter books to Peter and Matthew, and writing notes at Christmas from Santa Claus.

“She was a very confident woman, very well-read,” Slattery said. “She had a great sense of humor. She was a very, very strong woman. She was the hardest-working woman I ever knew. She was fiercely devoted to her family, especially, but also to her students.”

Skip the Trip

In 2005, the Slatterys moved to suburban Baltimore, where Susan became chairman of the Stevenson math department. Ed Slattery taught at Goucher College in Baltimore before moving to a job in Washington at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both kids were involved in Boy Scout Troop 497, which camped around the U.S.

Before the accident, Ed Slattery was recovering from shoulder surgery, so he decided to skip the Palmer family reunion in Cleveland. He spoke to Susan about 9 a.m. on the morning she drove home.

“I was disappointed that she hadn’t left yet,” Slattery said. “I didn’t like being alone. I was so looking forward to them being home. I told her I loved her. She said, ‘I love you.’”

‘Busting Through Traffic’

An hour southeast of Cleveland, Susan Slattery slowed her rental car after roadway signs warned of construction. At about 11:45 a.m., Bouch’s truck came “busting through traffic,” moving at least 50 miles per hour, motorist Trevor Baumann told police. Investigators found just 93 feet of skid marks before the spot where Bouch’s truck began to push Slattery’s car under another truck, suggesting he slammed on the brakes only moments before impact.

Bouch’s truck then snaked to the left and collided with other cars before resting at the barrier dividing the road about 200 feet beyond the Slatterys’ car, and bursting into flames. Bouch escaped, dazed but unharmed. Baumann told police that he and a doctor driving by in separate cars raced to the Focus and saw Matthew with blood running from his nose. The doctor inserted a tube down his throat to help him breathe. Susan was barely breathing.

Peter, riding in the back, managed to avoid the worst of the impact and was able to crawl out of the wreck. Paramedics soon arrived. By 12:06 p.m., a medical helicopter lifted Matthew to Akron Children’s Hospital. A second helicopter followed with Peter. Susan was pronounced dead at the scene.

Around that time, Bouch made a voluntary statement to police at the scene, signing each of the four pages.

‘Trouble Sleeping’

Bouch told police that he had been going 65 or 66 mph, and he stood on his brakes when he opened his eyes after dozing. He said he woke up the prior day at 9:30 a.m. He spent from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. cleaning his barn stalls and burning bad hay. He said he slept from 10 p.m. to 1:20 a.m. before starting work.

“This is my first day of the week and I have trouble sleeping the first day,” he told police. “I forced myself to sleep from 10 p.m. - 1 a.m.”

He also said he suffered from fibromyalgia. The condition that triggers widespread pain can cause fatigue, sleepiness, moodiness and memory lapses. He said he took two drugs for the condition, fluoxetine, an anti-depressant, and Mobic, an anti-inflammatory. They can cause drowsiness or tiredness.

Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci left his office in Ravenna, Ohio, to view the crash to the north in Streetsboro. It was one of the worst he’d seen in two decades in office.

“You could see from the scene itself how the truck was coming at a high rate of speed and had plowed into a number of cars that were slowing or stopped for construction,” Vigluicci said. “How he bounced off one car to the next, and how he struck many cars, that he was incapacitated or asleep or something was going on that he was not watching what was ahead, and that he was not in control of that vehicle.”

Coroner Called

Ed Slattery was at his USDA desk in Washington when he heard that the Akron hospital had called looking for him. He rang back and was told that his boys were seriously injured in an accident. Ominously absent was any mention of his wife. He began to phone around to area hospitals. Minutes later, the Portage County coroner called.

“My response was, ‘I guess I know what that means,’” Slattery said.

A co-worker booked the last flight for him to Akron. Someone else stuck cash in his pocket. A friend took him to the airport and bought him a toothbrush there.

Pleading for Help

When Slattery arrived at the hospital about midnight, he went to a deserted fourth floor. He screamed, pleading for help.

His sons were on different floors. Peter’s left eye was black and swollen, and he was hooked up to various tubes. He would live. Matthew, a voracious reader who scored in the top 1 or 2 percent on school tests, had a traumatic brain injury. He lost more than half his blood, and his jaw was broken in two spots.

“They couldn’t tell me if he was going to live or not,” Slattery said.

All night, he rode the elevator between the 4th and 6th floors, visiting one boy, then the other. With Matthew’s brain swelling, surgeons had to remove a large section of his skull. They placed an artificial membrane in its place. The scope of the day’s tragedy finally caught up with Ed, who broke down in tears.

‘I Fell Apart’

“I fell apart,” he said. “It was the first time I cried. I kept saying, ‘If he’s going to die in there, you have to come get me, he can’t die alone.’ I was hysterical.”

Over the next month, Slattery left the hospital three times -- including once for his wife’s viewing and a second time for her memorial service. Surgeons operated on Peter’s hip, and he developed a severe infection. Matthew was in a medically induced coma with no motor, verbal or eye response. Weeks later, he moved his left index finger for the first time.

A month after the accident, Matthew was flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he remained for a week before he was transferred to Kennedy Krieger Institute, a pediatric rehabilitation facility. Therapists there worked on him for months, massaging the inside of his gums and moving his feet in an attempt to restore function.

Gradually, Matthew responded. He began speaking again after a year and progressed far beyond the doctors’ expectations. He especially warmed to slapstick and enjoyed a gag toy that made fart noises. He delighted in videos of comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham.

“He could see and understand, and he laughed appropriately,” Slattery said. “That was huge.”

Settlement Reached

By 2011, Slattery had hired attorney Jeff Burns of Dollar Burns & Becker LC in Kansas City, one of the leading law firms pressing truck-accident litigation. In 2008, Burns secured a $7 million settlement in a case against Estes over a crash in South Carolina that killed two people.

Burns entered into mediation with Estes and its insurance carriers over the Slattery accident. As part of the mediation, Slattery obtained documents about Bouch, who joined Estes in 1998. Those records showed he had sleep apnea and also had some minor accidents.

Estes gave him a written warning on Feb. 17, 2010, six months before the accident, after company officials assessed his driving twice in late 2009. They saw him weaving, following too closely, and making improper turn signals, according to the records.

Driving Violations

“On 2 occasions Mr. Bouch was observed with numerous safe driving violations,” the notice said. “These acts represent a hazard to Mr. Bouch, the public and the company.”

Future violations, the notice said, would result in him losing his status as a triple trailer driver.

Triple trailers have been banned from U.S. highways since 1991, except for 14 states, including Ohio, where their use predates the ban. Industry efforts to open up more states have been blocked by insurance companies, the police and safety groups, all of whom cite triple trailers’ longer stopping distance and their tendency to fishtail.

The $40.8 million settlement agreement was entered in state court in Missouri on July 7, 2011. Estes paid $25 million for Matthew’s care, $7.5 million for his father’s loss of companionship, $6.2 million for Susan’s wrongful death, $1.2 million for Peter’s injury, and $900,000 for the loss of companionship for Matthew’s three siblings. Ed Slattery insisted that his settlement remain public and not confidential, as are most such cases.

Special-Needs Fund

After expenses, the law firm took a third. Slattery later pledged $1 million to the Kennedy Krieger facility and $100,000 to the Akron hospital.

Peter, now a junior at Rhode Island School of Design, declined to discuss the case.

“Most of the settlement is in a special needs trust for Matthew and is very protected and very safe,” Slattery said. “It’s actually all off-limits to everybody, including me.”

Ed moved with Matthew this spring into a $3 million house full of accommodations for Matthew and his wheelchair, like polished concrete floors, railings, drawers without knobs, an indoor swimming pool, and sinks that are motion activated. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Ed moved with Matthew this spring into a $3 million house full of accommodations for Matthew and his wheelchair, like polished concrete floors, railings, drawers without knobs, an indoor swimming pool, and sinks that are motion activated. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

The settlement is the largest in the 83-year history of the company, now run by the founder’s grandson, Robey W. Estes Jr. Estes decided to settle after reviewing the physical evidence, witness accounts, Bouch’s statement to police, and the injuries to the Slatterys, said company attorney Kurt Rozelsky.

“Obviously, only Doug knows what occurred that day,” Rozelsky said. “Estes has to take at face value what Doug told the police and what the evidence showed.”

Lifetime Care

Estes resolved to pay the Slatterys for the death of Susan and lifetime care for Matthew, he said.

“By all accounts from family, friends and colleagues, she was a fantastic wife, an amazing mother, and a terrific professor,” Rozelsky said. “The loss of Susan Slattery was substantial, not just to her family, but to her community.”

Ed Slattery said his wife loved her life, leading summer science camps, reading Harry Potter books to Peter and Matthew, and writing notes at
Christmas from Santa Claus. Family Photo/Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Ed Slattery said his wife loved her life, leading summer science camps, reading Harry Potter books to Peter and Matthew, and writing notes at Christmas from Santa Claus. Family Photo/Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

After the Slattery accident, Estes also instructed its terminal managers and dispatchers to remind drivers of their responsibility to get a good night’s sleep before showing up for work, Rozelsky said.

“They needed to make sure they were rested, healthy, alert and ready to complete their driving duties,” he said.

Estes was able to pay for the large damages because it carried more than $100 million in insurance, Burns said. Individual truckers can carry as little as $750,000 in liability insurance. Had Bouch worked for a small firm, the Slatterys’ settlement would have been far smaller, Burns said.

U.S. regulators want to increase the minimum, and a bill pending in Congress would raise it to $4.4 million. It hasn’t gotten a hearing. Industry groups such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say regulators haven’t shown that raising insurance levels will improve safety. Small firms wouldn’t be able to pay the higher premiums, which would give a competitive advantage for bigger companies, the association says.

Of 507,361 general freight carriers, almost 75 percent have three trucks or less. Only 32 U.S. carriers have fleets of more than 5,000 vehicles.

Doug Bouch

A year after the crash, Bouch, now 52, was indicted on one count of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault. He pleaded guilty to all counts three months later in state court in Ravenna.

At the sentencing hearing in January 2012, Slattery wanted Portage County Judge John Enlow to send a message to the trucking industry. Slattery told a packed courtroom that Bouch deserved prison. Enlow sentenced Bouch to five years.

Jail Time

Bouch served his time at Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, Ohio, where life was brutal, he said. On the day before Thanksgiving in 2012, another inmate blindsided him in the dark with a sock containing batteries, giving him a gash over his eye. The violence around him was pervasive, he said.

“You ever see three grown men drag another grown man into the bathroom and rape him?,” Bouch said. “I have.”

He was branded a child molester because he kept to himself and read his Bible, he said.

Corrections Corporation of America, the facility’s owner, has a “strict zero-tolerance policy for all forms of physical and sexual abuse,” Jonathan Burns, a company spokesman, said in e-mail. He declined to comment on Bouch’s account.

Amid Bouch’s suffering, he got a typed letter from Slattery, who said he was “a bit surprised at how stiff the penalty was.” He hoped Bouch would join him in telling the industry to “stop the killing and maiming.”

Slattery said he was angry with Bouch, yet forgave him. “How can we reconcile between ourselves and how can we make a positive difference in the world?” Slattery wrote. “We are inextricably bound now. Let’s make something good out of it.”

‘I Forgive You’

Bouch wrote back to say he was sorry at “having been involved in such an accident.” Slattery responded by chastising Bouch for not taking full responsibility.

“Say ‘I’m sorry,’ make amends and move on,” Slattery wrote. “Making amends for you is tough. You can’t undo the consequences of your actions.” He closed: “I forgive you. Susan’s family forgives you. Now, begin to forgive yourself.”

Bouch wrote back to Slattery in small, neat print.

“My having been involved in such a horrific accident haunts me constantly,” Bouch wrote. “You simply can’t understand how sincere my sorrow truly is. I can’t apologize enough to make you feel any better, but I pray you, your sons, and your family will accept one from the bottom of my heart.”

Excerpt of Doug Bouch's letter to Ed Slattery. Click the image to read the full letter.

Excerpt of Doug Bouch's letter to Ed Slattery. Click the image to read the full letter.

Bouch said he prayed constantly for the Slatterys. He said that after the accident and before prison, he had studied for an associate’s degree in electrical technologies.

“I could not bear the thought of anything like this happening again,” Bouch wrote. “At 50, I was determined to start all over again to avoid driving trucks.”

Bouch’s Release

Slattery then wrote to Judge Enlow to urge Bouch’s release from prison so that he could “return to his family and begin to pick up the pieces of his life.”

He also said he hoped Bouch could help reduce accident deaths caused by the trucking industry.

Ed Slattery's Letter to Judge Enlow

“Doug has a terrifying story to tell,” Slattery continued. “I.e., your boss is going home to his family, you are going to jail. I’d like him to tell that story.” The judge freed Bouch on April 11, after only 27 months, or less than half his term.

Since then, Bouch and his wife Teresa moved into a second-floor apartment in Greenville, the town where he was raised. Despite his heartfelt apology from jail, his feelings about Slattery had hardened. Bouch spoke to a Bloomberg News reporter and photographer who arrived unannounced on a warm August evening.

Bouch Recants

Bouch, who had a goatee and wore large aviator glasses, said he still has nightmares about the accident. He said he didn’t fall asleep before the crash.

“I signed the accident report but I didn’t write it and I didn’t read it,” Bouch said. “What’s in it is not the truth. When a police officer said could I give a statement, I said, ‘Sure, I had nothing to hide.’ I had nothing to fear.”

He put blame for the accident on Susan Slattery.

“Susan made a choice,” he said. “She made a choice to pass me on the right, she made a choice to cut back in front of me. When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get stopped, I had to choose where to put the truck.”

Nothing in the accident report supports Bouch’s claim about Susan Slattery’s driving.

In any case, the crash was unavoidable, he said.

“There wasn’t anything I could have done, there wasn’t anything I should have done. But Ed Slattery had a choice, and he pushed and pushed and pushed for my incarceration. He chose to ruin my life, he chose to ruin my family.”

Factory Job

Bouch said his two adult sons have stopped talking to him. He’s never met his fifth grandchild, who was born when he was in prison. After his release, he said, he put in 172 job applications. He landed work at a pallet factory, making $9 an hour, or about $360 in a typical week. At Estes, he made $1,535 a week.

“If you had looked at me prior to the accident, you would have been like, ‘Why, look at this guy -- he’s a law-abiding, upstanding citizen,’” said Bouch. “Had I not been in prison, I probably would have been voted a deacon in my church.”

His sympathy for Ed Slattery is gone, he said.

“One of the reasons I pled was so that Ed didn’t have to come back over for a trial,” Bouch said. “Yeah, poor Ed. What an ignorant person I am. I’ve heard this for four years now, and it’s garbage.”

God’s Plan

He said he woke up at 3:30 the morning of the interview, as he usually did.

“I worked 10 hours today. You know I humped 48,000 pounds worth of lumber today by hand. I’m diabetic. I have neuropathy. It hurts. I have fibromyalgia. It hurts. I have narrowing of the spine in three places in my back. I can’t feel my feet. I can’t feel my hands, and everything else I can feel hurts.”

Bouch, who is a Baptist, said God had a plan for Susan Slattery to die that day and for him to drive the truck.

“I had a very big problem with why God used my vehicle to take that woman’s life,” he said. “If it hadn’t been me, it would have been somebody else. She was gone that day at that moment. It was not my choice, it was God’s choice.”

Bouch said he pleaded guilty because he expected he would get probation, not prison. He also said he was rested when he drove because he slept for eight hours on both the Friday and Saturday nights before the accident. What’s more, he controls his sleep apnea through a continuous positive airway pressure machine, he said. Fatigue didn’t cause the crash, he said. Bouch said his medications for fibromyalgia were prescribed by his doctor and approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation with the understanding he drove a truck.

‘Fatigued Trucker’

“Yes, it exists, and yes, it’s a problem in the trucking industry,” he said. “I wasn’t a fatigued trucker. I was starting my week out.”

Vigluicci, the prosecutor, said the physical evidence and statements of witnesses supported Bouch’s original admission at the crash scene that he fell asleep. He said Bouch’s reversal doesn’t sway him.

“I put very little credence in any of that,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not unusual that I see that kind of recantation from a defendant once he’s served his time and has nothing hanging over his head or no further penalty to face. Somehow that makes him feel better. That’s sad.”

Still, while Vigluicci said Bouch’s five-year prison term was “at least what he should have gotten,” he supported his early release. Slattery’s letter to the judge prompted “very serious discussions” in his office, he said.

Matthew’s Recovery

On a July day at Kennedy Krieger, Matthew spent hours with therapists. He struggled to pick up blocks and stack them. Matthew can’t find words easily, doesn’t always enunciate clearly, and his balance and coordination are poor. He has trouble with new information. He has no vision in his left eye, and only sees out of half of his right eye.

The blocks frustrated him. Still, he had an obvious chemistry with the therapist, laughing, shrugging and raising his shoulders to express himself.

Matthew has made great strides, yet he still has a hard time choosing his words. His father recounted one time when he had pieces of chicken left at dinner.

“He said, ‘Can I put these on the dog?,’” Slattery said. “What he wanted to say was, ‘Can I give these to the dog?’ The answer was no in either case. But the fact that he said, ‘Can I put these on the dog?,’ that’s a complete sentence. And that’s great. That’s a huge improvement.”

Slow Progress

Ed moved with Matthew this spring into a $3 million house he had built in Timonium, Maryland. The house is full of accommodations for Matthew and his wheelchair, like polished concrete floors, railings, drawers without knobs, an indoor swimming pool for physical therapy, and sinks that are motion activated.

Matthew is making slow and steady progress, yet will always need care. In August, he spent a week at a Boy Scout camp in Michigan.

During a visit to the Slattery house on an August afternoon, Matthew displayed considerable facility with his wheelchair, zipping around corners and changing directions nimbly. He played “Candy Crush” on his iPad, and he intently watched “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” on the large-screen television. His spirit is indomitable, his father said.

“He doesn’t know he’s disabled,” Slattery said.

Wedding Band

Slattery, who wears both his wedding band and his wife’s on two adjacent fingers, likes to tease Matthew. At one point, Matthew wheeled into the kitchen, where he poured himself a large glass of iced tea. The collar on his blue polo shirt was turned up.

“What’s up with the collar?” Slattery asked.

Matthew shrugged his shoulder and raised his palm, as if to say, “I don’t know.”

Ed Slattery spends the afternoon with his son Matthew, 16, at their home in Timonium, Maryland, on August 11, 2014. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Ed Slattery spends the afternoon with his son Matthew, 16, at their home in Timonium, Maryland, on August 11, 2014. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

“I love him so much it hurts,” Slattery said. “Maybe too much.”

Slattery spoke to Bouch by phone last month. They agreed to meet in person. Slattery visited Bouch on Aug. 16 -- the four-year anniversary of the crash -- in hopes that they could still reconcile. Slattery said he spoke with Bouch for 90 minutes on the Bouchs’ front porch.

Grief, Anger

“He is totally, absolutely convinced he did nothing wrong and couldn’t have done anything differently,” Slattery said.

“He kept saying, ‘I came over the hill and saw brake lights and there was nothing I could do.’ He has just completely refabricated this in his mind. He said several times, ‘You’re the only one who had a choice.’ He said I made a conscious decision to put him in jail, which is crazy.”

Bouch didn’t return calls seeking comments about Slattery’s account of their meeting.

The discussion didn’t end well for the two men inextricably linked by their grief and anger over a death. They ended up shouting at each other, with Bouch threatening to call the police, according to Slattery.

“He screamed at me, ‘I hope you burn in hell,’” Slattery said. “I said, ‘But Doug, you killed my wife.’”

To contact the reporters on this story: David Voreacos in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, at; Jeff Plungis in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rick Schine at; Michael Hytha at; Jon Morgan at Cecile Daurat

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