[Running TV Commentary]
For two decades, Stephen King has frightened millions
of readers and movie-goers. But now he's finding himself in the center of a real life horror story - one that could have been lifted straight from his novels.
Stephen King: "It just happened. Bang it was there and I woke up with my lap on sidewise. Maybe there'll be another book, maybe there won't. Today I'm more concerned with walking again without crutches."
It was almost five months ago that this story began as King was taking his daily four-mile walk near his remote summer home in Lovell, ME. Route 5, less than a mile from King's driveway, is a rural two-lane highway that twists, turns, and slopes through the town - population 1,200.
King remembers cresting a hill that sunny June afternoon, but remembers very little of what happened next.
Stephen King: "I was walking off the side of the road on the shoulder and something came over the top very fast, and I thought to myself, it's a school bus and it's going to hit me."
It wasn't a school bus, but a light blue Dodge Caravan.
Police say the van was moving about 45 miles an hour when Bryan Smith, the 41-year-old driver, was distracted by his rottweiler.
Stephen King: "The guy was on the shoulder. He wasn't on the road at all. If I had been walking in the road, I wouldn't have been touched. I got one look and the next thing I knew I was looking at the back end of the van."
As he walked along the shoulder facing traffic, the
van struck King on his right side, sending him flying
into the windshield, up in the air and over the roof.
Nancy Talbot: "I saw a van sway off the side of the road, and a person fly into the air and hit a ledge."
Eyewitness Nancy Talbot was among the first on the scene and among the first to reach King.
Nancy Talbot: "I was sick to my stomach over it, looking at that person. Didn't know if he was going to live or not. He was very gray, in shock."
King was conscious, but barely, lying in a ditch by the side of the road. His hip was dislocated, part of his scalp was torn away, a lung was about to collapse. Several ribs were broken and his right leg, knee, and hip were completely shattered.
Stephen King: "I looked down at myself and my entire waist was turned around sideways, and I could see this bulge in the side of my jeans. And I thought to myself, if that's a bone, I'm in trouble here."
He was in serious trouble. Emergency medical technicians soon arrived.
Stephen King: "The emergancy guy says, 'Uh, Stephen, I'd like to see you wiggle your toes.' And I wiggled my toes. And I said, 'Could you see them moving?' And he said, 'Yeah, good wiggle.' And I said, 'Do you swear to God, are my toes really moving?' And he said, 'Yes, they are.' And I said, 'Am I going
to die?' And he said, 'Not today.' And when I talked to that guy later on the phone, he said, 'You're lucky to still be with the program. I didn't think you'd make it to the hospital."
Katie Couric: "The same guy who had said, 'Not today?'"
Stephen King: "Yeah. I guess that one of the first things that they learn in EMT school is when the roadside vic says, ĎAm I going to die?í you say, ĎOh hell no,í you know? Because it bums out your whole day if the guy says ĎYeah, yeah, yeah.í"
As King was rushed to the hospital, police tracked down his wife of
Couric: "Tabitha, this must have been obviously horrific for you to get
Tabitha King: "The phone call I got was to meet the policeman. And I did not understand for some time the extent of his injuries. He was conscious, his head was very bloody, but he was...between the drugs and the shock, he was still talking and tracking very well."
Stephen King: "I never shut up. I was thinking, you know Iíd like to have an open-viewing coffin with a pull ring, so I could actually pre-record things like, 'Aren't I looking natural? Isnít it nice that I didnít suffer?' You know, things like that."
Tabitha King: "And I tell him, 'Donít get too excited, youíre getting a coffee can. A nice, nice old Maxwell House coffee can.'"
Couric: "You all are sick."
Stephen King: "We joke about it because we had a close one. Nobody makes you any promises. Theyíre saying you have a good chance to walk again. Look, Iím really delighted not to be a quadriplegic. Itís great to be alive and they donít have to promise me anything."
King now owns the van that hit him. He says he bought it to keep it out of the hands of macabre souvenir hunters. As for the driver, Bryan Smith has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of aggravated assault and driving to endanger.
Couric: "Are you angry at him?"
Stephen King: "I donít think that would serve me any purpose. Itís an energy drain and what happened is what happened. Whether heís a good guy or whether heís a bad guy, heís obviously a very bad driver."
While Bryan Smith declined Datelineís request for an interview, he has publicly apologized for the accident. But a copy of his driving record shows a 20-year history of violations including driving to endanger, operating under the influence, and driving with a suspended license. Although King says he will not sue Bryan Smith, there is something of his that King wants.
Stephen King: "There isnít really anything that heís got that I want except his license. Unfortunately thatís a paper thatís very hard to get away from anybody in any state."
In fact, Maine claims to have one of the most rigorous suspension policies in the country. But even here, as in Smithís case, a long list of violations spread over many years may not result in the permanent loss of a license.
Couric: "Do you think anything should be changed so if this happens to someone else, there will be different consequences?"
Stephen King: "I think that it should be a little bit easier to permanently remove the privilege to drive."
Because of the accident, Bryan Smithís license has been suspended again; he has pled not guilty, and is currently waiting for a court date. For now, the future for both men remains uncertain. After three weeks in the hospital, seven operations and nearly five months physical therapy he describes as torture, doctors still donít know if King will ever regain full use of his right leg ó the one which is now held together by pins.
Couric: "Tell us about that contraption [holding your leg together], that fashion statement youíre making."
Stephen King: "No, actually Iíll let my wife tell you about this."
Tabitha King: "Thereís two pieces. Thereís the appliance that holds the pins that hold the bones together."
Stephen King: "Phone Home Shopping Network now, operators are standing by, use Tootie."
Couric: "Obviously you rely on a lot of humor to get you through this."
Stephen King: ďHumor and drugs, the two things together, yeah."
Tabitha King: "And bitching. Thereís a lot of bitching off camera."
Stephen King: "Yeah, big time."
Humor and therapy may eventually help restore Kingís ability to walk. Whatís less clear are the long-term effects on his livelihood.
Despite torturous rehabilitation, doctors still donít know if King will ever regain full use of his right leg - the one which is now held together by pins. Recently King got good news: a short time after the interview, the metal cast was removed.
Stephen King: "After the accident I was totally incapable of writing."
By late July, King decided he needed to make an attempt to return to his craft; it was much harder than he anticipated.
Stephen King: "At first it was as if Iíd never done this in my life. It was like starting over again from square one. I mean from like being 12, 13-years old. There was this one awful minute when I sat there and I thought, 'I canít do this, I donít know how to do this anymore.'"
Couric: "Was it a memory thing at all?"
Stephen King: "I donít know whether it was a confidence thing or whether it was a memory thing. It took about four days to actually look at the sentences and see that they still made sense. But I thought if I didnít go back to work, maybe I wouldnít go back to work."
Couric: "Do you think youíll ever incorporate this experience in a book?"
Stephen King: "Sooner or later everything goes in."
There is heavy irony in the accident becoming a future element of Kingís work. Some aspects already bear a striking familiarity to some of his earlier books ó the demonic car in Christine, or the crippled author in Misery. But there was one case of life imitating his art, that he found particularly troubling.
Couric: "I know that your book Rage is a book that you would like to take out of print."
Stephen King: "Rage is a book that deals with a kid who brings a gun to school, shoots a teacher and holds a class hostage."
It was a scenario that existed only in Stephen Kingís mind, a fantasy. Then came the rash of school shootings that have plagued many communities in the 1990s. Kingís solution was to ask that the book no longer be published.
Stephen King: "I took a look at Rage and said to myself, if this book is acting as any sort of accelerate, if itís having any effect on any of these kids at all, I donít want anything to do with it, regardless of what may be the moral and legal rights and wrongs. Even talking about it makes me nervous."
While King is worried that his writings could have an effect on impressionable minds, the anger of his characters is something heís all too familiar with.
Couric: "You said the following at one point in your career ó ĎI donít think itís out of the question that I could have been one of those guys who climb up to the top of the Texas Tower with a carbine and just start blasting away. I think I am a naturally aggressive person, and I think almost all of that has been channeled into my work.í"
Stephen King: "Thatís an accurate statement. But Iím a little bit older now. Iíve mellowed a little bit. With me, I think that whatever began as kind of a catharsis, as a way of getting rid of those feelings, has become in my middle years more of an examination, of saying, 'Why do we have to be so goddamn angry so much of the time?'"
King writes about an equally angry time in his new book, Hearts in Atlantis. Written before the accident, it focuses on the tumultuous years during the Vietnam War.
Couric: "You were somewhat trepidated about writing about that era for a long time. I mean, that is your generation."
Stephen King: "Mm-hmm."
Stephen King: "We called each other ĎMan. Yeah man.í When you look back on it, everything about the 1960s seems kind of plastic fantastic and kind of fake."
Because of Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen Kingís name is once again on the best-seller list. But five months after the accident, while King is dabbling in nonfiction, there is no sign of a new novel in the works.
Tabitha King: "I have every confidence that heíll continue to write. Either that or heíll have to go get a job, thatís all. He likes to threaten people and tease them with things like, 'Sorry, Iím not going to do it anymore. Beg me, beg me and make me feel more appreciated.'"
Stephen King: "Whip me, beat me, make me write bad checks."
Couric: "Your wife has a lot of confidence."
Stephen King: "More than I do."
Couric: "I was going to say, do you?"
Stephen King: "No, not a lot."
Will another new Stephen King novel appear in bookstores again? That remains a mystery. For now, the master of misery and death is just happy to be alive.
Stephen King: "I donít know how much Iím going to be able to write and what Iím going to be able to write, but thatís not the most important thing anyway. I think that to still be able to walk and talk and occasionally crawl on my belly like a reptile has made me intensely grateful."
Steven King got some good news last week. Heís shown so much improvement, doctors were finally able to remove that heavy leg brace. He still faces months of rehabilitation however, and maybe even more surgery. Doctors say that while heís progressing they wonít know for at least a year if heíll ever regain full use of his leg.
During Mr. King's hardship, millions of people around the world - fans and critics alike - sent their warmest, heartfelt wishes for his full recovery. Today he appears to have full use of his leg and seems quite healthy. For more information on the incident, visit the Accident page linked below.