It was supposed to be an enjoyable outing. Sandra “Kay” Brunet, Kara James and Samantha Marcel had taken their supervisor, Lalisa Robinson, out to lunch for Bosses Day on Oct. 15.
The quartet of friends, who made up half of the billing and coding staff for the medical records department at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center, were headed back to work that Friday afternoon and looking ahead to an enjoyable weekend when their day abruptly ended in tragedy.
Less than two blocks from the hospital, Marcel’s 2003 Honda Civic, in which the women were riding, was hit head-on by a pickup truck driven by 26-year-old Ronnie Rios, who had just seconds before swerved into oncoming traffic and struck another vehicle on the same stretch of Industrial Boulevard.
According to police reports, Marcel and Robinson were killed instantly. Brunet and James suffered multiple injuries.
Rios was arrested and charged with driving left of center, driving under suspension, two counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of first-degree vehicular negligent injuring and one count of vehicular negligent injuring. Master Trooper Bryan Zeringue, a spokesman for Louisiana State Police Troop C, later said Rios was using the radio when his Ford pickup sideswiped a Chevrolet and slammed into the Honda.
Blood tests are still pending from the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab to determine if alcohol or drug use played a part in the fatal wreck, according to Zeringue.
Following the crash, James was taken to the Medical Center of Louisiana in New Orleans where she spent 16 days in the trauma center before being transferred Nov. 1 to Terrebonne General Medical Center. She is still hospitalized and undergoing treatment for her injuries.
Brunet suffered multiple lacerations and both of her femurs were fractured in the crash. Her recovery at Chabert Medical Center has not only given her a view of the health profession from a patient’s perspective, it is restoring her faith in humanity.
“You get cynical about people. Then something like this happens and you change your mind,” Brunet said from her hospital bed, referring to the outpouring of help being offered to her, James and the families of Robinson and Marcel.
Brunet said she is overwhelmed by the support being offered from not only staff at Chabert, but also an effort under way by the entire LSU Health System to defer medical expenses and funeral costs associated with this incident.
According to Chabert CEO and Hospital Administrator Rhonda Green, a massive effort is in progress to collect money for the four families of employees impacted by this tragedy.
“The monies we collect, we’re splitting four ways because two families are faced with burial expenses that they were not expecting. Two families [Brunet and James] are faced with not being able to work, but having mortgages to pay and other expenses,” Green said.
Green said she did not have a figure on the value of cash and services already offered and that it is hard to estimate total medical expenses her two employees are expected to incur.
“It’s just been amazing that so many people cared and have gone out of their way to help me, my kids and my husband,” said Brunet, the mother of three children, two of whom live at home. “They’ve had departments cook and freeze stuff for my family. They even bring stuff they know my kids will like.”
In preparation of her future needs, members of the Chabert maintenance department, in which Brunet’s husband, Robert, is an employee, have already taken on the task of building a wheelchair ramp at her home.
“People I don’t even know have come around and offered help,” Brunet said.
Liz Callais is the hospital’s CFO and hired Brunet five years ago. “We just want her restored,” Callais said while rubbing the arm of her subordinate and friend.
Green said that the crash caused a great feeling of loss for not only the persons directly involved, but hospital staff as well.
“One of our sister hospitals, Lallie Kemp [in Independence], is doing two months of fundraisers. All the hospitals in our system have kicked in to help out as well,” Green said.
Green and Callais said much of the outpouring of help stems from the longevity experienced by most of the hospital’s 1,000 local employees. “This [kind of reaction] is characteristic for this area,” Callais said.
Brunet, who was thrown through the windshield of the vehicle, said she doesn’t remember the crash or the events of the day, but acknowledged that out of it she has benefited not only in the tangible donations, but also in the realization that she does live and work in a caring community.
Green said that contributions of money, goods or services to the families of Brunet, James, Robinson and Marcel can be offered by calling Georgette Hartman at the Chabert Medical Center administration office at (985) 873-1285.
LSU Health System employees have united efforts to assist the injured survivors and families of those killed during a crash last month involving staff members at the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center. Pictured from left are Chabert CFO Liz Callais, Kay Brunet who is being treated for her injuries and Chabert CEO Rhonda Green. MIKE NIXON