TV reporter from Arlington back on the job after being hit by car in January

Posted Monday, Oct. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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On a cold Wednesday night in Charlotte, N.C., a TV news director made an urgent call.

It wasn’t to give a reporter an assignment or to check on a scoop; it was to tell Victor and Kristin Vandergriff that their daughter, on the job for just six weeks, was in the intensive care unit.

Caroline Vandergriff, a reporter with News 14 Carolina, was on assignment that rainy January evening when a collision in a slick intersection sent a car careening into her at about 40 mph. Her body flew about 30 feet.

“I saw the two cars come barreling in the intersection and hit each other, and I saw the headlights,” she recalled. “I don’t really remember much about it after that but being on the ground in the rain.”

The 25-year-old’s body was crushed. Her pelvis was broken in two places, her skull fractured in three. Her left arm became dislocated from her shoulder, requiring a plate and eight screws to keep it in place. She also lost her sense of smell.

But now, after half a year of hospitalization and rehabilitation, the granddaughter to former Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff is back at work.

She doesn’t feel the slightest bit sad or angry, and though the sound of cars zooming past her as she walks is startling at times, her reporting took her to the corner of a different dangerous intersection within her first week back on the job.

Others might have had second thoughts, but not Vandergriff. Journalism, as they say, is in her blood.

“Reporting is what I like to do,” she said. “I like to be out in the field and talk to people. It’s a big honor to me to be able to tell people’s story every day.”

‘You just do what you have to do’

The night of the accident, all flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to the Charlotte area were booked, leaving her parents anxiously waiting through the night for the next flight.

“No one wants to get the kind of call we got that night,” Victor Vandergriff said. He knew only that his daughter had been seriously injured in an accident and may not survive.

Kristin Vandergriff slept on a recliner for the two weeks her daughter, an Arlington Lamar High School alumna, was at the hospital. She stayed with her during rehabilitation, too, in the end taking three months off work.

“I just basically left my life in Arlington,” Kristin Vandergriff said. “I shut off my computer at work on Jan. 30 and didn’t turn it back on until I got back.”

Bound in a wheelchair until April, Caroline Vandergriff spent a month in Arlington for physical therapy. Her boss told her to focus on her recovery, that she would have a job when she was able to go back.

“I was able to embrace the small victories and the big ones, too,” she said. “Whatever it was that day. If I could put my socks on with one hand, I celebrated that.”

Finally, in April, Kristin Vandergriff decided it was time to return home.

“It’s kind of like, ‘She lives far away and she’s an adult on her own,’ but you have to have faith that she’ll make the right choices,” Victor Vandergriff said. “At the same time you cannot put your head on the pillow every night worried that something bad will happen.”

An outpouring of love

Vandergriff’s boss remembers the second day his young reporter was in the hospital. He went to visit her and she told him she didn’t think she could make it to work on Monday.

“Yeah,” Jim Newman, Channel 14 news director, told her. “I don’t think so.”

Because she hadn’t been at the station that long, Newman and the other employees didn’t know her that well, but that didn’t stop them from visiting her every day.

“We really tried to make sure that she knew we were all there,” Newman said. “To me, 10 years from now, what I’ll remember about Caroline’s accident was her spirit. She is just unbelievably positive.”

But it was Newman who gave Caroline Vandergriff something to look forward to besides getting back to her job. Her older sister Katharine was to wed in July, and Newman told her that she would be dancing at the wedding.

From then on that became her goal.

On July 6, Kristin Vandergriff watched her oldest child walk down the aisle and her youngest dance at the reception, an act that seemed impossible a few months back.

“It was a very significant part of the wedding,” her mom said. “I get teared up just thinking about it.”

Despite the pain, uncertainty and hard work, Caroline Vandergriff said she has learned a few good things from her accident. She learned that she was surrounded by the love of friends, family and co-workers, and she learned how to use her pain to empathize with others.

“I think because I went through that, it helps me relate to people, make a deeper connection,” she said.

Her story inspired her father. During his visits, when he wanted to comfort her, it was she who put him at ease. “The whole experience in a weird way, just watching her and how she took it, it just kind of makes you want to do better,” he said.

Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST

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