MIDDLETON — After stopping to help someone on the freeway, and getting hit himself, Jamie Harrell spent about two months in the hospital. He is recovering now but hopes to see again after the accident left him legally blind.
Harrell was returning from a New Year’s Eve party when he saw a wrecked vehicle and stopped to help.
At 1:42 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2017, Harrell was driving home from Boise after a night out with his friends. On Interstate 84, he saw Ricardo Sanchez’s wrecked silver Neon Plymouth in the median. This was close to exit 26 in Caldwell, about 10 miles from his Middleton home, according to the police report. The weather was cold, and the sky was cloudy. The roads were wet and partially covered with snow and icy spots.
He was hoping to check on Sanchez, 37, and help him, as needed. Harrell pulled over and dialed the Idaho State Police. The details after that are a blur, but both Harrell and Sanchez were struck in a three-vehicle crash — Deacon Baker, 22, who was driving a Toyota Corolla with a passenger and Jessica Echiribel, of Middleton, who was driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee with three passengers, according to initial police reports. A third vehicle, an unknown semi, also involved in the crash fled the scene.
Baker was traveling in the left lane and swerved to the right to avoid Sanchez’s car, which had no hazard or any other lights on. In doing so, he hit the guardrail, and his car came to rest. Echiribel also tried to avoid hitting the cars blocking the left lane but, according to police reports, she said she hit a man and another car. Nobody else was injured in the crash.
Echiribel, who was 20, registered a blood alcohol level at .063/.064 on the breath analyzer, according to police. Her Jeep hit both Sanchez and Harrell, according to an Oct. 19 police report. Both Sanchez and Echiribel were driving under influence of alcohol, according to the police report.
Sanchez died at the scene, and Harrell was transported to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise with serious injuries.
Harrell’s list of injuries is long — he had nine breakages in his left leg, was initially declared brain dead, had damage to his ribs and one of his kidneys failed as a result of the crash, he said.
He spent about 40 days in the intensive care unit, and the crash changed his life forever.
“I was making about $1,000 a week,” working as a commercial truck driver, he said. “Now I make about $1,100 a month ... on Social Security.”
The biggest adjustment, Harrell said, was getting back to living normally. He would often wake up and blink his eyes multiple times hoping he had somehow regained his vision overnight, he said. The brain damage from the accident left permanent damage to his optic nerves, Harrell said, leaving him legally blind.
“I just wanted to see again,” he said.
Throughout his recovery, his fiancee, Nena Harrell, stayed by his side.
“She saved my life,” he said.
Nena said she just wants Jamie to be able to see and work again.
Jamie and Nena are now trying to raise funds to be able to buy eSight glasses which will help him see again.
“I don’t want to live off the government,” Jamie said.
His biggest goal for this coming new year is to be able to get a job that allows him to be independent — “Walmart, or Home Depot ... I just want to work anywhere.”
The fundraiser is to pay for eSight glasses which, according to the manufacturer’s website, “let the legally blind actually see.”
Patients with legal blindness usually still have some usable vision, according to American Foundation for the Blind’s website. Harrell said he is able to get around but cannot see any details.
The technology in eSight uses an ultra high-definition camera that captures what the user is seeing in real time and transfers that image to a virtual screen in front of the eyes, Scott Myers, communications manager at eSight explained.
“Esight closes a vision loss gap,” Myers said.
Jamie’s campaign already has received contributions from 21 donors totaling about $2,505, as of Nov. 22. The glasses cost $9,995.
Despite the high cost of the glasses, the company has an affordability advocacy team that helps individuals like Jamie find funding to buy the glasses, Myers said.
“I need eSight so I can again begin living life the way it was meant to be lived,” Jamie said. “I just want to be able to work and see Nena’s face.”
A week ago, Jamie got to try the eyewear first hand to experience vision after months of near complete blindness. He saw his fiancee and looked out of the window.
“There’s my pretty lady, I said.”
The crash wasn’t the first time Jamie had stopped to help a stranger, and even though the crash has turned his life around, he said he has no regrets that he stopped to help.
“It was without a doubt the right thing to do,” Jamie said. “I would still stop today if someone needs help.”
He remembers how years ago he helped two strangers in Sturgis, South Dakota, and has been friends with them ever since.
“I’ve stopped lots of times to help people,” he said.
Despite his injuries, he still encourages people to stop and help.
“You could save a person’s life,” he said.
Nena said she hopes he hadn’t stopped — “none of this would have happened, obviously,” she said, but she is proud he did.
“He would have stopped, he will still stop for anyone,” she said.
Jamie said he now hopes to volunteer at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which helps blind people live independently.
Prior to the accident, Jamie was a commercial truck driver and while he doesn’t particularly miss driving, he misses the freedom to do so. Since the accident, Jamie stays home helping with chores mostly, but he also has found solace in an old hobby of his — photography.
“There is no point just sitting here being depressed,” he said.
He has an Instagram account, called Blindmanphotography, where he shares nature photos — all taken since he lost his sight. The equipment he uses is a Pentax camera and even though his vision is limited, Harrell said with his background in photography he has a general idea of what the pictures will look like.
“I know what makes a good picture,” he said.
The idea behind his Instagram photography page is to hopefully be an inspiration to other people in similar situations, he said.
“I cannot wait to see again,” Jamie said.