She’d spent eight hours learning to drive, cautioned against all manner of bad things that can happen with a car. Except the one that actually did.
“It’s not something I learned in driving class,” said Katherine Kaczmarski, 16, who was hit by a car and pinned to a concrete pillar as the car crashed through an insurance office. “It’s not something I ever could have expected.”
A Fort Mill Police Department report lists the incident as a traffic collision. No arrests or charges are mentioned. Officers responded a little before 5 p.m. June 3 to InSure Insurance at 818 Tom Hall Street, where they found Kaczmarski “lying on the ground and bleeding from her left leg.” They were told Kaczmarski and her mother Gretchen Locy were leaving 911 Driving School when a white BMW drove forward over a curb and sidewalk hitting Kaczmarski, according to the report.
The driver of the BMW told officers she was there to pick up her daughter from the driving school. She had another daughter and that daughter’s friend in the car at the time. The daughter in the car had a panic attack at the scene, the report states, requiring a trip to CMC Pineville.
Never miss a local story.
Officers wrote in the report that the BMW’s driver said she thought she put the car in reverse after her daughter attending the driving class went inside, but it went forward instead. She agreed to and performed a field sobriety test and officers “didn’t observe any clues or indicators” of impairment, the report states.
A South Carolina Highway Patrol report lists the driver as contributing to the collision, but doesn’t list any charges.
For Kaczmarski, it was painful irony leaving a class on safe driving to end up lodged between a car and neighboring office. It may also be considered ironic that the driving school’s name refers to the police officers it employees are instructors.
“It can happen to you,” she recalls learning in the class, though not specifically of what happened to her. “And I walk outside the building, and it does.”
Mom and daughter use the word “bizarre” often in describing the scene. They aren’t sure why a car would jump a parking barrier and sidewalk with enough speed to put a hole in a metal building.
“I was literally just a half a step in front of her,” Locy said. “It hit her just below the left knee. She is holding on to one leg screaming, ‘my leg, my leg, my leg!’”
The pair doesn’t know whether to curse their luck for having been part of something so unusual and dangerous, or be thankful it didn’t end worse than it did.
“I came within a breath of getting hit,” Locy said. “She probably came within a breath of getting hit full on and going through the glass and into the building.”
Kaczmarski received medical attention from police and firefighters on scene. She then went to the Pineville, N.C., hospital, followed by a transfer to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. She had surgery in which a rod, screws and pins were installed.
“My tibia was broken,” Kaczmarski said. “It was a relatively clean break. There were some fragments.”
Initially, the car was still running even after it came to a stop. Locy called for the driver to cut it off, fearing it might surge forward again or in reverse.
“Either way would not have been good,” Kaczmarski said.
Her lacrosse coach, Tom McNeil, and his wife happened to be at the strip mall when the accident occurred. He and another man pulled the pillar away from her as McNeil’s wife called 911. Onlooker Cathy Blackwell held Kaczmarski in her lap and comforted the teen, as a nurse arrived to begin caring for her. Emergency responders cared for her. Everyone from business owners to her school principal to neighborhood children coming over to color with her while she heals have reached out since.
“There have been so many angels in this whole thing,” Locy said. “The only person we haven’t heard from is the lady who hit her.”
The family tried reaching out. Kaczmarski and Locy said they don’t understand the lack of a response from the driver.
“I want to talk to her,” Kaczmarski said. “I don’t think that logically would happen. I’d like some closure.”
The rising junior finds her thoughts in “lots of different spaces” now, from having to heal her leg to the summer trips she won’t be taking, the lacrosse training she won’t be doing, the cello — she plays with the Union Symphony Youth Orchestra, and had an audition planned for the day after the incident — she won’t be playing.
But understanding what happened may top the list.
“I’d like to understand, from her point of view,” Kaczmarski said.
Locy said she and her daughter are both “pretty anxious around cars now.” Kaczmarski won’t be driving or learning to drive again anytime soon. For now, she focuses on what she can do. She can't yet shower on her own, but Kaczmarski and brother Alex can play video games together. She is thinking of taking up woodburning art.
“I am getting my summer reading done,” she said.
The family doesn’t yet know the full recovery process.
“We’re making progress,” Kaczmarski said. “Every day, it’s a little more.”