Phuong Dinh, 18, and her lawyer say the initial response of aid has since subsided.
On a sunny day in September, 18-year-old Phuong Dinh snapped photographs from her window seat in a charter bus filled with other North Seattle College students as it motored across the Aurora Bridge.
“And then, ‘Bam,’ ” she recalled. “Nothing else. Just flashes after that.”
But while in a hospital bed several days later, memories from a deadly crash flooded back: She remembered blood covering her face, seeing a bone piercing through the skin of her left leg.
Dinh said she didn’t recall seeing the lumbering Ride the Ducks tourist vehicle plow into the bus in the crash that killed five international students and injured dozens of other people.
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In fact, she only fully understood the magnitude of the accident when she phoned her father in Vietnam days later.
“He said, ‘You’re alive. You’re so lucky. Several people died,’ ” she said. “And I said, ‘Really?’ ”
She suffered a broken leg and arm. Now, four surgeries later and more than two months after the crash, Dinh spends her days in a Central District nursing facility slogging toward recovery and worrying about her future.
An initial outpouring of concern from college administrators, city officials and the community has seemed to vanish, she and her lawyer said Wednesday. As donations have dwindled, and with her health insurance set to lapse in a month, Dinh and her family wonder how they’ll be able to cover her health care that is likely to extend for months, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think that the community has forgotten us,” Dinh told a crowd of media gathered in a physical-therapy gym at Seattle Keiro, a nursing facility. “When I was in the hospital, some people came to visit. But now less and less people. They stop coming. I don’t have any support anymore.”
Insurance to expire
No longer an enrolled student, the mandatory health insurance Dinh receives under a North Seattle College international student’s program is set to expire soon, said her attorney, Karen Koehler.
Beyond that, promises from college administrators and city officials have been broken, Koehler said.
“Everybody came in and said, ‘Do not worry, we’re going to take care of you.’ And initially, there were steps to take care of them,” Koehler said.
Most survivors needed only short-term care, but Dinh and at least four others remain in long-term- care facilities, she said.
“They just hadn’t counted on some of these people having to be (in) prolonged recovery,” Koehler said.
North Seattle College spokeswoman Melissa Mixon said the school, which is part of a state community-college district that includes four Seattle community colleges, is doing all it can to help. The district purchases its insurance for international students through The Lewers Company, which requires students remain enrolled to receive coverage.
“So what’s been communicated, if you’re unable to re-enroll as a student, you’ll need to get insurance either through another provider or the Affordable Care Act,” Mixon said.
She added the college is now “exploring other options to help any student who might be required to get additional coverage.”
Koehler said she is also pursuing coverage for Dinh.
Koehler also said she is “appalled” at the lack of response to victims from Ride the Ducks, which Dinh said hasn’t so much as written or called her.
Ride the Ducks’ owner Brian Tracey issued a written statement on Wednesday expressing sorrow for Dinh and other victims. As far as assisting them, the statement says Ride the Ducks is bound by requirements of its insurer.
“Unfortunately, decisions around financial support are driven solely by the insurance process,” the statement says. “We’ve been told that if we step outside the insurance process to help students — which we’ve wanted to do — it could jeopardy (sic) the benefits of everyone involved.”
Patricia Buchanan, an attorney for Ride the Ducks, noted Tracey’s family has been involved in local philanthropy and remains devastated by the crash.
“It isn’t a matter of whether Ride the Ducks can help, it’s a matter of how they’re allowed to help,” Buchanan said.
Koehler doesn’t buy it.
“That’s lawyerspeak for we won’t do anything unless our insurance company does it,” she said. “A company is not bound to do what its insurance company wants them to do.”
Dinh, who recounted crying often during her initial weeks in the rehab facility, said her primary concern now is learning to walk again. Still unable to bear weight on her left leg, the bones of which are now reinforced with metal rods and screws, she mostly needs to use a wheelchair.
“I sit right here and do the stuff like I should have done when I was 3 or 4 years old,” she said. “How to walk and how to lift up my leg.”
Aside from the continuing health-care costs, Dinh’s parents have paid their own travel from Vietnam to Seattle, and while they’ve had their lodging covered by the Salvation Army, they worry about the future, Koehler said.
Dinh’s father, Hiep, who runs a family construction business, remains in Seattle. Her mother returned home last week to care for the couple’s two other children.
A spokesman for Mayor Ed Murray said in an email Wednesday that Murray “led a community giving campaign” to support victims immediately after the crash that garnered more than $57,000 in donations, and rallied in-kind support from hotels, restaurants, airlines and other businesses.
The city also “worked to connect Phuong Dinh’s family with the Salvation Army” for assistance, the email said.