In the wake of a recent car crash that left him wheelchair-bound, Ahwatukee Foothills musician Austin Coulter, 20, says he's having a hard time just getting around, much less playing drums, guitar or saxophone.
"My favorite instrument is drums, and I won't be able to drum for a long time, that's for sure," he said.
Coulter said he believed he had enough time to clear the intersection at Ranch Circle after the light turned yellow as he traveled eastbound on Ray Road in his Toyota Tercel around 4 p.m. on Oct. 28. But at the same moment, Marisol Gonzalez, 33, traveling in the opposite direction, decided to attempt a left turn in her Jeep Cherokee, right into the path of Coulter's car, according to a police report of the accident.
"We hit head on," Coulter said. "I didn't even have time to step on the brakes or anything. The airbags came out. That's when the glass shattered everywhere."
The impact collapsed Coulter's car like a soda can, and sent it careening into an adjacent Chevy Suburban. The force pushed the engine into his lap, burning his legs, but he could not escape the wreck. He could smell the leaking gasoline.
His left leg was broken, slashed to the bone and losing blood rapidly.
"I looked down and noticed, ‘Oh, man. I'm in pieces,'" he said.
Neither Coulter nor his passenger - girlfriend Jasmine Claywell, 20 - were able to escape the wreck on their own, and had to be cut out of it by firefighters. Coulter said Gonzalez approached his car as they waited for help to arrive.
"My face was all bloody. I turned to her and said, ‘Help me get out of here.' She covered her eyes like she couldn't handle seeing it," he said.
Gonzalez later was cited for failure to yield, according to the police report.
Claywell said the burning smell and crunching sounds from the accident are vivid in her memory.
"I blacked out for a lot of it," she said. "I remember seeing the dashboard of the car coming real close to my face. I remember telling him that I loved him as they pulled me out of the car. That's about all I remember."
Coulter later learned the wreck had snapped his left femur in two places and cracked his spine, left shoulder blade, and a rib. Claywell said his leg looked so bad hospital staff discussed amputation.
"When we got to the hospital they thought he was going to lose that leg," she said.
Doctors managed to save it, but had to install a titanium bar with steel bolts to hold it together, and dozens of stitches to seal up the gash, Coulter said. He spent nearly a month in the hospital, and finally was released on Nov. 23.
However, he said he'll be confined to a wheelchair for about 10 weeks before the rehab program to help him walk again can begin.
Claywell, who broke her sternum, collarbone, wrist, arm and eight ribs, spent nearly two weeks in the hospital.
"I could feel my ribs crackling every time I would breathe," she said.
She still has glass in her feet and legs.
"I can't wear shoes now because it's pushing up against the bone," Claywell said.
The pair's combined medical bills are expected to exceed $100,000, and they have hired a lawyer, Coulter said.
Coulter, who graduated from Mountain Pointe High School in 2008 and trained as an audio engineer at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, said he's been doing some freelance work producing demos for local bands on his computer, and is looking for any type of work he can do from a wheelchair.
Claywell said the two of them, unable to go out and do things like hike South Mountain, are developing a case of cabin fever while they recover.
"Just laughing hurts so bad," she said.