For a Ripton family, life changed in an instant

MIDDLEBURY — Christina Walker’s daily routine began as usual on Thursday, April 20. She took the wheel of the family car to drive her fiancé, Brian Kerr, from their Ripton home to meet his work colleague in Salisbury. From there, the two men would travel to their latest job site.
It only took a split second for the couple’s lives — and those of their three children — to take a dramatic and tragic turn on that fateful day.
It was at around 6:30 a.m. that day that their vehicle collided head on with another car on Route 7, just north of the Salisbury Hog Farm, near Pomainville Drive in Salisbury. The catastrophic accident claimed Kerr’s life and resulted in serious injuries to Walker, who must now rebuild her health and her life.
The driver of the other car, 33-year-old Shawn Newell of Ferrisburgh, pleaded innocent on June 5 in Addison County Superior Court, criminal division, to a felony charge of grossly negligent operation of a vehicle with death resulting. Vermont State Police allege Newell was speeding and driving with a suspended license northbound on Route 7 when he veered into the southbound lane while passing a slower vehicle. He was unable to merge back into the northbound lane in time to avoid the oncoming Walker/Kerr vehicle.
“The only moment when I lost any (consciousness) was when the air bags popped out and hit me,” Walker recalled in an interview last week. “But I pretty much remember everything. And the last breath that your partner takes is not something you wanted to remember him for.”
Along with mourning the loss of her fiancé, she is trying to mend her broken body.
Walker’s right foot and a large portion of her leg are still confined to a massive cast more than seven weeks after the crash. Her big toe is broken. The top of her foot is fractured, as are portions of her knee and tibia. She believes she will need additional surgery to remedy ligament damage in her knee. She’s recovered from her punctured lung.
It almost hurts just to watch Walker move, which she does gingerly with the aid of a walker. Long distances require a wheelchair. Her immobility has forced her to temporarily move into an extended family member’s small Middlebury apartment off Court Street, which is served by an elevator. She can’t yet return to her apartment in Ripton, because she can’t make it up the stairs.
She was hospitalized from April 20 to 25, then spent eight days receiving physical therapy at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation.
The saddest part of Walker’s health setback and current living arrangement is that it has temporarily separated her from her two youngest children, daughters Liberty (8 years old) and Cori Rose (16). Fortunately, her late companion’s parents — Tom and Donna Kerr — have been able to take in the children at their Ripton home.
Walker’s son Andrew is 18, employed, and living independently.
“It’s important for the kids not to lose contact,” Tom Kerr said. “Liberty has a lot of anxiety about it. A phone call is OK, but it’s not as satisfying. Both the kids have this thing where, ‘Dad’s gone, now it’s mom.’ They had to go to the hospital every day to make sure their mother was OK. I pick Liberty up from the grade school at 5 p.m., and the first words out of her mouth are, ‘Are we going to see mama?’”
Walker said her children have unfortunately had “more bad days than good” since the accident. Counseling has been helping. Walker confesses she’s made her kids her main focus, as opposed to herself.
“I’m trying to make sure their needs are taken care of,” she said. “Being a mom, it’s a lot. I want to be able to be strong. I haven’t dealt with (the crash aftermath) very well, but I hold myself strong so that my children don’t realize how upset I am.”
Time has been her ally in the healing process, but also a reminder of the solitude imposed by her incapacities. She’d never been much of a TV watcher, but has reluctantly surrendered to some mindless entertainment during her medical confinement. Walker has also been playing computer games, doing research, and of course resting in between doctors appointments.
Thankfully, Walker has medical insurance through her longtime employer, Helen Porter. But she and her family are still trying to resolve damage claims with automobile insurance companies.
“It’s an uphill battle all the way,” Kerr said.
Walker has been unable to return to her job at Helen Porter, where for the past 17 years she has worked as an LNA and an activities planner, primarily serving patients living with dementia. She said her Porter colleagues have been wonderful in providing her with moral and financial support. Helen Porter workers recently collected contributions and organized a blanket raffle to benefit Walker and her children.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place to work,” Walker said.
She and Tom Kerr gave the Middlebury and Ripton communities a huge shout-out for the well-wishes and benefits they have hosted to give the family a helping hand.
A recent pizza fundraiser in Ripton netted around $1,700 for the family’s expenses. Several local businesses have put out donation jars. A family friend, Heather Smith, initiated a (now-concluded) online “gofundme” campaign.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has helped financially through all of my difficulties,” Walker said.
Kerr has been amazed with the outpouring, which has come from people who have experienced similar crises in the past, as well as from folks they have never even met.
“It’s just been unreal,” Kerr said.
Thankfully, Helen Porter has a disability benefit that Walker said will allow her to continue to draw her salary for around three months while she recovers from the accident. She will need to apply for further benefits if she expects to be out longer — which is a virtual certainty. Walker has been told it might be a year before she has full, “normal” use of her leg.
Walker fears Helen Porter might not be able to hold her job if she is she is out much longer.
“That’s the part I’m really worried about,” she said.
Tom Kerr is worried about Walker as well, and for the welfare of his three grandkids, with whom he wants to share many more memories. He will have to hold on to the memories of his late son, taken too soon. The wreckage of both vehicles in the crash continues to be held as evidence by state police in New Haven. It provides a painful reminder of his son’s last moments.
“(Brian’s) side of the car was hit so hard that the passenger seat snapped off and was laying in the back,” Kerr said. “The automatic shifter for the transmission was on the back seat. The impact was ferocious.”
Anyone interested in helping Walker can reach her at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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