EDMOND — Luke Smith might find it hard to view himself as lucky, but his doctors insist he is.
The Edmond teenager broke his hand, pelvis and left leg and was left with a traumatic brain injury after he was thrown from a sport utility vehicle while “car surfing” with friends last month. Medical experts said it is a wonder he is alive.
“Head and spine injuries can kill you with these kinds of cases,” said Jennifer Parrott, pediatric trauma program coordinator at OU Medical Center. “Anything less than that you are lucky to get away with.”
Smith, 15, was released Wednesday from The Children's Center in Bethany. Another boy injured in the same incident, Ashante Laquon Burris, 16, of Edmond, remains in critical condition at OU Medical Center.
Smith's parents, doctors and nurses talked about his case Wednesday at The Children's Center.
Dr. T.R. Lewis, Smith's orthopedic surgeon, said being thrown from a vehicle even at low speed can cause fatal injuries.
Phil and Shelley Smith said their son is doing “as well as could be expected” given the injuries he suffered. They hope his case will serve as a warning to other parents to learn about car surfing and talk to their kids about it before it's too late.
Smith and Burris and seven other boys were taking turns car surfing on a 2000 Chevy Blazer March 22 in an Edmond neighborhood, according to a police report. Smith and Burris took their turn with one of them lying on face down on a luggage rack on the roof of the SUV and the other standing on the bumper and holding on to the rack.
Cornelous Deshon Runnels, 15, was the driver. According to the report, Runnels was speeding on the 2000 block of Running Branch Road and swerving from side to side when Burris and Smith were thrown from the vehicle.
Both of them tumbled down the road and hit mailboxes. Burris' head hit a brick mailbox, causing life-threatening injuries to his brain and numerous broken bones in his shoulder and face. According to the police report, Burris' mother said he opened his eyes April 8 after being unconscious for 16 days.
Police said they will turn over their findings to the district attorney's office this week. Prosecutors will decide whether to file charges against Runnels — who doesn't have a driver's license — or any of the passengers in the SUV, including the 18-year-old owner of the vehicle, Alexander Gambel.
Phil and Shelley Smith said they were shocked when they found out their son was car surfing.
“We weren't aware of car surfing or that we needed to talk to our son about that,” Shelley Smith said.
Their main concern was Luke's health, but Phil Smith said he couldn't believe his son did something so reckless.
“I was talking to a friend, and I asked, ‘Did we do things like that when we were kids?'” Phil Smith said. “We rode in the back of pickup trucks. We held on to the fenders of cars while we rode our bikes. We used a rope to ride behind a car on our skateboards. I guess we were lucky.”
Luke should fully recover, but the process will be slow. The biggest concern is his traumatic brain injury, similar to those commonly suffered by soldiers wounded in roadside bomb attacks. Such injuries can cause behavioral issues in addition to physical symptoms.
“It's going to be a gradual process,” Shelley Smith said. “We are going to ease him back into school and everyday life.”
The Smiths said they hope their son's injury can serve as a warning to other parents to discuss car surfing with their kids.
Lewis said young people with a sense of invincibility are a dangerous mix when they start playing with cars, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and other motorized equipment.
“They are in charge of very dangerous toys,” he said.