Two months after the accident, Theresa’s trauma therapist helped her into a wheelchair and pushed her to the corner of 34th and Park to confront the pole against which she had been crushed. It was—is—still bent. A hot-dog vendor named Islam Mohammad, who has worked that corner for seven years, remembers seeing her. There’s a major accident at the intersection three or four times a year, he says. He is always ready to run, as he did when he heard the tires squealing just before Theresa was hit. Dante Novoa, a doorman at 4 Park Avenue since 1980, and one of the first to call 911 for Theresa, also saw her return in a wheelchair. “I was so happy,” he says, “because when I saw her last, I saw her dead.”
Theresa’s friends see a connection between her relentless pursuit of her music career and her success in rebuilding her life after the accident. “She wasn’t even supposed to be a candidate for a prosthetic,” says Ethan. She wears one now and walks on her own. “I feel like I walk like Frankenstein,” she says, but in fact her gait is more like that of someone recovering from a knee or ankle injury. Ethan recounts an incident at a Greenwich Village restaurant: “The waiter watched her walk in and saw she was moving a little slowly. When he brought the check, he sat down with us and told her, ‘I’m going to do something real special for you.’ ”
He closed his eyes and uttered what Ethan calls “some weird little prayer.” Then he said, “Now, honey, in two weeks, your ankle will be all better.”
As they watched the waiter walk away, Theresa asked, “How much should we tip him?”
“Well, he did heal your ankle,” said Ethan.
When she’s onstage, her injury is far from obvious. Most in the audience—perhaps more blinded by her powerful voice than fooled by her prosthetic—are completely unaware of it. They see neither victim nor survivor, but a sultry lounge singer who might have stepped out of a film noir to belt out soulful renditions of classics like Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By.” She uses the power of her left leg to rock her hips in time with the music.
Before the accident, Theresa’s reaction to the handicapped was “Man, that’s got to suck.” She was right. “It does suck,” she says. “But—and the buts become relevant—I can still do X, Y, and Z, and it turns out that is enough to sustain meaning. Life is in extremes now. It goes from the sheer joy of bringing a bag of groceries home by myself to the absurdity of watching a jogger pass by and knowing that my right leg is cremated in a box on top of my television set.”
Jonathan Carrington was charged with second-degree assault, a class-D felony. For Theresa and her friends and family, the trial registered as little more than an unwelcome distraction from the critical task of recovery. Ethan says they were not interested in revenge, in part because no one involved believed Carrington—despite his carelessness—had meant to hurt anyone. “Our focus was purely on Theresa,” he says.
Theresa attended the trial only long enough to deliver her brief testimony. Yes, that was indeed her shoe on the street in a photograph displayed by Assistant District Attorney Alberto Roig. The moment struck Carrington as cruel showmanship. “I couldn’t believe the D.A. made her do that,” he says. “Dr. Cushman had already testified in graphic detail about exactly what happened to her.” Theresa didn’t feel great about it either, but rather “a little used.”
On their way out, Theresa and Ethan found themselves at the same elevator bank with Carrington and his family. When an elevator opened near Carrington, directly across the hall from Theresa, he and his family took it. “As the doors were closing, he stared at us,” Ethan says, his eyes wide as he recounts the offense. “He had the balls to stand there and look right at us. Wouldn’t you turn away? Wouldn’t you lower your head? When I saw that, I went from not really caring about the outcome of the trial to thinking Fuck ’im. All I wanted to see was a little remorse. And I never once saw that.”
Carrington must have known his goose was cooked, and not just because Theresa had been such a sympathetic witness. During his testimony he made the awkward argument that the NO LEFT TURN sign at 34th Street did not also prohibit leftward U-turns, and tried to deflect blame on the southbound taxi that had come “bam out of nowhere” and knocked him into Theresa. On direct examination, he admitted that he had been convicted of multiple felonies at the age of 18, had served seven years, and had fabricated parts of his résumé to account for the missing time and launch his successful career. On cross-examination, Roig brought out the details of his Carrington’s prior convictions: At least one burglary was at knifepoint.
Despite these revelations, there was widespread surprise in both camps first at the guilty verdict, and then at the sentence. “We didn’t even think he was going to get convicted,” Ethan says, pointing out that Carrington’s blood-alcohol content registered below the threshold of legal intoxication, that the U-turn was a mere traffic violation, and that no one believes Carrington actually meant to harm Theresa. “And he got the max.” New York Supreme Court judge Bonnie Wittner sentenced Carrington to seven years, with no chance of release until at least April 2009.
“I’m doing this interview not for my own interests, and against the advice of my attorney, solely for Ms. Sareo,” Carrington told me across the visiting table at Franklin Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison near the Canadian border, where he is one year into his seven-year sentence. Also present was his close friend Linda Posluszny, who helped to arrange the visit and with whom I had traveled to the prison. “In the worst-case scenario, whatever I say to you could be twisted and used against me. But in the best case, maybe it will give Ms. Sareo some understanding of who I am and some more insight into what happened, and maybe even some form of relief.”
Presentable even in prison greens, and well spoken, Carrington resembles less an uneducated ex-con than a high-school English teacher. With his case under appeal, he refused to discuss the events leading up to the accident, saying only that his testimony was on record, and did not mention Gabrielle Gilpin by name, instead referring to her as his “associate.” Except in emotional moments, as when recalling Theresa’s appearance on the stand to identify her shoe, Carrington managed to avoid speaking directly about the trial as well, but it is clear that he feels he was portrayed unfairly by the prosecution. “The only two people who were telling the truth in that courtroom,” he says, “were myself and Ms. Sareo.”