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Victims Of Charlottesville Vehicle Attack To Testify In Court

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You will remember, back in 2017, a man in Charlottesville, Va., drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters following a rally by white supremacists. Tomorrow, that man will go on trial. He's charged with killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring more than 30 people, and some of those people are still recovering. We're going to hear from two of them. And we should say their stories may be upsetting to you. Sandy Hausman from member station WVTF has this report.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: When she heard about plans for a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, 28-year-old Al Bowie knew she had to be there. She drove 70 miles from her home in Richmond, Va., to protest racism.

AL BOWIE: It started getting ugly immediately. They were throwing gas bombs. They were throwing rocks. And, once they threw the smoke bombs, what they would do is they'd send guys out with bats and shields just to beat up anybody that was in that general area.

HAUSMAN: Police declared a state of emergency. When they ordered Unite The Right participants to leave a downtown park, Bowie and other counterprotesters were jubilant. They marched through the city in celebration.

BOWIE: People were chanting, whose streets? Our streets. And there was a guy with a vuvuzela, and he was just blowing that horn as hard as he could.

HAUSMAN: Minutes later, a car allegedly driven by then-20-year-old James Fields raced down a narrow street clogged with people, hitting many, crashing into a parked car.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Screaming).

HAUSMAN: Bowie rushed in to help those who'd been hit.

BOWIE: I didn't even consider that it could be intentional. I just knew I needed to get people out of there so medics could start working on them. I got about 2 feet away from the bumper, and he put his reverse lights on. So I got hung up on the trunk of his car, and I got smashed into a parked truck.

HAUSMAN: Her pelvis fractured in six places. Nearby lay 38-year-old Star Peterson. She, too, was critically injured.

STAR PETERSON: I saw Heather fly through the air. And then, I felt bumps, which I later put together were the tires going over my leg.

HAUSMAN: Her legs and a rib were broken, and she suffered two spinal fractures. She would spend nearly a month in the hospital. And, after 15 months, she's still recovering.

PETERSON: I had one infection after another for about a year. Just this year, I've had to have three additional surgeries. I had to have my leg immobilized for a long time, so took a really big detour. And I'm just now finally making additional progress beyond where I was a year ago.

HAUSMAN: Both women had health insurance. But copays and deductibles left Bowie with big medical bills. She still suffers panic attacks that leave her struggling to breathe, and the prospect of a trial has made her psychological problems even worse. Still, she plans to be in court to testify and to observe. Star Peterson will be there, too.

PETERSON: Because I need to do something for the woman I saw murdered. And I feel like testifying on her behalf is something I can do for her.

HAUSMAN: If he's found guilty, Fields could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Next year, he'll be tried in federal court for a hate crime that could mean the death penalty.

For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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