Two years after she was left for dead on a remote country road outside of Pullman, Wash., Kristen Grindley still struggles to remember.
The 25-year-old Washington State University alumna scribbles down her schedule and leaves notes in her pocket in order to keep track of her day-to-day routine. Kristen volunteers at a local Walgreens, where she learns through repeated instruction and always keeps her locker combination in her pocket.
“If they show me something they have to show me again, more than twice,” she said. “I just forget what they showed me to do.”
Kristen lives with her parents in Woodinville, Wash., as she continues her fight to recollect the past and improve her short-term memory.
Left for dead
Rick Grindley, Kristen’s father, said it is probably better that Kristen doesn’t remember the night that changed her life.
On Nov. 11, 2009, Kristen fell or was thrown from the back of her ex-boyfriend Richard C. Pasma’s truck on Pullman-Albion Road, according to Whitman County Court records. Pasma, 26, was sentenced to nine months in jail for hit-and-run after entering an Alford plea last November. By entering the plea, Pasma did not admit guilt but instead acknowledged that a jury would have enough evidence to convict him.
Pullman attorney Timothy Esser, who defended Pasma in the case, said Pasma chose to enter an Alford plea because the prosecution originally requested an exceptional sentence of 5 years, but by agreeing to the Alford plea Pasma cut the maximum sentence down to nine months.
“This gets complicated, but even though (Kristen) had horrendous injuries and tremendous medical expenses, what he was charged with and pleaded guilty on was leaving the scene of the accident, not causing the accident,” Esser said.
Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy said the sheriff’s office worked extensively to put together a case and he had a good chance of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Pasma knew Kristen was injured and left her in the middle of the road, but not that he intentionally inflicted the injuries. For this reason, the prosecution asked for an exceptional sentence for hit-and-run rather than a charge of vehicular assault. As the case progressed, though, Tracy reached an agreement with the defense to settle short of a trial in order to guarantee a conviction.
“My first priority was convicting him and my second priority was the amount of time spent behind bars,” he said. “It’s just awfully frustrating when there are only two witnesses to a crime and very little physical evidence, and one of the two witnesses can’t remember what happened.”
Esser said both the Grindley family and the Pasma family feel like victims in the situation.
“I think it would be in the best interest of everybody to get beyond that mindset and get on with their life,” he said.
Pasma was released from Whitman County Jail on June 13, 2011, according to the county sheriff’s office. Esser said he was released early for good behavior.
Kristen still does not remember the accident. She was found lying in the road with multiple skull fractures, a broken ankle and shoulder and road rash all over her back, Rick said. She was in a coma and did not regain consciousness for two weeks, one of which she spent in an intensive care unit. Rick said she opened her eyes a little bit but it wasn’t until a few days later that she tried to speak.
“I leaned real close and just barely heard the breath off her lips,” he said.
He said that moment produced mixed emotions. He was relieved to hear his daughter speak after doctors speculated she would never talk again, but what Kristen had to say was painful to hear – she whispered that she was hurting.
Kristen’s mother Pat Grindley said she wants her daughter to be 100 percent healthy and happy after all she has been through.
“It’s hard,” Pat said. “I want her the way she was before, but I don’t know if that will happen … I can’t forgive or forget what he (Pasma) did to her.”
Learning to remember
Kristen said she is in therapy to train her memory and learn to manage her schedule.
“She’s trying to regain her memories from years ago,” Pat said. "She likes to spend time with her friends and they kind of help fill in the blanks for her.”
Those blanks include adventures from high school, childhood vacations to Lake Chelan with her family and the months leading up to the night she was injured. However, with help from friends and family, she can recall parts of her social life at WSU and working at Subway in Pullman. She even remembers the classes she took, though not always the information from them.
“I feel like I don’t remember what I learned but when someone tells me it triggers something and I know the answer,” she said.
Kristen is learning to drive again and wants to find a full-time job with her degree in advertising. She practices cooking once a week and catches the bus to Seattle with friends for dinner or a movie. Recipes can be challenging because she has to remind herself of the instructions several times, and it will be a while before she can remember bus routes well enough to travel into Seattle on her own, Pat said.
Kristen said her friends are understanding and supportive but have to tell her stories multiple times because she forgets what they told her just days before.
“I hope to get back more of my memories from the past,” Kristen said. “I want to get back what I’ve done.”
‘I think it’s almost done.’
Rick said doctors predict Kristen will make a “close to full” recovery, which includes regaining more of her long-term memories. Her therapy helps train her short-term memory, which is also expected to improve. However, some memories will likely never return and Kristen suffers from some permanent hearing loss.
Kristen wants to become independent, but for the time being, Rick said, “everything’s on hold.”
The progress is slower now than when she first got out of the hospital, but her family still sees gradual improvement in Kristen’s ability to remember and understand things. Rick said the family as a whole has become more cautious so no one else gets hurt.
“We thank God every day that Kristen’s here with us,” Rick said. “The extent that she’s recovered now it – quite frankly, it’s a miracle.”
Kristen said she used to work with three different therapists multiple times per week but now she sees one therapist every three weeks.
“I think it’s almost done,” she said.
She is proud of her recovery and motivated for the future by how far she has come during the past two years, from near death in an intensive care unit to preparing to drive again.
“I have a social life and friends and the ability to get around,” she said. “I just know I’ve changed so much and that’s inspiring to me because I hope in the future to change more and get back to my old self.”