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Pasco school bus crash victim testifies about his shattered life

DADE CITY — When Marcus Button awoke from his medically induced coma and was able to speak again, it was with a deep Southern accent even his parents didn't recognize.

He expressed a newfound hatred for white people even though he is white. He thought he had been in outer space and to Thailand. He saw spiders.

"My son who woke up, he was not the same son I gave birth to," his mother, Robin Button, testified.

"He wasn't the same boy," said his father, Mark.

In court Wednesday, they were recalling the weeks after a 2006 car crash that left their son with head injuries. Button, then 16, was riding in a friend's car when a school bus struck them on State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel. The friend escaped with minor injuries. The bus driver was determined to be at fault.

The Buttons are suing the Pasco County School Board for negligence, seeking damages to cover Marcus' long-term care.

An economist hired by the Buttons' attorney determined that could amount to more than $10 million over his lifetime.

Button, who spent months in rehab learning to walk and talk again, is blind in one eye, has no sense of smell, walks unsteadily and has difficulty concentrating and staying on task. He's angry and depressed, according to his doctors and family.

The jury of five men and one woman heard directly from him on Wednesday, during the second week of testimony.

A thin, blond man who looks younger than his 19 years, he spoke slowly and matter-of-factly from the witness stand about his life before and since the crash.

"I've got a little bit of stage fright," he said as he sat down.

He remembered a happy childhood with his parents and two brothers, going to malls and parks, playing ball in the yard.

"I figured every kid's life was as good as mine," he said.

He was overweight as a child, he said, and got picked on at school. That led to poor grades and bad behavior.

"I guess I was just trying to make my point," he said. "I can't say it's the best strategy."

He said he didn't remember much about the day of the crash, except he's sure he put on his seat belt.

"It was a natural habit," he said.

Emergency workers did not find him wearing one at the scene of the crash, and School Board attorneys contend that's why his injuries were so severe.

Button called his recovery "very complicated" because new maladies continually dog him.

"I wake up every morning, find out about one tiny little detail that I have to compensate for on top of all the things I'm already compensating for," he said.

Button, whose facial bones were damaged in the crash and whose eyes are permanently dilated, didn't cry describing his ordeal. He said he hasn't cried since the crash.

As for his appearance, he said: "I feel like the right side (of my face) being higher than the left side is not a good thing at all. Doesn't look good, doesn't feel good. It makes me feel like a freak. Nobody else's face in the world is like mine."

And his job prospects? "I tend to get a little angry at small things sometimes, he said. ''I don't have all the skills that I used to. I don't have any patience. I don't have any people skills, either."

Still, he'd like to finish high school, attend community college and maybe become a chef one day.

"I'm hoping I can at least make a dessert," he said.

Pasco school bus crash victim testifies about his shattered life 07/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 8:59pm]
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