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Hurt has yet to heal for victims' families

On the last weekend of April, nine people lost their lives in car accidents in the bay area. In August, the Times profiled the families of the victims, sharing what happened to the people left behind.

Few have moved on. Their stories have not brightened much.

Last week Buffy Schutt celebrated Christmas with a husband who can't speak. Scott Schutt was brain damaged and his best friend killed during a car crash April 25 on Interstate 4. The two had hitched a ride back to a hotel with a stranger who flipped her Camaro on the highway. Schutt, a former Coast Guard sailor, needs to be tended to 24 hours a day.

"Let's just say that my life will never, ever be the same and I have a real bad attitude toward that girl," Buffy Schutt said.

"That girl," Jennifer Martin, who witnesses said was speeding in her Camaro, has not been charged with a crime. The case is still open, officials said. And because Martin has no assets to speak of, the Schutts' attorney has turned to a construction company that was doing road work at the time of the accident as a potential source of damages.

"It's possible that the placement of a concrete barrier too close to the highway contributed to the accident," said Bruce Greenspan, a Jacksonville lawyer. "It's my obligation to look at all possible avenues of compensation."

The lawyer for the family of Manuel Ramos is employing a similar tactic. Ramos, a Peruvian immigrant who worked in a Sarasota doctor's office, was killed April 25 by a 17-year-old who veered across Interstate 75 and smashed into him. Both drivers died on the road.

The lawyer for the Ramos family is trying to collect $5-million damages from a mix of sources including the doctor's insurance company, the boy's insurance policy and the boy's mother. Ramos has left his wife with three children to support.

"For damages, we're supposed to put a price tag on how much Manuel would have made had he not been killed," said Jay Misenberg, the family's lawyer. "But he used to give his son cello lessons; how do you put a price on that?"

Wrongful death civil suits can drag through the courts for years. Criminal cases move faster. Kristin Fagerlund, who was charged with DUI/manslaughter, is expected to be in prison soon.

The 27-year-old accountant rammed a parked car on the morning of April 25, killing two people. Her blood alcohol level was more than twice the level at which a driver is presumed impaired in Florida. Her case is nearly impossible to defend, her lawyer said. She has a prior DUI conviction. Her trial is set for March.

"Kristin has her good days and bad days," Tampa lawyer Victor Pellegrino said. "She knows that she could spend the next two decades behind bars and never be a mother or see her parents again. . . . This holiday could be the last with her family."

Of the five accidents that last weekend in April, the accident with Fagerlund is the only one that has resulted in criminal charges.

Representatives of the other families profiled by the Times declined to comment.