VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A local college campus was rocked after a beloved professor was almost killed in a car crash earlier this month. Virginia Beach Police say a drunk driver was responsible.
“We were within minutes of our home,” said victim Kathy Merlock Jackson, a professor at Virginia Wesleyan University in Norfolk. “We were minding our own business, stopped at a light and our lives are changed forever.”
Joe and Kathy Jackson were on the way home from a charity event Feb. 7. They pulled up the light behind a pickup truck at Northampton Boulevard and Pleasure House Road.
“I looked up into the rear view mirror and I saw police lights,” Joe Jackson said.
“I remember Joe saying they are not stopping,” Kathy Jackson added.
“Almost as soon as that, we got hit at 60 mph,” he said.
“And then I just remember this deafening thud and I just felt like every bone in my body had shattered,” Kathy Jackson said.
The Jacksons’ car spun several times before coming to a stop.
“I remember saying ‘Am I dying,?'” Kathy Jackson said. “Joe grasped my hand and said ‘Help is coming.'”
Joe Jackson suffered a broken leg and arm. Kathy Jackson, a broken leg and internal injuries that required immediate surgery.
“Kathy had a ripped diaphragm, so it forced all of her organs up in to her chest cavity,” Joe Jackson said.
Virginia Beach Police say they were trying to pull over a driver right before the crash. 72-year-old Robert Thompson was arrested for allegedly driving drunk.
“Of course we are a little bit angry,” Kathy Jackson added. “Of course we are sad. Of course we are a little bit bitter. Why did this happen to us? But the outpouring of support has been incredible.”
Kathy Jackson is a professor at Virginia Wesleyan, while Joe Jackson is a former newspaper reporter. Part of their recovery has involved learning more about the man police say put them in the hospital and figuring out why this happened.
“I would ask him what happened that night,” Joe Jackson said. “How did you happen to be on Northampton Boulevard the same time as us?”
“The person should not have been on the road,” Kathy Jackson added. “You just feel so helpless, because you know there are people out there who are flaunting the rules that are designed to make everybody safe.”
Thompson talks from jail
From inside the Virginia Beach jail, Thompson wanted to tell 10 On Your Side what happened earlier this month.
“I can’t explain why I would drive into a car that was sitting in a red light,” Thompson said.
Thompson says he wasn’t feeling good and went to Walmart to get mucus medication. He claims he took the pills in the parking lot and then started to drive home.
“I don’t remember hitting them right now,” he added. “I’m deeply sorry. I said that to the police officer. I’m very sorry, but that was an accident.”
In addition to a driving under the influence charge, Thompson is facing two counts of maiming. He was also cited for driving on a suspended license and without insurance.
“They got me charged with maiming,” Thompson said. “That sounds like a criminal act for criminal. You have to have some kind of intent do so some criminal act. I didn’t have no intent to crash into anybody.”
Thompson said he couldn’t remember a lot of parts of the incident during the interview with 10 On Your Side. He couldn’t remember anything before or after the crash. He doesn’t think he had anything to drink.
“I don’t recall going into any bar or any restaurant and getting any beer,” Thompson said.
Thompson has a history of arrests involving drinking and driving, the last one happened almost 20 years ago. This time, the charges are much more severe. He is being held without bond and will have a preliminary hearing in April.
As Thompson sits in jail, Joe and Kathy Jackson sit in the hospital. They won’t be released for another week.
“Anybody could have been in this position and I guess that’s what makes it so scary,” Kathy Jackson said.
“How lucky do you feel, Kathy?” Joe Jackson asked.
On Virginia Wesleyan’s campus
On the campus of Virginia Wesleyan University, students are confronted with making decisions everyday.
“What’s the best ethical and practical way to get through this issue?” asked sophomore Anitra Howard.
And no one sees more ethical issues than the university’s ethics team, which is coached by Kathy Jackson.
“It is very nerve-wracking, especially in a competition setting when you’re going up a bunch of kids that have been practicing all year long,” freshman Criofan Shaw said.
On Feb. 9, the team was competing in the Ethics Bowl in Lynchburg. It is the biggest event of the year, but the day before they hit the road, they received devastating news.
“We were all really shell-shocked,” Howard said.
“I didn’t know how to handle it at first,” Shaw added “I was a little dumbstruck.”
“They had been in a car accident,” junior Alex Powers recalled. “It was very serious.”
Jackson and her husband were in the hospital at the time. Jackson was fighting for her life.
“I was just in her office a few hours prior to the accident talking about preparing for the Ethics Bowl,” Powers said.
The team realized they would have to go to it alone.
“We wanted to win for her at that point,” Shaw said.
“It was really weird and kind of scary to go out there on our own without her,” Howard added.
Virginia Wesleyan hadn’t won the Ethics Bowl in 20 years. This time, the students wouldn’t be denied.
“To have won, that meant so much, and the first thing in my head was ‘Oh my gosh we did this for her,'” Howard said.
“It was really special,” Powers said. “You couldn’t have written a better script in that sense given the circumstances.”