On a summer evening in 2010, Canadian Bethany Benson, then 22, was being driven to her home in Oshawa, Ontario, by her boyfriend from her aunt’s house in Michigan. Feeling tired and with a long drive ahead, Benson decided she would try and get a little more comfortable. With her seat reclined and her feet up on the dashboard, Benson soon drifted off to sleep. But her unwise decision to relax in this position changed Benson’s life radically.
At the time of the fateful drive, Benson was looking forward to heading back to her hometown’s Trent University to complete her B.A. degree. The young woman was majoring in history with a minor in French. Benson was a passionate athlete who enjoyed playing a variety of sports and was hoping to train as a teacher after she graduated.
But events in the early evening of August 2, 2010 would put paid to both her enjoyment of sports and her career ambitions. With her then boyfriend, Paul, at the wheel, Benson would be involved in a vehicle accident that would totally transform her future. Benson has no memory of the crash itself and has had to rely on the help of witnesses to try and piece together exactly what happened that day.
After leaving Benson’s aunt’s house, Paul began driving the pair of them home on the 400-plus-mile journey in her mom’s car, a Pontiac Sunfire. After crossing the U.S.-Canadian border from Michigan to Ontario, Paul continued to drive along the field-flanked Highway 402 as Benson fell asleep. It wasn’t until the car was approaching the small town of Strathroy at about 5.00 p.m. that the young man suddenly realized something was wrong.
On the road ahead, there was a smash involving a small car and a motorbike that would trigger a chain of events leading to Benson’s devastating injuries. A truck driver who was directly behind the collision slammed his foot on the brakes in an attempt to pull up short of the wreck. The Pontiac Sunfire was traveling behind the truck, and despite Paul’s best efforts to avoid crashing in to the back of the braking vehicle, he was simply unable to prevent it.
Taking a look at the subsequent pictures of the crumpled Pontiac Sunfire after the crash is chilling. It is clear to see that this was no minor accident and the mind inevitably conjures up the most horrific consequences for anyone traveling in the car. Amazingly, both Benson and her boyfriend survived. But what is terrifying is that despite Paul needing 100 stitches, in comparison with Benson’s injuries he had a lucky escape. However, to use the cliche that they both walked away from the crash would be cruel.
An airbag released in the event of a collision inflates at a higher speed than most F1 racing cars can achieve – almost 200 mph. A passenger-side airbag expanding at this velocity impacted on Benson’s legs, forcing her limbs up off the dashboard and directly into her face. This caused the young student severe and debilitating injuries that were a harsh penalty for trying to get comfy.
As a result of Benson’s knees hitting her face with such force, her left eye socket, cheekbone and nose were all smashed. Her jaw was dislocated, she would lose her spleen and both feet were broken. In fact, the accident compressed Benson’s feet to such an extent that after rehabilitation they would become almost two sizes smaller than they were before the crash.
When she came round in intensive care the day after the accident, Benson’s left pupil was dilated. It would stay that way permanently, adversely affecting her eyesight. The young woman’s hearing was also affected and she lost some of her memory. After years of study, Benson woke up no longer able to speak French – her minor subject at university, remember – and she even struggled to communicate fully in English.
In an interview with Canadian website Driving.ca conducted four years after the crash, Benson describes her recovery and the dawning realization of just how serious the accident had been. She was sad that her injuries had brought about changes that she slowly accepted would be permanent. As a girl who enjoyed being active, having to sell her various sporting equipment, including kayaking, skating and snowboarding gear, was tough – but she would have little need of them now.
Even the simple enough task of choosing what footwear to put on in the morning confronted Benson with the reality of things having changed forever. She told Driving.ca, “Any shoes I wear have to have these special orthotics in them. They cost $450, and the shoes they fit cost $180. I had to get rid of my high heels, I know it sounds dumb…”
But Benson had more to worry about than just sports gear and high heels. In the same online article, her mom, Mary Lachapelle, reflected on the impact of the young woman’s most dangerous injury – a brain bleed. “I got back a different daughter,” she said. “I lost a sweet 22-year-old who worked full-time and put herself through university. She was on a great path. I got [back] a 13-year-old with anger issues.”
Lachapelle, a housing officer, also notes how Benson’s accident has also brought about permanent changes to her own life. “I have had to realize that my child will always live with me,” she revealed. “We’ll have to find a house that affords us both some privacy and separation, but she is essentially a 13-year-old.”
Benson’s brain bleed has not only cost her the ability to control her emotions at times, but has also led to the loss of some close friendships. As time went by, her buddies began to go out to bars and clubs, but Benson’s altered aural perceptions meant she just couldn’t face going along with them.
Her uncontrollable anger led to Benson sending improper text messages to her pals. For the most part, they could not get their heads around how or why Benson’s injuries were causing her to behave in this way. The Benson her buddies had loved was largely gone, and some of her friendship circle were unable to square that.
Benson’s boyfriend Paul is no longer on the scene, but she still resents the fact that he was not charged over the incident. However, Benson’s main concern is making people aware that although putting your feet up on the dashboard may seem like an insignificant decision, it is in fact one that could put your life in danger.
Six years after the accident, Benson’s story was featured on the daytime TV talk show The Doctors. As a result of the crash, Benson had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). On the 2016 show, she was sent to Dr Eugene Lipov who suggested that she try an anesthetic injection into the sympathetic nerve tissue in the neck to help ease the symptoms.
Benson later told the program, “I’ve been feeling really good. I have had more confidence while driving. I’ve noticed that I don’t have as many negative thoughts any more.” And her mom agreed, saying, “Overall, there’s just a general more calmness about Beth that wasn’t there before. She just seems to be generally more at ease with life.”
Benson’s road to recovery has not been easy but her determination has led to the young woman achieving goals she would never have thought possible in the dark first few months after the accident. Now 29 years old, Benson has completed her degree and followed it up with a teaching qualification. She is currently studying for a masters in critical disability studies at Toronto’s York University.
Despite her horrific injuries and how hopeless things seemed in the initial aftermath of the accident, Benson has been inspired by her own experiences. The courageous young woman has set up a blog, “Invisible Disabilities,” to share her journey and raise awareness of people with physical and mental issues which may not be immediately apparent. She also has a rather poignant and laudable aim of creating “a classroom where everyone is accepted for who they are.”