‘Life altering’: New London man secures $1.25 million settlement in accident that left him paralyzed
A New London man left paralyzed from a 2016 motor vehicle accident has secured a $1.25 million insurance settlement from the college student who was driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs when she hit the scooter he was operating.
Zachary “Eric” Chesebro, 42, who will use a wheelchair to get around for the rest of his life, had sued both Sophia Thielman and Connecticut College, alleging negligence and recklessness in connection with the Nov. 22, 2016 accident on Route 32 in New London.
Thielman was a 19-year-old Connecticut College student from Rye Brook, N.Y. when she drove a car she had borrowed from her mother into the rear of Chesebro’s motorized scooter. Police said Thielman was legally drunk and had Xanax in her system at the time of the accident.
Chesebro, who was thrown from the scooter, suffered traumatic head and spinal injuries and is now a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. While the accident was life altering, Chesebro said in some ways it gave him a new start to a life he admits was at times self-destructive. His said his family had cut ties with him because of alcohol and substance abuse issues that had led to multiple criminal cases.
Chesebro, showing off by performing wheelies on his wheelchair spoke with The Day on Thursday in the office of the Reardon Law Firm in New London, which represented him in the civil law suit.
“It’s a new beginning, a chance for me to start my world over and do things the correct way. I’ve made so many mistakes in the past,” Chesebro said.
The accident ended his prior life of substance abuse, he said. He’s been clean since he took a sip of beer on his birthday on March 26, 2017.
“After the accident, it wasn’t anger,” Chesebro said. “It was immediately, okay, how can I put myself back together. There’s either two roads you can go down - there’s the one road where you can be a drug addict, alcoholic and just lay in bed and be a slob, a miserable quadriplegic, or you could carry this burden and shoulder it just move forward in life and show other quads it’s possible to just think positively.”
The money from the settlement, Chesebro said, will not only pay for past and future medical bills and rehabilitation, but allow him to afford a comfortable and handicap-accessible home, preferably near Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford, the place where he was rehabbed after the accident.
He remains highly optimistic about his future and said he never harbored any animosity towards Thielman.
Police reports show that Thielman had stopped her car after she struck Chesebro, called 911 and provided aid until first responders arrived at the scene. She was eventually arrested and sentenced to six month in prison on the charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs by a driver under the age of 21 and second-degree assault. Chesebro said he had lobbied for her to receive no jail time. Thielman had always accepted responsibility.
“I was never mad about her hitting me,” Chesebro said. “I know one thing for certain is this woman didn’t wake up and say ‘I’m going to deliberately get drunk and find a kid on a scooter and hit him.’ Why would I walk around with anger in my chest and my soul for the rest of my life, angry at the person that did this to me? What good would that do?”
The two met, at her request, while the lawsuit was pending and without lawyers present, he said. He said he hoped the meeting eased some of her pain.
“It was emotional. We both cried. It was healing on both of our parts,” he said.
They remain in contact.
Chesebro is paralyzed from his chest down and has limited function in his hands but is agile on his wheelchair. He is staying at a nursing home now but expects he can eventually live independently, participating in wheelchair sports and offering peer mentorship to other quadriplegics.
“That’ll make me adopt responsibility and in a way responsibility equals purpose, right?” he said.
The attorneys representing Thielman and Connecticut College did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The college had denied the allegations in the lawsuit, one of which was that it had turned a blind eye to alcohol use on campus. The college argued that its policy is clear that it prohibits underage students from possessing or consuming alcohol.
The lawsuit was withdrawn in November without disclosure of any settlement with the college. With regard to Connecticut College, attorney Kelly Reardon, of the Reardon Law Firm, said only that the case was “resolved and withdrawn.”
Reardon said the entirety of the settlement from Thielman was paid by insurance.
“He’s obviously pleased that the case is over. It was a long haul,” Reardon said. “(Chesebro) was particularly happy to have been able to meet Sophia Thielman and that they were able to have a really good conversation. It was a life changing experience for both of them.”
“Eric is a remarkable guy. This is a great thing for him to be able to move on,” Reardon said.