LAWRENCE – Dana Martino of Methuen is doing her best to defy the opinions of doctors who said she may never walk again because of injuries suffered in a car crash on Interstate 93 in Andover one year ago.
And once again yesterday, Martino, 35, who also is a breast cancer survivor, summoned all her grit to testify in the trial of the man charged with causing the accident which left her with severe head, neck and spine injuries.
William Artis, 30, of Hooksett, N.H., was found guilty after the one-day trial before Judge Michael Brooks in Lawrence District Court. He was sentenced to six months in jail to be followed by two years of probation.
It was the first time Martino and her husband, Marc Martino, faced Artis since the accident.
Dana Martino, who must use a wheelchair, said she will always feel anger toward Artis.
“My independence was taken from me,” she said afterward. “I’m getting stronger every day. It is still an uphill battle. I can’t do the simplest things like tuck my child into bed. Everyone has to do everything for me.
“Letting my guard down in front of him was hard,” she said. “I wanted him to see what he did and let him know what I have to go through on a daily basis.”
Artis, a married father of two, did not speak in court and was solemn when he was handcuffed and taken away after the ruling. His attorney, Christopher Reardon, said his client couldn’t avoid hitting Martino that day on the highway.
“He wasn’t speeding; there was no evidence of erratic operation,” Reardon said. “It was a horrible accident.”
Assistant District Attorney Jessica Strasnick argued that Artis was negligent because he did not stop or slow down. Strasnick said Artis also told police he had been looking down at the passenger side floor moments before impact. He also was driving without a license.
Artis was driving a Chevy Cobalt on May 30, 2006, when he slammed into Dana Martino’s Saab.
Martino was driving back from a cancer follow-up appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital with her son, Matthew, then 4, and family dog in her car. She was in the left lane on I-93 when she got a flat tire and had to pull over to the left side of the road.
State police Trooper Dana Atkinson, who also testified yesterday, said police believe Martino’s car had come to a complete stop and she had removed her seat belt when she was hit from behind. Atkinson said Artis was driving at 68 mph when he hit her car.
Matthew suffered minor injuries. The family’s dog Jimmy, a border collie, ran and was later struck and killed by another car on the highway.
After the accident, doctors told Marc Martino that his wife might never be able to move her hands or feet and that regaining basic functions, like chewing, would be a struggle.
But after months in Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, one of the country’s top spinal cord injury Rehabilitation hospitals, Dana’s condition improved.
“She was so determined,” said her mother, Yvonne Ruscoe. “She proved the doctors all wrong.”
When she came back from Atlanta, Dana lived with relatives in North Reading. She finally was able to return to her Methuen home in December after volunteers, with the help of carpenters from the Local 111 union, built a handicapped-accessible ramp onto the family home.
“I hope it will be different in the future. … I want to be walking again,” Dana Martino said. “But I definitely do feel lucky to be alive.”
Now, she continues intense Physical Therapy and has even started walking during sessions.
“It’s been a long year, but we’re getting through it,” said Marc Martino. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel now. She’s improving every day.”
Martino’s family is pleased Artis will serve time in jail.
“I feel relieved,” said Marc Martino, with his wife and 5-year-old son, Matthew, by his side outside the courtroom. “Given the circumstances, I’m happy to see he was convicted and is going to jail. He needs to sit there and think about what he did.”
During a victim’s statement in the courtroom, Marc Martino had only a few words for Artis.
“I don’t know if you realize what you took away,” he said. “You took away a lot.”
By Stephanie Chelf , Staff writer