Survivors of Aug. 12, 2017 car attack speak on their experiences, recovery 15 months later

Many of the speakers praised the efforts of the Heal Charlottesville Fund during their recovery

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Survivors Lisa, who declined to give her last name, and Tay Washington embrace each other after sharing their stories with attendees at the First United Methodist Church Friday. 

Sahana Bhagat | Cavalier Daily

Survivors of the Aug. 12, 2017 car attack following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville gathered Friday evening in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church to share their recovery experiences at a fundraiser for the the Heal Charlottesville Fund. 

James Alex Fields Jr. is accused of driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters near the Downtown Mall during the chaotic fallout of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally. The attack injured over 30 people and killed local resident Heather Heyer. 

Fields has been charged with first-degree murder and 30 federal hate crimes, among other counts in the attack. The federal charges could carry the death penalty. 

Created in response to the white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville in 2017, the Heal Charlottesville Fund provides financial assistance to individuals injured by the attack and is funded by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. The CACF is a permanent endowment dedicated to inspiring philanthropy and improving quality of life for residents of the Charlottesville area. 

In addition to offering aid for the injured, Heal Charlottesville supplies trauma counseling, support for the Jewish community and grants to address structural racism. The fundraiser was organized by survivors who currently are, or have been, supported by the fund. 

Five survivors shared their stories and emphasized the significant impact the Heal Charlottesville Fund had on each of their lives. 

Lisa, who declined to give her last name, told the audience of about 60 that she was unaware of the extent of the attack at the time it occurred. 

“I think I am one of the most fortunate people from that day because when I look at the videos, and especially when I look at that person yelling, ‘Medic! Medic!’ I am so glad that I was unaware of all of that,” she said. 

Lisa’s injuries were extensive, some of which she is still dealing with to this day. 

“He broke both of my legs, and my left hand. There was a gash over my eye,” she said. “A terrible hematoma, which is a deep bruise, across my abdomen, that I still have some of. My jaw was out of alignment, two of my crowns and one of my teeth were cracked.” 

Lisa, along with other survivors, explained that they felt they did not deserve the fund. The financial reality of their situation, however, pressed them to take the much needed help. 

“My physical therapy, and my hand therapy, would have taken my entire paycheck to pay for. Because my insurance only covered 30 visits… [Heal Charlottesville] paid for my 100 dollar per visit fee for as long as I needed them to,” she said. 

The stories of those who spoke inspired other survivors to speak. Tay Washington, whose car was struck in the attack, said the community of survivors have been supportive of each other since the attack. She embraced another survivor after speaking.  

“I am very grateful for you all sharing your stories, because I wouldn’t have got up here,” Washington said. “You all have helped me, keep it together.” 

Washington emphasized that community support got her through that day, adding that Heal Charlottesville has been instrumental in supporting her recovery. 

“What made me stay strong was that I [saw] somebody with a head and neck brace on, and their back was messed up, they had a back brace on, [and] they were just as positive as they could be,” Washington said. “They told me, ‘Be brave, we’re gonna be okay.’ And I felt like for us to go through something harsh and for someone to find the strength to say that, when they were so messed up, there had to be a God watching over us.” 

Washington added that the violent white supremacist demonstrations were still shocking to her. 

“This has been horrible, and it started from race,” she said of the white supremacist rallies surrounding the violence. “And I can’t really wrap my mind around that. I don’t think I want to wrap my mind around that.”

Star Peterson, another beneficiary of the Heal Charlottesville Fund, was hit by the car and suffered several injuries, including two broken wrists, two broken parts of her back and two broken legs. With these injuries came long hospital stays along with five surgeries and a possible sixth surgery still to come. 

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Peterson said Heal Charlottesville has paid the ongoing bills of survivors who are still unable to work. 

“They pay my rent, they pay my electricity bill, they pay my phone bill, they send me a gift card for groceries every two weeks, they just paid my car insurance,” Peterson said. “Last Christmas they gave us all gift cards so we could afford to buy presents for our kids.”  

Anna Wolz, a second-year College student who attended the event, said in an interview that the speakers were very moving and informative. 

“I had no idea that the survivors were still struggling physically, mentally and financially,” Wolz said. “The stories the survivors told were shocking and graphic and terrible, but their strength and bravery talking about it was heartening.” 

The survivors collected donations for the Heal Charlottesville Fund at the event, and encouraged attendees to garner support in the community. In the last year, Heal Charlottesville has distributed over $300,000 to individual survivors. 

“I hope that you all are leaving this evening with a really clear understanding of how immediate the impacts of August 12 still are for many people in our community, how dire the need is, and also how urgent it is,” said Kendall, who also declined to give her last name. Kendall was assaulted by a white supremacist demonstrator August 12. 

She added that, while the white supremacists demonstrations of Aug. 11 and 12 may have taken place more than a year, many victims still need continued support. 

“You are a catalyst for others in the community … you have an opportunity, and I might be so bold as to say an obligation, to help our community understand this need and the opportunity to support those among us who were brave enough to stand on August 12 and who are still fighting today,” she said. 

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