She’ll roast the turkey, mash the potatoes and heap the steaming-hot stuffing into a serving bowl. Then, as Terri Anthoine sits down with her children on this Thanksgiving Day, she’ll take a moment to reflect on the past year.

The year she lost her legs.

“I could have died,” Anthoine, 61, said during an interview at the Portland law firm Preti Flaherty, where she’s worked for 38 years as a legal assistant. “But I had angels.”

As the saying goes, it takes one to know one.

It happened last Dec. 13. Anthoine had left work early for a medical appointment and, before heading to her Portland home, stopped by Pratt Abbott on Forest Avenue to drop off her dry cleaning.

As she prepared to exit her car, she noticed another vehicle in her rear mirror pulling, at a noticeably crooked angle, into the space next to her.

“What is he doing?” she thought as the other driver then backed up, apparently to try again.

“Meanwhile, I get out of my car and I’m walking around to the trunk to go into Pratt Abbott,” Anthoine recalled. “And right when I was almost to the middle of my trunk, there was this split second and here comes this vehicle at me.”

The other driver, Robert Carson, 83, also of Portland, later told police he mistakenly hit his gas pedal instead of his brake.

Carson also told them, after police checked his record, that he had no idea his license had been suspended for over a year. Back in November 2016, after Carson’s doctor filed a medical evaluation request with the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, he had failed to show up for a mandatory driving test.

The impact severed one of Anthoine’s legs and badly mangled the other. She remembers every horrifying moment.

“I think I must have been obviously in shock,” she said. “But it just didn’t feel like pain. I didn’t feel anything, really.”

She likely would have died right there in the parking lot had it not been for two police officers with tourniquets in their cruisers and a Maine Medical Center nurse who saw the commotion, ran over and helped slow the bleeding long enough to get Anthoine to the hospital.

There, Anthoine remembers, she asked the trauma surgeon if her right leg could be saved.

“No,” he replied, not quite believing she was still conscious.

“OK then, let’s go,” Anthoine said as they hurriedly prepped her for surgery.

Carson, meanwhile, was arrested, loaded into the back of a cruiser and formally charged at the Portland Police Department.

With that, two lives diverged into wholly uncharted territory. Anthoine embarked on a year of healing and rehabilitation, while Carson handed over his keys and put himself at the mercy of the criminal justice system.

“I’m very remorseful for this poor woman,” Carson said in a separate interview in the Portland office of his attorney, Gerard Conley. “I mean, how can you not be? I feel bad for this woman. I don’t know what to do, what to say … I’m sad every day. I think about it all the time. It’s a nightmare.”

Anthoine spent two weeks at Maine Medical Center, then two weeks at the New England Rehabilitation Hospital. The months since have been punctuated not by bitterness and anger – she insists that would only impede her recovery – but rather by one milestone after another.

She stood up for the first time on Valentine’s Day, using a pair of short, starter prosthetics she affectionately calls “my stubbies.”

She attended a “boot camp” for amputees in Oklahoma, where she soon realized her story “was nothing” compared to the trials and tribulations endured by many of her newfound peers.

Last August, with her son, Brad, at her side, she threw out the ceremonial first pitch for a Portland Sea Dogs game at Hadlock Field. Some 75 co-workers from Preti Flaherty waved “Terri Strong” signs and cheered at the top of their lungs as she wound up … the pitch?

“Well,” she said with a self-deprecating chuckle, “we’re calling it a slider.”

Then came her birthday on Nov. 1, the same day she returned to work.

As Anthoine came through the street-level entrance to One City Center, the entire Preti Flaherty law firm was there to greet her in the food court, balloons and all. They also decorated her desk upstairs, where she’s already pushing the envelope on her doctor’s orders to work no more than four hours a day, three days a week.

“I can’t get a lot done,” she said. “So, I’m just going to increase (her hours) myself.”

Transportation? Not a problem.

Having relied for months on rides from family and the nonprofit Independent Transportation Network, Anthoine plans to take delivery in December of a new, adapted Toyota Sienna minivan that she can operate fully by hand. No need for a lift – a ramp will do just fine.

Back we go to Carson, who last June pleaded guilty to operating after suspension and causing serious bodily injury, a Class C crime punishable by up to five years behind bars.

Anthoine saw no good whatsoever in sending an 83-year-old man to prison.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” she said. “I just couldn’t do that.”

So, in consultation with Cumberland County prosecutors and defense attorney Conley, Anthoine agreed to a different approach – one that might actually help people.

At his sentencing Jan. 7, Carson will ask Superior Court Chief Justice Roland Cole to send him out on a public-service mission. The goal: Persuade other elderly motorists who can no longer drive safely to stop now, before something tragic happens.

Carson will tell his contemporaries about the neuropathy in his legs, about the slow-but-sure decline in his cognitive abilities, about how bewildering life has become since that seemingly normal day he got in the car, drove to the cleaners and damn near killed a woman who deserved none of this.

He’ll also tell them that he long considered himself a perfectly competent driver – until he suddenly wasn’t.

Anthoine’s only request is that Carson not appear on television or have his photo published in the newspaper – not because she hates the sight of him but because she’s never actually seen him.

“I don’t want to see his face,” she explained. “I’ve never had a nightmare (about the incident). I never relive it. And I think that’s because I never saw his face.”

Like many families do on Thanksgiving, Anthoine and her children always pause before digging into the turkey and stuffing just long enough to go around the table and say what they’re most grateful for over the past 12 months.

Her list will be long: her family, her friends old and new, her workmates, the medical professionals who guided her through this year like no other…

She might also take a moment to thank herself for that night her son came home late and, unable to sleep, told her he just couldn’t shed his anger over what happened to her.

“I can’t be angry, because I won’t ever get better,” Anthoine told him through her tears. “You just have to let the anger go.”

Robert Carson lives by himself in a senior housing complex. If there’s anything for him to be thankful for on this day, it’s that something good may, in the end, come out of something so tragic.

“I’ve done my harm,” Carson said, staring down at his hands. “And I don’t want to do any more.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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