The nickname “Miracle Boy” might stick with Devon Tibbs for the rest of his life.
On June 22, Devon, 17, of Naples, was riding his bike home on Airport-Pulling Road when Corey Fowler, 28, turned his blue Freightliner semi-truck out of the Home Depot parking lot and struck the teen.
“I pretty much got sucked up under his truck,” Devon said.
Devon was conscious through it all, but he was helpless. He didn’t know if Fowler would ever stop.
“When he first hits you, you think he’s either going to notice or not notice … and he didn’t notice, so I thought he was just going to keep dragging me,” he said.
His survival was as improbable as the accident.
“Everyone, the doctors, the EMS (they) all said they’ve never come to a scene like this where a person has made it through,” Jean Tibbs, his mother, said.
It’s been more than a month since the accident and Devon is healing from his injuries at home with his mother. They live about two minutes away from the scene of the accident, in a cottage home tucked behind an office building that shields them from the busy thoroughfare.
Jean Tibbs, who is a single mother and owns her own home cleaning and house sitting business, is almost entirely in charge of caring for Devon. At first, it meant around-the-clock attention, but as the injuries heal he’s become more independent.
“He’s the love of my life. You know what, you do what you have to do,” she said.
She carries pictures of Devon’s injuries on her cell phone.
“If you don’t take a picture, you forget,” she said.
Devon has road rashes all over his body and pink spots have formed where new skin has started grow. He had a cast on his broken left foot and ankle, but his doctor removed it last Thursday, which was faster than expected.
“Who would have thought that in one month that five broken bones would have healed perfectly?” Jean Tibbs said. “I think that all that faith and prayer works.”
Devon uses crutches and sometimes — to his displeasure — a wheelchair, which was donated by members of his church. It was waiting for him on his front stoop the day he and his mom came home from Lee Trauma Center’s Pediatric Intensive Care unit, where he spent three days after the accident.
The Tibbs have moved the furniture around in their house to accommodate Devon’s wheelchair, but it hasn’t been very comfortable for them. Their home is small, so moving around is pretty tight.
Devon had never broken a bone before, according to Jean Tibbs, so it’s been difficult for them to get used to.
“He couldn’t do anything, and then he had to get acclimated to using a wheelchair. He hated it for the first two days. We had to figure out how to close it up and put it in the van … it was not fun,” she said.
Now that the cast has been removed, Devon will begin physical therapy sessions three times a week so he can start walking again. The goal is to “be back to 100 percent.”
But memories of what happened still pop up amid all of the progress.
The initial impact wasn’t the worst part, according to Devon. “Getting dragged hurt a lot more than him hitting me,” he said.
Fowler pulled him on the asphalt for about 60 feet and scraped the skin off of Devon’s face, arms, back and legs before bystanders flagged the truck driver down and stopped him, according to Devon. There was little relief once the truck stopped.
Devon, who was wearing jeans, said his right pant leg was caught in the semi-truck’s axle. He could feel the heat from the engine searing his foot because it was still on when Fowler climbed out of the cab.
“I kept yelling at someone to get a knife to cut my pant leg and get it unstuck. I remember them asking all the passing cars, and all the passing cars stopped until they got a knife,” Devon said.
There are gaps in his memory; it begins to fragment when he tries to recall what happened when he was no longer stuck underneath the truck.
He spoke about his injuries in a quiet voice, but his face, which he’d kept composed and controlled, crumpled in discomfort when he recalled what he was thinking when he believed Fowler was never going to stop.
“I don’t want to go into it anymore, it’s not something I want to talk about,” he said.
Though the Tibbs want to put this behind them, there are doctor’s appointments and court dates. Sharon Hanlon, of Zelman and Hanlon, is the family’s lawyer. Hanlon filed a claim with Fowler’s insurance, Progressive, but the insurance company is investigating whether or not Fowler had adequate coverage before the accident.
Commercial truck drivers are required to have property damage liability coverage — up to $10,000 — and personal injury protection, known as PIP or “no fault.” Fowler only had optional collision coverage but he called Progressive and added the mandatory coverage the day of the accident, according to Hanlon.
“If (the call) came in at nine in the morning, then we have coverage. If the call came in at five in the afternoon, then we don’t have coverage,” Hanlon said.
Fowler could not be reached for comment.
The Tibbs still have a claim against Fowler, which they would have to pursue if Progressive determines he didn’t have coverage.
“It makes it much more difficult if the person doesn’t have big assets,” she said.
Hanlon has been conducting a preliminary investigation of her own.
“There are a lot of accidents coming out of that Home Depot area. That is something I’m going to look into. It doesn’t relieve Mr. Fowler of responsibility, but I’m going to see if it was a poorly designed exit,” she said.
It also means that all of Devon’s medical costs are the family’s responsibility. Because of her business, Jean Tibbs has a modest insurance plan. Devon has qualified for some federal aid, which helps.
She remains upbeat even though the prospects “do not look good.”
“If I have to pay $10 everyday for the rest of my life, I don’t care. He’s here, he’s alive,” she said.
As for Devon, he’s got a simple dream that keeps him focused.
“To walk,” he said.