WARNING: Images below may contain graphic content.
Student Activities associate director believes distracted driver could have taken his life
It was a normal Monday evening on Sept. 18. Student Activities Associate Director Greg Wilkins was driving down Highway 22 toward Saint Peter to deliver some of his art to the Art Center of Saint Peter. He said there was a “spitting” rainfall.
It was 5:53 p.m.
As Wilkins was nearing Kwik Trip on 22, a 16-year-old female driver in an SUV merged onto the highway without yielding and t-boned his Audi TT.
Wilkins doesn’t remember anything between the collision and waking up at the Mayo Clinic in Mankato to staff trying to address his mangled body and remove glass from his face.
“At that point, I was cold but I didn’t realize they had cut off all my clothes to see if I had any injuries,” he said. “They thought my neck and back were broken.”
He had severe facial lacerations, a broken sternum and a collapsed lung.
A message to all drivers
The collision sent his Audi into a spin until it was stopped by another SUV driven by 35-year-old Matthew Bowron. Wilkins’ car was totaled. Wilkins and his attorney believes the driver was using her cell phone just before she collided with his car.
“I hope, for her sake, she wasn’t on her phone,” he said.
Nearly two months after the accident, Wilkins is still hurting both physically and emotionally. His body aches and everyday tasks he used to do have become strenuous, such as creating art. He said not being able to continue this has resulted in a loss of income. Additionally, medical, insurance and other expenses have sometimes become overwhelming.
“By the time you get picked up and put into an ambulance, you start seeing dollar signs,” he said. “The bills start coming in and everybody wants to get paid.”
He gets anxious at four-way stop signs and dreads the time between a green and red stop light signal.
“I still have dreams of being hit,” he said. “I see that I’m driving and see someone else on their phone and they attack me.”
Wilkins and law firm Knutson+Casey are in the middle of a lawsuit against the 16-year-old driver. The two are claiming the driver was using her phone prior to the accident and are currently trying to retrieve phone records to prove it.
“When you’re on your phone while driving, it’s like driving drunk,” he said.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people are killed every day from a distracted driver and over a 1,000 are injured. In Minnesota alone, at least 70 people are killed every year from a distracted driver.
Wilkins calls the fine for cell phone use while driving in Minnesota “laughable.” According to Minnesota statute, the base fine is $50 and a petty misdemeanor for drivers under the age of 18.
Following the accident, Wilkins has been more in tune with the amount of people using their phones while driving. He urges them to put their phones down.
“It’s not worth the personal loss of life or the loss of life of someone else,” he said.
Support in the aftermath
Wilkins has been with Student Activities at the university since 2009. He’s from the Southeast and has no family in Minnesota. Centennial Student Union Director Mark Constantine was one of
Wilkins’ emergency contacts the hospital called first on Sept. 18.
“They made it sound like the accident was pretty serious,” he said. “You want to be there to help out a friend for sure.”
Among others called was John Bulcock, assistant director of Greek Life and off-campus housing. He and Constantine stayed with Greg the night of the accident until midnight. He arrived just before Wilkins went into surgery to remove glass from his face.
“The blood wasn’t a pretty sight,” he said, “but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
The accident put Wilkins out of work for nearly a month. Those who know him noticed a significant difference in the air without his presence.
“There’s a different energy with Greg around. It’s contagious,” Bulcock said. “Most people know that he’s a go-go-go, high energy person.”
Wilkins said he received a tremendous amount of support while away from work and upon his return. Countless people sent him messages over Facebook and came to see him at the hospital and his home. Dining Services also sent Wilkins care packages with microwavable meals.
Constantine often dropped by his home to touch base and see if he needed anything. On multiple occasions, he went and got his pharmacy prescriptions for him.
“If you care about people and people don’t have family, you are their family in some ways,” Constantine said. “I care about my friends and colleagues and wanted to make sure he was getting the care he deserved and needed.”
Lucky to be alive
Wilkins said learning is a lifelong process. It’s this kind of attitude and positivity that’s helped him post-accident.
“The doctors are shocked that I’m up and at ‘em already,” he said.
He’s thankful he’s able to return to the work he’s passionate about and be around the people he loves. He wants people to know that when they’re driving a car, they’re putting their life and the lives of others into jeopardy. This is only escalated when they become distracted by a phone.
“There’s a time and place for everything and being on your phone in your vehicle is not the time or place,” he said.