Barbara Lawlor, Ward. Three years ago, on January 24, 2013, KayAnne and Dennis Solem were headed back to their hometown of Ward via Lee Hill Road, when they came to a pedestrian crosswalk and stopped for a couple of joggers.
Without warning, the Solems were rear ended; the crash was so hard, that the Toyota Rav4 crushed the last quarter of the Solem’s vehicle and pushed it 20 feet forward. Both KayAnne and Dennis’s heads were flipped forward and then back against the head rests. Dennis’s head bounced off the steering wheel.
The joggers who had seen the accident, told the Solems that the 30-year-old woman driving the Toyota had been texting when she slammed into them.
Dennis and KayAnne were in shock, their injuries not yet apparent, and they refused to go to the hospital. Later they realized that that had been a mistake.
The next day, they both went to a chiropractor who sent them to get x-rays. Nothing was broken, but they both had suffered severe whole body whiplash. The 30-year-old driver of the Toyota went to the hospital and was given a ticket for reckless driving.
In the week after the accident, Dennis suffered memory loss and migraines. “We were both emotionally a mess. Dennis doesn’t like meds and thought he could tough his way out of his injuries. We are 56 and 57 years old and the soft tissue injuries made it difficult to deal with the winter, the things we have to do to live in our cabin in Ward.”
The woman, and Farmer’s Insurance, insisted that there had been no significant injuries. KayAnne says she has heard that this insurance company is known for re-injuring the injured. The driver of the Toyota plea bargained and the Solems received $50,000 for their car, their injuries, medical bills and the long-term disabilities that the couple is dealing with.
The ripple effect cause by moments of distraction as a person is texting can cause a lifetime of difficulty for another. The attorney for the woman told them that they would get better, someday.
KayAnne, a well-known Ward poet, a brilliant poetry reader who has mesmerized audiences at mountain venues, knows hardship and struggle, fought her way through a life fraught with challenges and figured she was finally where she wanted to be.
Neither she nor Dennis have ever asked for help but now they realize that they need some financial assistance to continue living in their Ward home.
KayAnne is originally from California, a teenage single mom in the 70’s in Marin County, an eighth grade drop out. She was taken in by a commune known as the Diggers and at the age of 16 gave birth to her son. She was stubbornly determined to have him. At that time, there was a stigma about unwed single moms, some people refused to rent to her, but there was no stigma in San Francisco.
“When I was 18 and Jay was two years old, we received aid. When I was 19 I had my first job, working in coffee houses and I began studying literature and women’s study at San Francisco City College.”
A bookworm, KayAnne was mostly self-taught and became immersed in writing about her experiences, her emotions and life as she saw it. In 1976, KayAnne became a performing poet and took to it like a duck to water, reading in open mic venues.
In 1979, a friend of hers introduced her to another poet, Mike Parker, who was visiting San Francisco with three other poets from Ward. When KayAnne went to visit Mike, she fell in love with Ward and was officially invited to be part of the Ward Poetry Festival, performing at the Depot and the Millsite Inn.
At that time, Mike Parker was creating the Artists in Residence program, with poets attending from all over Boulder County. KayAnne and Dennis bought some property and began building their home, accruing no debt.
“Dennis is a creative problem solver, able to do everything, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, anything.”
Determined to complete her education, KayAnne earned her GED in 2009, the same year her son Erik graduated from Chinook West. Erik is now in college and earning a living as an online artist, a talent he pursued throughout his life.
Life was good until the day they got smacked from behind. Now they are discouraged and sometimes feel like giving up.
“We couldn’t prove long-time injury or loss of income,” says KayAnne. “We are permanently disabled. Although the insurance company admitted the damage, they said we could get better someday. I am forcibly retired from the physical work I used to do, the work we have to do to stay here. Soft tissue injuries relate to the nervous system and both of our nervous systems are compromised. Dennis falls easily and work hurts him, causing back spasms. He spent four days during the holidays on his back.”
The Solems have opened a gift shop on the Peak to Peak outside of Ward where KayAnne sells her jewelry and Dennis sells his sculptures. It is the only way they can make money. The only other work they can do is on their own property, to hang onto to their living space.
On December 17, KayAnne’s sister, noting their plight, decided to help out by starting a GoFundMe account for the Solems.
KayAnne also contacted an old friend from her days with the Diggers Commune, actor Peter Coyote, who has been a big part of advocating for the fundraising campaign and is reaching out to the film industry for help.
What we need, says KayAnne, is the money to finish our house. We need the materials and help with the labor, help paying basic bills and to get the business going so we can support ourselves.
“Or we’ll have to give up our mountain home, but we would need to fix it up to sell it.”
KayAnne and Dennis are proud people, but they know they can’t do what they need to right now, due to their difficult physical situations and living at 9,350 feet, below Niwot’s Ridge. Dennis has neuropathy, a result of the accident, which leaves his hands numb, and he can’t hold onto things. Not good for a carpenter/handyman. He is depressed at being slowed down.
KayAnne still feels foggy, her mind not as clear as before the accident. She started a blog last year which can be found at wordpress.com/emporiumofdelight where she talks about her situation.
She says the goal is to raise about $8,000, which would be enough to get them going again, on the way to becoming independent.
KayAnne’s sister Cheryl says, “Dennis and KayAnne have devoted their lives to living sustainably in the mountains for the past 30 years. They built their house with re-purposed materials. KayAnne has served on the town council and ran the Ward Library, and both of them have been engaged in Ward life for decades.”
She says that the Solems have not received anything near adequate compensation from the insurance company, leaving them deep in debt, their resources depleted.
“Your contributions will aid the Solems in regaining their health, balance and dignity, and return them to their original self-reliance.”
To donate go to gofundme.com/textingdriverinjures couple