Help for one the system abandoned

Published 6:49 pm Monday, March 29, 2010

So often, it seems, we see people who are asking for a handout after they get themselves into a bad situation, without any sense of personal responsibility for how they got into that situation.

However, the predicament that Suffolk’s Ray Shourds and his girlfriend, Crystal Ellison, are in is the complete opposite of that situation.

Many in Suffolk remember the horrifying crash in July 2007 that killed six New Yorkers — most of them children — who were packed into a small car that was headed eastbound on U.S. Route 58 that day.

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The New Yorkers’ vehicle wound up in the median of the road, went airborne and slammed into the front of Shourds’ core-drilling rig, destroying the vehicle and injuring Shourds and his employee.

The circumstances surrounding how the car wound up in the median never were nailed down, since all the people in the car died. One thing is certain, though — the accident was not Shourds’ fault. He even risked further injury or his life to pull a young boy from the wreckage, only to have the boy die the next day.

It’s clear that Shourds was a victim in every sense of the word. However, Shourds and Ellison have met with severe financial hardship since the accident. The other driver had little insurance, so Shourds’ insurance was left footing all the bills to replace his work truck, pay his medical bills and reimbursing him for lost wages.

His insurance, however, sent him to court to sue the dead people’s estate. When it was determined the estate couldn’t pay, his insurance would pay what the jury awarded.

Because of the way the law is written, though, the jury couldn’t know insurance was involved. To them, it appeared Shourds was just trying to get money from a grieving family. They awarded $30,000 — of which Shourds will never see a cent after paying lawyer and court fees, medical bills and other costs.

Shourds says he needed at least five times that amount to replenish his lost savings, pay his outstanding mortgage payments, replace equipment he’s had to sell and continue paying for treatments on his back.

He and his girlfriend now are in danger of losing their modest Whaleyville home to foreclosure.

This situation is different from many others we might imagine, and it defies excuses not to help. Shourds didn’t cause the accident, so we can’t say he brought it on himself. He had substantial savings when the accident happened, so we can’t say he should have prepared for such a possibility. He has tried every other route that he could before he asked for help from the community, so we can’t say that he should try helping himself.

Even now, Shourds and Ellison aren’t just asking for a handout — they’re asking for extra work, donations in exchange for baked goods, and bids on their eBay site, where Ellison is selling her Elvis collectibles.

Both have every right to be bitter, but I saw none of that during my interview with them last week. They are a very deserving couple, and even in the midst of their troubles, they realize they are blessed that Shourds survived the wreck. I would encourage everyone who is able to help them. What happened to them could happen to any of us one day.

Tracy agnew is a reporter for the Suffolk News-Herald. She can be reached at