Everybody loves Larry

05/13/2010 11:06

Lane track star remains in hospital after collision with drunk driver

Andy Rossback

Issue date: 5/13/10 Section: News
Larry Ragsdale
Larry Ragsdale
[Click to enlarge]
Larry Ragsdale
                        outdistances his competitors in a high school
                        meet for the Illinois
                        Valley Cougars where he graduated in 2007.
                        Ragsdale has been in the
                        hospital since March 10 following a collision
                        with a drunk driver.
Larry Ragsdale outdistances his competitors in a high school meet for the Illinois Valley Cougars where he graduated in 2007. Ragsdale has been in the hospital since March 10 following a collision with a drunk driver.
[Click to enlarge]

[Click to enlarge]

Everyone who knows Larry Ragsdale agrees that his constant smile can light up a room.

On March 10, Larry stopped smiling when his 2002 Chevy Cavalier collided with a Jeep Cherokee driven by 31-year-old Corvallis resident Shane Chambers on Highway 99W north of Monroe.

Chambers was charged with drunk driving, reckless driving, assault and reckless endangerment.

Larry, a 20-year-old hurdler on Lane's track team who grew up in Cave Junction, was taken to the hospital and remained there. He suffered injuries to his head and arm, and has been in and out of comas. He still hasn't smiled. Or spoken.

He took flight technology classes at Lane on a track scholarship.

Larry is currently suffering from sympathetic storming, a rare disorder that occurs in about 15 percent of brain injured people, according to his father, John Ragsdale. The symptoms include perfuse sweating and increased heart rate.

John hopes that the crash will be a lesson for drunk drivers.

"He had a lot going for him and his whole life ahead of him," he said. "And that might have been taken away by someone who decided to do something stupid."

Larry earned the Skyline Conference's offensive player of the year in football in 2007 and won a state hurdles title in 2008, The Daily Courier of Grants Pass reported.

Joseph Escalona, an uncle Larry resided with in Eugene, describes him as a good kid who never did drugs.

"He makes you laugh and he likes to joke around - he's really energetic," he said. "I go to see him and it really chokes me up."

The recovery

Escalona said that doctors have moved Larry out of the intensive care unit and into the south wing of the hospital.

Sympathetic storming is so rare that doctors at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center had to do some homework to find out what was wrong, Escalona said.

But even the doctors couldn't answer all the questions. They could only tell family and friends that recovery would take time.

Escalona says that's the toughest part because everyone wants numbers, statistics or something concrete.

"It's really frustrating for everybody," he said. "It's just going to take time."

Escalona said that Larry now gets excited when he hears other people talking.

John is hopeful for his son.

"He's one of those kids who always defied the odds," he said. "If anyone can come out of this, it's him."

Larry's other family

Lane's track coach Grady O'Connor said Larry, who competed in the 400-meter hurdles and contributed on both relays, was on track to being one of the team's premier hurdlers. It was his second year on the team.

"One minute, he's texting me to tell me about one of his classes," O'Connor said. "The next minute, you're getting a phone call you never want to hear."

O'Connor said Larry is gentle but a fierce competitor who was one of the first on the track and one of the last to leave each day. He also has a strong character.

"He is the nicest, care-free, fun-loving young man I've come across," he said. "He just had so much going for him."

Kevin Godfrey, a friend and teammate of Larry, described him as one of the nicest people anyone could ever meet.

"He's just one of those people you can't help but love," he said.

Godfrey and several others from the team have driven to Corvallis to visit Larry in the hospital.

"The first time, it was really hard," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. By the emptiness in his eyes, you could just tell it wasn't him anymore."

On Godfrey's later visits, he said he could see more in Larry's eyes.

"It just breaks your heart to see someone like him go through that," he said.

Godfrey said that he and the rest of the team are praying for Larry.

"We love him," he said. "We miss him and want him to get better."

Paying the bills

Larry's medical bills will cost more than $500,000 and the family says that insurance is not going to cover it all.

An account for donations has been set up at US Bank branches to help ease the Ragsdales' costs.

Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction, where Larry graduated in 2007, has started selling blue "Everybody loves Larry" bracelets for $2.

O'Connor and Escalona both mentioned interest in starting a fundraiser in the Eugene area.