CHARLOTTESVILLE, United States (AFP) — Victims of a car-ramming at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville testified about their life-altering injuries Friday at the trial of the neo-Nazi accused of attacking them.
Jeanne “Star” Peterson limped to the witness stand with the assistance of a bailiff on the second day of proceedings, recalling in vivid detail the moment when James Fields’s Dodge Challenger plowed into a large crowd of people, killing one, on August 12, 2017.
She was followed a short while later by Wednesday Bowie, who almost bled to death when her pelvis was crushed in six places and now walks with a gait after it healed diagonally.
Fields, 21, is accused of first degree murder over the killing of 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer, as well as hit-and-run charges and eight counts of causing serious injury.
Peterson, whose right leg was shattered by the impact, recounted attending the Unite the Right rally to protest against the presence of hundreds of white supremacists.
Confrontations broke out, which led city authorities to declare the rally an “unlawful gathering,” and the far-right protesters began to disperse.
The previously charged atmosphere became “joyful, it was celebratory and convivial,” said Peterson, with counter-protesters happy because “the alt-right hadn’t been able to make any of their hateful speeches.”
She didn’t see Fields’s car coming.
“I just heard three bumps,” Peterson said — realizing only later than two were his vehicle running over her right leg, and one reversing back over it.
“I saw Heather Heyer up in the air and remember thinking to myself ‘That’s what someone’s eyes look like when they are dead.'”
Peterson, who said she used to be fast on her feet but only recently learned to be able to walk again without a wheelchair, and just for short distances, has had five surgeries and is scheduled for a sixth next year.
Like Peterson, Bowie was among a group of counter-protesters. Upon seeing the carnage left by the car-ramming, she rushed to help victims — but ended up being struck when the vehicle began to reverse back up the road.
Her pelvis was broken in six places, resulting in the tearing of a femoral artery and massive internal bleeding.
Her right eye socket was fractured and the bottom three vertebrae of her back bone and tail bone were all shattered.
“I am not able to walk long distances or sit long periods of time without pain,” she told the court, adding that her gait had been “permanently affected.”
“My pelvis healed on a diagonal so my steps are not even, which causes muscle pain and pain in my back.”
Earlier, the court heard from Ryan Kelly, a photojournalist who was on his last day at work for local newspaper The Daily Progress and won a Pulitzer Prize for a photograph showing one of the counter-protesters launched flailing into the air.
Kelly had been following a group of counter-protesters who “were chanting and singing” after the right-wing protesters had started leaving.
He started to make his way up 4th Street, a hilly road leading to a downtown pedestrian area.
At that point, he said: “I heard a car, screeching tires, the rev of an engine and it sped right past me.
“People went flying, you heard thuds and screams and cries.”
The car was going “faster than anything I’ve ever seen on that street. It was going fast and directly at the crowd.”
Kelly had set his camera to burst-mode, capturing dozens of frames.
During her cross-examination, defense attorney Denise Lunsford made a point of showing the jury that in some of the shots, the Challenger’s brake lights were on, indicating the vehicle had been slowing.
Responding for the prosecution, Nina Antony showed many more frames in which the brake lights were not on.
The two sides have also offered differing narratives of the atmosphere at the time Fields struck protesters.
The defense has described it as chaotic and violent, while the prosecution cited numerous witnesses saying that it had become peaceful by the afternoon.
Tadrint Washington, a young African American woman who was in her Toyota Camry in the downtown area, said she was caught in the middle of counter-protesters when she was rear-ended by Fields.
“They were chanting ‘Whose town? Our town!'” she recalled.
“I never seen so many people white people standing up for black people. It was amazing. It was a ‘wow factor.'”
She banged her head as Fields drove into the rear of her car, and blacked out.
The violence capped two days of confrontations over the removal of a Confederate statue that shook the country and became a symbol of the growing audacity of the far right under President Donald Trump.