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Originally published Monday, June 1, 2009 at 9:21 AM

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A bike and SUV collide, and many lives change

Kris Miles sits back in his reclining wheel chair, his eyes closed or nearly closed, and no one knows what he's hearing, thinking or feeling.

The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. —

Kris Miles sits back in his reclining wheel chair, his eyes closed or nearly closed, and no one knows what he's hearing, thinking or feeling.

He's big for a 14-year-old, nearly 6 feet 3 inches, a popular one-time class clown who still gets plenty of visitors from school.

While a student at W'yeast Middle School, he played baseball on two teams, weighed 170 pounds and dreamed of playing in the major leagues.

He was an awesome left-handed catcher and could steal a base, folks say.

Kris' parents, brothers and sisters are with him in the living room of their home in Cascade Park, and it's hard for a visitor to tell what he's aware of.

"He grunts and groans right now," says his stepmother, Shannon Miles, who hovers over him, speaking gently and carefully moving his head to one side. When he coughs up fluids, she comes to the rescue with a cloth.

Kris sleeps a lot and sometimes responds to his family with "uh uh" for no and "a huh" for yes.

But on a recent day, for the first time, he gave a loud "Yeah!"

"I was at the computer," says Shannon Miles. "I just about fell over. I said, 'Honey, did you hear that?'"

"Certain people he acknowledges," his father, Ken Miles says. "He'll blink or give me finger gestures."

Mackayla Samuelson, also 14, a friend from Wy'east, stops by to visit, as she often does. Sitting close to the wheelchair, she touches him. Just being near him makes her smile.

"He was very funny and could always make me laugh, just being him," she said.

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One of Kris' favorite jokes was to hunker down when standing next to petite Mackayla. "Do I make you feel taller?" he'd say.

When Kris came home from the hospital on May 14, after 16 weeks, Mackayla gave him a mixed-breed pup, Kalli.

About 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, Kris was riding his little brother Logan's BMX-style bicycle along the west side of Southeast 136th Avenue, leaving nearby Wy'east for the day.

He was headed home, about two miles away, wearing bright clothing and a red backpack, pedaling north toward Seventh Street, a few blocks south of Mill Plain Boulevard.

Vancouver police say Kris was wearing two earbuds and listening to music as he neared the crosswalk.

Meanwhile, Andrea Dickinson of Vancouver, then 28, was driving a 1995 Chevrolet Blazer west on Seventh.

Police say she stopped at the four-way stop sign, then proceeded at normal speed through the intersection.

The streets were dry and visibility was excellent, with the sun still fairly high in the overcast sky, as Kris rode toward the crosswalk from Dickinson's left.

In a tragic accident that's hard to understand, the SUV hit Kris and the bike in the crosswalk and kept going.

Kris' backpack hit the hood, then he and the bike fell under the still-moving SUV, police say.

The Blazer went nearly 131 feet, dragging Kris and the bike, before it stopped.

It was an unusually long post-impact distance for the low speed Dickinson had been driving, said Officer Steve Capellas with the Vancouver Police Department.

Kris, who'd been run over by the SUV's wheels, was left on the road with massive head injuries, a broken thigh bone and a flattened arm.

He was rushed by ambulance to Southwest Washington Medical Center, then flown by Life Flight helicopter to Legacy Emanuel Hospital, a major regional trauma center in Portland.

The crumpled bike remained underneath the SUV as police taped off the street.

Two highly trained crash reconstruction specialists, Officer Paul Brewster and Capellas, went to the scene.

Two immediate questions troubled the officers:

Why didn't Dickinson see the large, brightly clad eighth-grader as he stood up on the bike's pedals and approached the crosswalk from her left?

And once she hit him, why didn't she stop sooner?

"We don't think she knew exactly what she hit," Capellas said later. "She knew she was dragging something with her vehicle because she felt it and she heard it."

Police still don't know why it took her so long to stop.

Dickinson was "devastated" by the crash and Kris' critical injuries, Capellas said.

As officers spoke with her at the scene, there was no indication she'd been drinking alcohol or using any drugs. Asked to voluntarily submit to a blood draw to make sure, she agreed.

Witnesses to the crash consistently said Dickinson hadn't been speeding or driving recklessly.

With no initial evidence that Dickinson had committed any crime, officers didn't arrest her or give her a ticket.

As the afternoon progressed into evening, the officers began a detailed examination of the sealed-off street, taking photos.

At times they crawled on their hands and knees to find bits of evidence along the path the Blazer took after the collision.

In the post-impact drag path, they found blood, scrapes in the pavement from the dragged bike, and fibers from Kris' clothing.

"We found pieces of the earbuds in the path," Capellas said.

Once such bits of evidence were found and marked, the officers brought out an instrument like those surveyors use, making horizontal and vertical measurements - accurate to a millimeter - of the SUV's position, the bike, the crosswalk and other evidence flowed into a handheld data collector at the scene.

The officers had known values of time and distance, including 97 feet from where Dickinson stopped at the four-way sign before hitting Kris. They calculated the SUV's speed at various points of its journey.

Speed and velocity can indicate whether there was any reckless or negligent driving.

"It can be a key factor in how we charge, criminally," Capellas said.

In the end, the range of estimated speeds, about 13 to 30 mph, was within legal limits for the street and avenue. Speed wasn't considered a cause of the crash.

Dickinson also allowed the officers to obtain her cell-phone records, to see if she'd been on the phone, and thus distracted, when she hit the boy.

Although Dickinson made calls after the crash, "She wasn't on the phone at the time of the crash," Capellas said.

The officers also took Dickinson's SUV to the scene and tested it. Had its throttle stuck or brakes failed?

"We were able to rule out anything mechanical, and this takes us now to just the human factors," Capellas said.

Tests of Dickinson's blood confirmed the officers' impression that she hadn't been drinking alcohol or taking drugs that would have impaired her driving.

She has good eyesight, no medical problems that would affect her driving and a good driving record, Capellas said.

The investigation had eliminated many possible causes of the crash.

One possibility remains, Capellas said: the front "A-pillar" that supports the Blazer's roof.

The driver-side roof support could have blocked Dickinson's view to her left as she accelerated at normal speeds from the stop sign toward the crosswalk.

"He was traveling at the exact speed for him to be hidden by the A-pillar, even on his bicycle," Capellas said. "It's a pretty strong possibility, because we've eliminated everything else."

Sadly, Dickinson might have seen the boy if she'd just moved her head to look around the A-pillar as she approached the crosswalk, Capellas said. That must be done, particularly near schools, he said.

Kris, too, might have avoided the crash by paying more attention, Capellas said.

"Both the driver and the bicyclist should be looking for each other," he said. "They should never assume that the other one has seen them. They should anticipate they haven't."

Wearing a helmet also would have lessened Kris' injuries, Capellas said.

In sending his report of the crash to prosecutors, Officer Brewster recommended that no criminal charges be filed against Dickinson. He recommended she be cited for second-degree negligent driving, an infraction that carries a possible fine of $550.

The Columbian was unable to reach Dickinson for comment.

The crash shattered the lives of Kris and his family.

Ken Miles, a former Jiffy Lube shop manager, now works only part time and devotes most of his time to Kris, who underwent major brain and other surgeries before coming home.

Shannon Miles manages a Blockbuster store in Vancouver.

Every few hours, the father uses a machine that pumps food and medicine through a tube into the boy's stomach.

Kris has to be showered, bathed and changed, and his legs and arms must be moved to stretch the muscles so they won't tighten up. Soon, he'll have to be shaved.

He now weighs about 140 pounds including leg casts.

Will he ever walk again, or speak and respond better to his family and friends?

"We honestly don't know what tomorrow will bring with him," Ken Miles said. "I wish I could say he'll walk in six months."

"I kind of wonder how much one kid can go through," Shannon Miles said. "He's a trouper."

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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