Thursday, April 30, 2015
Maddie Hughes and her mother Ginger Hughes.
It’s difficult for the Hughes family to talk about Maddie without smiling.
The 7-year-old girl who loved glitter, butterflies and dancing was an in-your-face kind of child, living every minute of every day to the fullest.
“We used to say that she was an insomniac. She would never go to sleep. When she did, she would sleep for three hours, and have 18 hours of energy in her,” said her mom, Ginger. “I think she just knew she had a lot to get done here.”
In January, the Plattsmouth family suffered the unimaginable.
They lost Maddie, the second-grader with a sparkle in her big brown eyes, after a car accident south of Bellevue. Then they watched their oldest child, Taylor, go through proceedings in Sarpy County Juvenile Court. Taylor was at the wheel, driving her sister Maddie to tumbling class, when the fatal accident occurred.
Suddenly, a private family, which includes dad Greg and three boys, was thrust into the spotlight.
Now, nearly four months after the accident, the Hughes family is remembering Maddie, moving forward and healing.
“For us, we’re really at both ends of the spectrum,” Ginger Hughes said. “One is driving and one is now lost, and so we’re having to feel both of those sets of emotions and still live, still go to work, still eat dinner and do our laundry and all of these things.”
The intersection of the accident at Platteview Road and Highway 75, where a left-turn light has since been installed. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Their lives changed about 5 p.m. Jan. 13.
According to authorities, Taylor collided with another vehicle while driving north on U.S. Highway 75 and trying to turn left onto Platteview Road. Her vehicle was hit by a southbound van and then struck by another car.
Complicating matters was that the intersection is known for fast-moving traffic. Residents said the divided highway was daunting for drivers to get across.
After Maddie’s death, the Nebraska Roads Department installed a left-turn arrow at the intersection, saying that although the intersection didn’t have a significant pattern of accidents in the past five years, increased traffic warranted the turn arrow.
In February, the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office filed a juvenile petition against Taylor, who was 17 at the time of the accident. The petition accused Taylor of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide and failure to yield the right of way.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov has said that Juvenile Court isn’t about punishment but is about accepting responsibility, receiving resources and moving on.
Ultimately, Taylor admitted responsibility in the case, the speediest way for her to get on a path of healing.
After receiving letters of support from Taylor’s high school principal and teachers, who described her as an exemplary student, Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Gendler didn’t put Taylor on formal probation but ordered that she remain in therapy.
Ginger Hughes said putting Taylor through the court system "felt like a circus," and she struggled to understand why it was necessary. The family believed that it all was simply an accident and that blaming someone wasn’t going to change the outcome.
They feel the same way about the turn arrow.
"It really matters nothing to me now, because my little girl is gone, and that light does not bring her back," Ginger Hughes said. "I hope it saves somebody else’s. I do hope that."
Greg, mom Ginger and sister Taylor look at photos of Maddie on Tuesday at their home in Plattsmouth. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
The family says the silver lining in their tragedy has been the outpouring of support for their family.
An online petition supporting Taylor and asking Polikov to drop charges against her gained more than 5,000 signatures.
A temporary tattoo made in honor of Maddie Hughes. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Temporary tattoos featuring a butterfly and an "M" in Maddie’s honor were designed and printed. Girls dancing in last month’s Tip Tap Toe Dance Studio recital wore them on their arms.
Messages of support for the family flooded in by email, through Facebook and in the form of meals delivered to their door.
The Hughes family says that the kindness received from their community and their church is a big reason they decided to remain here. They had been renting and had begun house hunting at about the time the accident happened.
They’ve since moved into a home in Plattsmouth.
"You think you know who your friends are. Then something like this happens and you realize you have a lot more friends than you thought," said Greg Hughes, a government contractor.
His wife, a certified nursing assistant, said she has learned to step back and reserve judgment for others.
"At the heart of all of that is family and people," she said. "For us, it’s our two girls. Nobody else looks at them the same way we do, obviously. Really, they’re just somebody’s kids."
For the Hughes family and members of their community, it’s hard to forget their spunky Maddie.
In a class assignment, Maddie answered a series of questions, including what it was she wanted most in the world. A television in her room, she stated.
Her favorite time of day? Lunch.
Something she doesn’t like to do? Sleep.
What she did like was smiling, dancing, cheerleading and, according to big sister Taylor, taking selfies.
Maddie, who attended Plattsmouth Elementary School, also taught other kids cheerleading moves at school and during her brothers’ football practices.
When her mother suggested that a friend join cheerleading through the Plattsmouth Junior Youth Association next year, Maddie said her friend told her that her family didn’t have the money.
Since the accident, the Maddie Hughes Sports Fund was established to provide for families in that situation.
With support from the Omaha Public Power District — OPPD line technician Brad Ging tended to Maddie and Taylor at the accident scene — the fund will benefit Plattsmouth children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play sports and participate in activities.
Donations are still welcome through an account at Plattsmouth State Bank.
These days, Ginger and Greg Hughes are constantly searching for what they call a "new normal." Their house is quieter, and they can’t shake the nagging feeling that someone is missing at the kitchen table and in everything they do.
Taylor Hughes pictured during an interview on April 28 at the Hughes home in Plattsmouth. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Taylor, now 18, is looking forward to what’s next in her life — finishing her senior year at Plattsmouth High School, graduating next week and, someday, working in a bakery.
"I just want to try and live like someone who’s about to finish school would do, just as normal as I could possibly do that," Taylor said. "I know it won’t be normal, but whatever I can do to try to be back to a normal."
The family says that the accident and losing Maddie are not things they’ll ever get over — but rather things they’ll continue to get through.
"The biggest thing is that for Taylor and our whole family, the loss of Maddie, the intersection — they are not what make us who we are. They are not what defines us," Ginger Hughes said. "We will get through this because of who we were before the accident happened. That intersection is simply that. It’s an intersection.
"We have a lot of family, a lot of friends that are really actually family. There’s been a lot of positive things in light of a tragedy. It’s tough, but we know we’re not alone."
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