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Publish Date: 10/28/2005

Longmont rescue personnel examine a car struck by a pickup truck at the intersection of 23rd Avenue and Collyer Street on Sunday evening. Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

Crash takes a toll
Loved ones cope as couple remain in two hospitals

LONGMONT — A crashing wave of grief, a searing flash of anger, a convulsion of sorrow.

The torrent of emotion in Jenny and Alex Latham’s living room Thursday was relentless as their family and friends gathered to attempt to piece the couple’s lives back together as each lay in separate hospitals fighting for their lives.

Jenny Latham, 35, and Frank “Alex” Latham, 27, both of Longmont, were both severely injured Sunday when their Hyundai was T-boned by a Chevrolet Silverado. The man driving that truck pulled a gun on a Colorado State Patrol trooper and abandoned 87 grams of methamphetamine during his escape after the crash.

“It is just hard to understand how something like that could happen to two people who worked so hard to build a life,” said Dorothy Latham, Alex’s mother. “Just to be bashed up by a criminal. They didn’t deserve that.”

Dorothy Latham and her husband, Frank, are staying in a Denver hotel as their son goes through daily surgeries to mend his extensive injuries. His condition is grave, and he is in a coma.

Alex Latham was driving the car Sunday when the truck slammed into the driver’s side at an estimated 60 mph, according to police. The car was pushed through the intersection and into a yard on the southeast corner of 23rd Avenue and Collyer Street.

The truck was stopped by a large tree in the same yard.

The Lathams were three-tenths of a mile from their driveway where their four children — ages 11, 9, 3 and 2 — awaited. The two eldest are from Jenny Latham’s first marriage.

Jenny’s parents, Jim and Sheila Shields, are staying in the couple’s home, taking shifts for overnight stays at Longmont United Hospital, where their daughter has shown some responsiveness to family members. Jenny Latham is listed in serious condition.

Sheila Shields imagines the couple’s last moments before the wreck were happy ones. She thinks they may have been singing together and enjoying the beautiful autumn day.

“You just don’t want to see your children suffer,” she said, succumbing momentarily to tears. She added that she won’t allow them to be put in nursing facilities for rehabilitation. They will come home, she said.

The family’s dog, Copper, was also injured in the wreck. The bear-like brown dog had surgery and returned to the family’s full house Thursday.

The Latham’s best friends, Dream Larsen and Davidson Hardin, both of Nashville, Tenn., have also flown in to stay with the family and help out.

“My two best friends, who mean the world to me, are lying in the hospital because of some raging, paroled drug addict who carelessly ran into them. My heart is broken,” Hardin said.

Larsen was supposed to meet the Lathams in Las Vegas this weekend for the Vegoose 2005 concert featuring Alex Latham’s favorite artist, Dave Matthews, for which Larsen had gotten everyone backstage passes.

It was to be the couple’s first vacation without the children in their five-year marriage .

Larsen was worried when e-mails and calls to the couple went unanswered. She then found out about the accident, exchanged her Las Vegas plane ticket for one to Denver and came to help with the children.

The Shields were already on their way from Michigan to care for the couple’s children while they were in Las Vegas when the accident happened. They drove from South Dakota to Colorado knowing there had been an accident, but not the severity of the injuries.

Jim Shields seethed as he talked about the situation. Police are still seeking the man they say was driving the Silverado, Shawn Todaro, a parole transfer from Nebraska. So far, he has eluded police.

Jim Shields said he will remember the hours he has spent by his daughter’s bedside to fuel his efforts to seek justice for the couple.

He said he has a strong message for Todaro: “Like the archangel Michael, you are first on my list, and I will expend all of my energy to find you,” he said Thursday.

Sheila Shields said family members are struggling with the logistics to prepare for rehabilitation that could take months or years, if both Alex and Jenny Latham survive. That could mean an early retirement for Jim Shields, or a move to Colorado for other family members. Alex Latham is expected to be in intensive care for at least three months, Sheila Shields said.

He supported the family as a Re/Max real estate agent. Jenny Latham gave up her job as a day-care director two years ago when their youngest child was born.

Dorothy Latham said it is remarkable to see how many people are trying to fill her son’s shoes just to do the work that he did alone. She is also angry with Todaro.

“He’s the lowest of the lowlifes. He has no idea what he did to so many people,” she said. “You can’t have anything but contempt for this man. He doesn’t have any remorse, unless he gets caught.”

The Shields are also worried about mounting medical bills, Alex Latham’s business and the couple’s home, which is in the middle of interior renovations.

Jamie Vervaras, Jenny’s sister, said the last time the two spoke Jenny was bubbling with excitement over her upcoming vacation.

“She said, ‘This is going to be the best week I have ever had,” and I told her to have fun,” Vervaras said.

The family has established a fund to aid with the couple’s medical and personal bills from the accident. Donations may be made to The Latham Family Fund, 1716A N. Main St., PMB 240, Longmont, CO 80501.

Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273, or by e-mail at pshields@times-call.com.

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