A TEENAGE girl who had to learn how to walk and talk again after suffering horrific injuries in a head-on car crash today told how she can finally look to the future after winning a £1 million damages pay-out.
Kaya McInnes was left fighting for her life after the horrific smash in March 2007 that claimed the lives of her aunt, Elizabeth Hall, from Falkirk, and family friend James McKinlay, from Gilmerton.
She was originally thought to be dead too until medics at the scene of the notorious A9 crash, just south of Inverness, detected the tiniest flicker of life. She reached hospital in a deep coma and was placed on a life support machine.
The former James Gillespie’s pupil, who was aged 13 at the time, suffered bleeding and swelling to her brain, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a fractured pelvis, and her mother, Leonora Williams, was given the devastating news that her daughter might not pull through.
But Kaya stunned medical staff by learning to walk on her own and talk all over again within months, despite being left with permanent brain damage. Her recovery has been described as little short of a miracle.
Today Kaya is firmly focused on moving on with her life after a final court hearing to determine who was at fault for the crash came to an end last week – something both she and Leonora, who lives in Edinburgh’s Southside, said was a huge relief.
“The court hearings are all finished so it’s just Kaya’s future we have to focus on now,” said 57-year-old Leonora.
Senior judge Lord Doherty, sitting at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, drew a line under the case, ruling that drivers Richard McNicoll and Ronald McLean were equally at fault and their insurers will share the cost of compensating Kaya.
McLean had been forced to pull in sharply when attempting to overtake, causing a camper van behind – being driven by McNicoll – to brake sharply. The van skidded across the road and hit the Peugeot 306 that Kaya was travelling in. In March 2008, McLean was fined and handed a driving ban at Inverness Sheriff Court after pleading guilty to careless driving. McNicoll also admitted careless driving.
Leonora, who is now a full-time carer for her daughter, agreed with the equal share of blame attributed to each driver but said both drivers should have been jailed for “ruining so many lives”.
“I think when someone causes death or ruins someone’s life, like they have ruined the rest of Kaya’s life, there should be a custodial sentence,” she said. “Three families’ lives have been ruined – it’s a ripple effect.”
Kaya received the £1m in damages for her injuries in 2010. The money has been placed in a trust fund for her from which she is allocated £100 every week. So far her biggest purchase has been a new laptop for college but Kaya – who has dreams of one day becoming a mechanic – has ambitious plans.
“I want to have my own garage. I want to show that it’s not just men who can be mechanics,” she said.
While Leonora is pleased that the money will help to build a future for Kaya, she is keen to point out that you cannot put a price on “taking someone’s whole future away from them”.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing can give my daughter what she deserves, it’s just not going to happen. All the pennies in the world are not going to change things at all.
“Kaya doesn’t think, ‘Oh, I’m a millionairess’ or anything like that. She gets a wee allowance every week and she doesn’t even spend that. The money is not important to her. What’s important to her is being able to progress as far as she can, and obviously her lovely new boyfriend, Nicky Smith.
“They have been friends for a wee while and have been going out for the last three weeks.”
Although Kaya is now beginning to live as close to a normal life as possible, the impact of the crash will never leave her.
The once promising musician – who prior to the accident could play the violin and guitar, was a maths whizz and had achieved a brown belt in karate – is now unable to do many of the things she loved. She said: “The last few years have been rocky, it was harder at first but it’s got gradually easier.”
Apart from unpaid work experience at a garage in Granton in the summer of 2010, the teenager has found it a struggle to secure another placement in the mechanical field due to health and safety reasons surrounding her brain injury.
She attends Jewel and Esk College two days a week to work on her maths, and has had to make do with a one-day a week work experience placement at a local hairdressers, which she says she is enjoying nonetheless.
Once her maths is up to scratch, Kaya, who still suffers from short-term memory loss and dramatic mood swings as a result of the accident, hopes to complete a course in mechanics and finally fulfil her dream.
Last month her parents, Leonora and Duncan McInnes, 56, marked a milestone they never believed they would see as Kaya celebrated her 18th birthday with a party at Leith’s Isobar.
Leonora added that Kaya had come on “a million per cent” since the accident and praised her daughter’s determination and resolve.
“Kaya looks fantastic, you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong unless you spend half an hour in her company.
“To think of the trauma and everything, and to think of going from that to where she has brought herself to now, is totally unbelievable. She’s a fighter.”
MORE PAIN FOR FAMILY
KAYA’S family endured further heartache in December 2010 when Leonora’s son Nicky Logan – Kaya’s brother – died suddenly.
The 37-year-old, who was a press officer for the Home Office, lived in London and also had an apartment in Italy. He drove up from London to be at Kaya’s bedside following the accident, reading and chatting to her when she was on life support.
Leonora, who has another daughter, Lyndsay, 31, revealed how she still can’t bring herself to open a Christmas present from Nicky, which he sent shortly before
he died in 2010.
“I put it under the tree this Christmas and I thought I would open it, but I can’t let go because I just think I will never get another present from him.
“Maybe in time I will open it, but there’s this thing in my head that it’s the last thing I’m going to get from him and if I open it, it will be gone.”
The family has fond memories of spending “the best Christmas ever” with Nicky the year before he died, as well as enjoying trips to London and Italy.
“Nicky always paid for us all to go down to London first-class for concerts and this and that,” Leonora remembers.
“The last one I went to with him was Tina Turner at the O2. I remember walking home in his shoes because my high heels were killing me. He went out and spent £300 on my hair to have it all done that day and then went shopping for Tina Turner outfits. We thought, ‘if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right’.
“He always gave us such a fantastic time. Everybody loved him so much.”
Leonora adds: “He was the press officer for 10 Downing Street and then the Home Office. He had lived in London since he was about 20.
“He was like the father of the whole family. We were all so proud of him.”