Boerne teen crushed by stage prop; school says it won't pay

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by Dillon Collier / KENS 5

Bio | Email | Follow: @dilloncollier

kens5.com

Posted on February 1, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 31 at 1:28 PM

SAN ANTONIO -- Many people in the audience at Boerne High School on Nov. 15 described it as the worst thing they had ever witnessed.

During opening night for the school's production of "Grease," a 16-year-old stagehand named Zach Bickford ran on stage to flip the page of a 12-foot-tall wooden yearbook. The structure, more than twice Zach's height with an estimated weight of 500 pounds, fell and crushed him.

"Woke up on the floor, didn't really know what happened or anything," Zach said during a recent rehabilitation session at the San Antonio Children's Hospital.

One of Bickford's injuries, a compound fracture of his lower left leg, was obvious.

Not so obvious, but more serious, a crushed L3 vertebra in his lower back.

Zach endured 13 hours of surgery at University Hospital after the accident and was told by doctors that he would struggle to regain full strength in his legs.

Doctors fused metal rods on either side of his L1-5 vertebrae and inserted a third rod in his left leg.

Zach was forced to wear a neck brace, which he eventually traded for a lower back brace.

"I don't want to feel like a third leg, because I'll be in a wheelchair, basically, just holding them back," a tearful Zach said, referring to family and friends.

Until he was released from the hospital Thursday, Zach's days consisted of hours of rehab followed by sessions with a tutor.

Zach had to transfer out of the Boerne Independent School District and into the San Antonio ISD so he could continue going to school while hospitalized.

He also spent time back at University Hospital after developing a serious infection.

"We had plans for him to join the Navy, now we're adjusting. Adjusting to find a different career for him," said Zach's father, Jim, who is a Navy veteran himself.

The Bickford family requested that Boerne ISD pay some of Zach's medical bills because the accident had happened on school property during a school-sponsored event.

Boerne ISD officials declined to be interviewed.

In December, the Bickfords received a letter from the school district's legal counsel, which stated the district is not financially responsible for Zach's injuries because of governmental immunity.

The letter included several past cases involving injured students in Texas. In each case, the court had eventually sided with the school district.

"Their stance is they are not responsible, under the law, for his injuries," said attorney Troy Glander.

Glander's law firm, Allan, Nava & Glander, represents the Bickford family.

"It was a 25-year-old teacher, who was in her second year of teaching experience, that was given carte blanche responsibility," Glander said.

The teacher's name has been omitted from this report since she has not been charged with a crime.

Glander said he may file a lawsuit on behalf of the Bickfords, using Section 1983 of federal law, which allows people whose rights have been violated to sue government officials.

Meanwhile, the Bickford family is adjusting to a very different living situation than they knew just a few months ago.

"I'm concerned because we now need to accommodate for a wheelchair," said Zach's mother, Chris.

Anyone who would like to help with Zach's medical expenses may write a check payable to "Benefit for Zachary Bickford." Check may be deposited at any Wells Fargo bank location. The account is listed under the bank's "Memorial/Donation Accounts" directory.

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