Bee Staff Writer
Afraid they were running late for a family dinner in Sacramento, Patrick and Beth Lansom hurriedly buckled their three children into the back seat.
Levi, their 3-year-old middle child, settled into the car seat on the driver’s side. He was wearing his new corduroy jacket with its fuzzy little hood.
Nothing suggested this drive from Davis a little more than a week ago would be different than any other, that soon Levi, who loved to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” would be dead.
He died after a Nov. 6 crash involving a truck driven by a suspected drunken driver.
According to CHP Officer Loren Milburn, Scott Doyle, 32, of West Sacramento, flunked a sobriety test at the scene. He was booked into the Yolo County jail on suspicion of felony driving under the influence of alcohol with injuries.
Milburn said that after Levi’s death, the charge was amended to suspicion of vehicular manslaughter. Results of a blood alcohol test have not been released. Doyle is out of jail on bond.
His attorney, Lawrence D. Samelson of Sacramento, said he plans to plead not guilty.
Now Levi’s parents – Patrick, 23, and Beth, 22 – are struggling to share whatever lessons their experience could provide.
As the Lansoms left their home in student housing on the University of California, Davis, campus and onto eastbound Interstate 80, Patrick maneuvered into the left lane.
It was afternoon rush hour, but traffic was moving. The Lansoms passed Harbor Boulevard onto Highway 50 in West Sacramento. Then traffic halted suddenly.
Patrick slammed the brakes and wrestled the 1990 Lexus LS400 to a stop not far from the bumper of the car in front.
Beth snapped against her seat belt, but felt relieved they had avoided an accident. She didn’t realize a Chevrolet truck was approaching fast from behind.
When the truck hit the Lexus, the car’s back window exploded, and the trunk flattened, slamming it into the back seat where the kids were belted in.
The force rammed the Lexus forward, hitting the car in front, which hit the car in front of it, which hit the car in front of it. Of the five vehicles involved, the Lansoms’ car was the worst hit.
Sadie, age 2, cried. Except for the glass in his hair and everywhere else, Justin, 6, looked uninjured. But Levi was slumped over, unresponsive.
“Levi,” Beth Lansom shouted over the roar of adrenaline and traffic, which continued to race past in the two right lanes.
Worried another car would smash into them, the parents hurried their kids out the driver-side door. But Levi’s car seat would not unbuckle.
“We’re going to get you out,” Beth yelled.
Patrick pulled him free and laid Levi, in his corduroy coat with the fuzzy hood, on the roadside. His head was injured.
Other motorists, including an off-duty emergency medical technician, approached. So, the Lansoms said, did the driver of the gray 1966 truck.
“Stay away,” Patrick said.
“The ambulance is coming,” Beth told Levi. “Help is on its way.” He did not respond.
Patrick rode in the ambulance with Levi. Beth and the other two kids met them at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
Doctors shaved Levi’s head, preparing him for surgery. All his parents could do was wait, the beginning of a nearly 80-hour vigil in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit on the seventh floor.
Family members that had been rushing to meet an hour earlier joined them at the hospital.
When the Lansoms saw Levi again, a tangle of wires and hoses connected him to machines. Staples marked the incision on his head where doctors had operated, and a catheter allowed fluid to drain from his brain.
At preschool the next day, Levi’s classmates made cards and a banner with their handprints. It was hung in his room.
Sadie and Justin took stuffed animals they had gotten on a recent trip to Disneyland – Mickey Mouse and a Bruce the Shark – and gave them to their brother.
Everyone was full of hope, but by Sunday night a CAT scan had shown that most of Levi’s brain already had died.
It was, Patrick said, “pretty much a matter of time.”
They decided to donate his organs.
“Maybe something positive can come out of this terrible, senseless event,” Beth said.
Around midnight Sunday doctors pronounced Levi brain dead. Until they could find recipients for his organs, machines kept his heart beating and lungs breathing. In the meantime, his parents held Levi one last time.
“We were lucky to have had you for the time we did,” Beth cried, cupping her son in her arms and kissing him. “We told you every day how proud we were of you and how much we loved you and you’ll always be with us in our hearts.”
Now, the family is struggling to cope.
Patrick Lansom has taken time off work from the Nugget Market in Sacramento, where he is a night manager. Beth, a UC Davis student, has put her political science classwork on hold.
Justin, they said, is handling the death as well as a 6-year-old can. When family members leave the room, 2-year-old Sadie wants to know where they are going and for how long.
“Levi died … Levi gone … Levi not at the hospital,” she says.
Her parents hope the story of his death will make people pause before drinking and driving.
“You have to make a good decision,” Beth said. “That can be the deciding factor on whether a little guy lives.