Two years have passed since the plight of young Ashley Dubey gripped the Centreville community. Just 5 1/2 in May 2002, she was struck and severely injured by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street to catch her schoolbus.
The 38-year-old driver, Duane Thompson of Manassas, was later prosecuted in Fairfax County Circuit Court and sentenced to a year in jail — which he's long-ago completed. But Ashley's scars are for life, and the full extent of her brain injuries are not yet known.
Making matters worse, her family is in serious financial straits. "I have so many bills to pay," said Ashley's mother, Seema Dubey, on Friday. "We're really in a mess."
AT THE TIME of the incident, Ashley and her family lived in Centreville's Crofton Commons community, and she was a kindergartner at Bull Run Elementary. It was around 8:30 a.m., and Dubey was holding her daughter's hand as they crossed Old Centreville Road to wait for the bus.
But when the child saw some friends on the other side, she let go for a split second and darted across to join them. That's when Thompson, en route to his job at Best Buy in Fair Lakes, slammed his 1997 Chrysler Cirrus into her and drove off.
"He disregarded his responsibility to stay behind," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jay Nanavati, during Thompson's sentencing, Jan. 3, 2003, in Fairfax County Circuit Court. "He caused this problem and fled."
Dubey, her son Himanshu, then 2, and other parents and children waiting for the bus watched, horrified, as the force of the impact sent Ashley airborne. "The next thing I knew, she was on the ground by her backpack," said her mother. "I was numb — I saw her laying there. I was screaming for help."
Meanwhile, witnesses obtained the car's license-tag number, and Thompson was arrested later that morning and charged with felony hit-and-run. Police found his car in the Best Buy parking lot with the engine warm and the hood dented in the middle.
As for Ashley, she sustained a severe head injury, affecting her speech, vision and movement on the right side. She underwent five brain surgeries at Inova Fairfax Hospital and then received therapy at Kluge Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville before coming home in late July 2002.
She'll be 8 on July 24, but she still receives therapy and sees doctors. Her family moved to Leesburg in June 2003 because the accident happened practically in front of her house, and seeing Old Centreville Road every day was too difficult for her mother to bear.
"I wanted to get off that street," she said. "It was a bad memory everytime [I looked at it]."
ALSO BECAUSE of her injuries, Ashley is now a special-ed student who'll be in second grade in the fall. But there are problems.
"She's having a hard time remembering things in school, so we have to go back to Kluge once a month," explained Dubey. "They want to do some research on her for her memory loss; they want to see the extent of it."
In addition, Ashley's currently attending special-ed classes in summer school. Said her mom: "Since she has a memory problem, it's good to keep her going to school so she doesn't lose what she's learned."
At home, she loves playing with her little brother, now 4, and baby sister Amber, 1. But her parents are having a tough time making ends meet. They have $350,000 in medical bills, including a $48,000 debt to Kluge.
Ashley's father, Hemant Dubey, works two jobs, seven days a week, and her mother also works full-time. And both feel let down by attorneys who promised to obtain some financial restitution for them from Thompson via a civil suit.
"They said, 'You have a great case and you can sue for a million dollars,'" said Dubey. "But now they're saying he doesn't have any assets, so they aren't going forward with the case. This guy hit her, and we didn't get anything."
Ashley still has a shunt in her head to drain fluid and relieve pressure in her brain, plus scars on her right leg, chest and stomach. Said Dubey: "The poor girl is going through so much and, as a parent, I feel so bad because I can't do anything [to change it]."
Meanwhile, there's a bank account for Ashley's medical expenses. Contributions, payable to Harsh Dubey, may be sent to: Bank of America, 14122 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20120.