After injury, trooper's family fights for care
Posted May 4, 2015
During his eight years as a trooper, Humberto Reyna was the poster boy for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, literally. He was also a key liaison for the force in the Latino community.
Then, on Nov. 23, 2009, as he responded to a crash on Interstates 40 and 85, Reyna's patrol cruiser was crushed by a hydroplaning car. He was injured, but the worst of the aftereffects weren't visible.
"The man that left that morning, he didn't come home," said his wife, Kay Reyna. "He has a brain injury. He has cognitive deficits. He has dementia. He has post-traumatic stress disorder."
For years, Kay Reyna battled the state for rehabilitation and care she believed her husband deserved.
Humberto Reyna is physically active. He plays golf, swims, runs.
A private investigator, hired to confirm whether he deserved workmen's compensation, followed the family with a video camera.
But his speech is halted. It takes him time to communicate his thoughts. His demeanor can be childlike.
"Just because he can walk around doesn't mean he doesn't have a serious traumatic brain injury," his wife said.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Humberto Reyna received two years of full pay after the crash and then he got $700,000 in workers' compensation, medical and indemnity benefits.
Still, the Reynas question the process.
"They're saying nothing is wrong with me, and they're not doctors," Humberto Reyna said.
Psychologist Ellen Curry, who evaluated him as part of the workmen's comp process, said, "There's continued questioning of the fact that's been arrived at again and again by multiple evaluators.
"I often feel powerless that my recommendations are not heeded," she said. "There is an atmosphere of, this is only my opinion, but wanting to provide less and less service for this man who is dramatically impacted."
Humberto Reyna calls the response of the Highway Patrol "cruelty."
"I was just doing my job when this happened to me," he says. "How can they do that to me? Do they know what they're doing?"
A month after the Reynas contacted WRAL Investigates for help, attorneys for the Department of Public Safety reached a confidential settlement with the family. Reyna's lawyer chalked up the dispute to the state's efforts to protect taxpayer money.
Gregory K. Baker, commissioner of the Law Enforcement Division of DPS, said that money is a factor, but not the main factor.
“I'm passionate about the men and women that wear this badge and carry a gun, so that's our first obligation," he said. "And that's not just me. That support is through our secretary all the way to our governor. But, we also have an obligation to the public to be a good steward of their resources.”
Kay Reyna and her lawyer, Jay Kerr, agree: The settlement was too long in coming.
"It's a prolonged process for the decision makers to understand the medicine involved with brain injuries," Kerr said.
Baker said that when attorneys get involved the process becomes far more formal and less personal.
After five years, Kay Reyna is relieved and ready to look to the future.
"I think what we want to see is with what he has left that he can live his life in peace," she said.