Amputee won't have to pay for damaged guardrail

October 21, 2010 (CHICAGO)

To add insult to her life-changing injury, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation billed 26-year old Mary-Ann Mulawka for the cost to replace a guardrail damaged during the crash. The department of transportation has since said Mulawka is no longer responsible for the $2,000 bill.

Mulawka was forced off the road in a crash with two semi-trailers.

A Palos Hills resident, the 27-year-old is an ambitious forensic scientist whose life-long dream is to work for the FBI. As the New Year started, that dream, along with a job at the New York medical examiner's office and a second graduate degree, awaited her. She packed up all her belongings and set out on the drive from Chicago to New York City. But on her way there, an accident forever changed Mary-Ann's life.

"Right before this accident happened every dream in my life was pretty much coming true," said Mulawka.

It was the evening of January 3, along Pennsylvannia's I-80. Mulawka was driving from Chicago to New York City. She was getting ready to stop for the night when a semi clipped her in the rear and sent her off the road.

"At that point I'm trying to survive and basically see my life flashing through my eyes," said Mulawka.

Mary-Ann's vehicle was sent through a guardrail. The impact of the rail going through the driver's side of the car severed her right leg just below the knee.

Fortunately, she wasn't alone. Two strangers, Joe and Trisch Stewart, saw the accident and stopped.

"Joe and Trisch stayed in the snow with me for two hours and they actually packed my legs with snow, and saved my life because they stopped my legs from bleeding," said Mulawka.

In addition to losing the lower part of her right leg, Mulawka sustained major injuries to her left leg and several fractures.

Ten months later, after several surgeries and extensive physical therapy Mary-Ann is back on her feet and learning to run once again. And while she has every right to be angry, she isn't.

"Even at the person who drove the semi truck and drove away, that's on his conscience, and is between him and God," said Mulawka.

But she is upset with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Several months after the accident they sent her this bill for just over $2,500 to pay for the guardrail her car went through.

"My family has been through so much already, and I though, 'haven't I been through enough?' I have to fight all of these odds. I've been fighting to get all of these hospital bills paid, I have my school loans. I'm unemployed," said Mulawka.

Fortunately, she won't be unemployed for long. Her studies and that job offer in New York are all still waiting for her when she is ready.

"I'm actually going to do a test run in a couple of weeks and go out there, and have a coffee in Times Square and see how well I do. But I'll definitely be there," said Mulawka.

When ABC7 contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to ask about the bill, they first said they sent the invoice without knowing the full facts of the accident. Then called back later and said Mulawka no longer owes any money. They also apologized for any added anguish they may have caused Mary-Ann and her family.

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