| Keith L Alexander & Lynh Bui |
CARLOS Green reached into his pocket by habit to pull out his cellphone as his eyes glisten with tears.
“I just want her to talk to me, man,” Green said, shaking his head at the memory of the calls to him after school, after a playdate or after shopping.
Nearby, his once-lively seven-year-daughter, Zynae Green, sat in her black wheelchair with a slight grin and widening gaze as Frozen – one of the films that now fills her day – popped up on the television.
A throat tube helps her breathe, a stomach tube helps feed her, and she communicates in smiles, blinks and frowns.
“I cry about that right now,” Green said. “She called my phone about everything. ‘Dad, Dad, Dad.’ That’s just what I want to hear. I just want to hear my baby’s voice.”
It has been a year since Zynae could talk, her voice silenced after she breezily grasped a lighted handrail on a warm June evening on a plaza at the MGM National Harbor resort. The handrail carried 120 volts, 10 times what the lighting should have, engineering investigators later concluded, citing problems in the wiring, installation and rail anchoring.
Zynae went into cardiac arrest, was resuscitated and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Her little brother, CJ – Carlos Junior – also touched the railing that night as the children played. The then-five-year-old boy was knocked out but not debilitated.
He endures recurring nightmares, his parents said, and can clearly see his sister has changed without fully understanding why.
At pharmacies, while his parents were picking up Zynae’s prescriptions, CJ spotted drawings of a brain on a medication box and carried it to a counter to ask if maybe this could help Zynae, said the children’s mother, Rydricka Rosier.
“I love her,” CJ said simply as his family for the first time speaks publicly about their upended life. And like his dad, he longs for her voice.
He often wonders, his parents said, if maybe Zynae won’t talk or play with him because he did something wrong, and, with a child’s reasoning, he leans into her wheelchair with his worry:
“Are you mad at me?”
The ring of Zynae’s laughter has been replaced in the house by the loud, raw sound of the machine that her parents and nurses use to regularly suction and clear her mouth to avoid choking.
Zynae spends much of her time in the living room of the home her family rented outside Baltimore to be closer to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
On a recent afternoon, she was decked out in purple, from her polished fingernails to her ‘Grl Pwr’ t-shirt and shorts, watching animated movies that play on a near-constant loop.
“We went from Zynae smiling, running off the bus, giving hugs, talking and smiling. And now, in a wheelchair,” Rosier, 34, said. “That day changed my baby’s whole life.”
The day was June 26, 2018.
Green, 36, had gotten off his job at the DC water treatment plant, where he has worked for 12 years and is now a supervisor. As he often did after work, Green stopped by the resort to relax and wait for his family. After dark, the children liked to visit the resort complex so they could see the Ferris wheel, fountain and other outdoor sites lighted up in bright colors.
The evening was meant to be a celebration of sorts. Days earlier, Zynae had graduated from kindergarten at Barstow Elementary in suburban Prince Frederick, Maryland, where the family lived. Zynae, who loved math and reading, cheerleading and T-ball, was preparing to take an advance placement test to determine whether she could go directly to the second grade in the fall, her mother says.
It was after 10pm when Rosier arrived at the MGM complex with her mother and her and Green’s children: Monya, then 16, Zynae, then six, and CJ, then five. The couple have been together for 19 years.
Rosier went into the place and met Green. He gave her two USD20 bills for Zynae and CJ to shop in a nearby gift store.
But when Rosier, her mother and the children walked to the store, it was closed. So they headed around the corner to the terrace to watch the fountain overlooking the Potomac River, Rosier recalled.
She rummaged in her purse for loose change that CJ and Zynae could toss in. That’s when CJ scampered off, grabbing a lighted handrail that led to the fountain area.
Over the next few minutes, as his mother remembered, Rosier noticed CJ’s head resting on the rail. “Boy, lift your head up,” she told him. But, she said, “he never said anything. He didn’t move.”
By then, Zynae had joined her brother, also clasping the handrail. Instead of laughing and chatting as the two children normally did, they were quiet. “Neither of them were saying anything,” Rosier recalled.
Their older sister noticed CJ’s eyes slightly closing and rolling back in his head, his mother recalled, before Monya yelled, “Mom, something’s wrong with CJ.”
Rosier pulled CJ off the handrail and he collapsed in her arms. Monya then pulled Zynae off the rail. Zynae was struggling to breathe, her mother said.
Rosier screamed. “Help me, somebody help me. My baby, somebody help,” she recalled. Two women ran over.
Rosier called Green in the resort. “CJ passed out. He’s unconscious,” Rosier screamed into the phone, both parents remembered.
Green sprinted through the resort toward the terrace, where, as he grew closer, he heard a crying child.
It was CJ.
He had regained consciousness and was standing next to Rosier as she tried to comfort him.
Then, Green said, he saw
Zynae on the ground, Rosier and Monya sobbing, and security guards near them. He said he could hear Rosier pleading, “Come on, Zy, breathe. Breathe for Mommy.”
The panicked call from Rosier had said it was CJ who had been hurt. But it was Zynae, his “princess” as Green calls her, lying on her back.
“I kept saying, ‘Breathe, baby. Please breathe, baby. Come on, breathe,’ ” Green remembered. Sitting at a dining room table, recalling that scene, his voice cracked and tears began to roll down his face.
Green said he repeatedly yelled for security guards to perform CPR on his daughter, but added that it wasn’t until two Prince George’s County police officers arrived that one of them started the resuscitation.
MGM officials said in an interview that the guards followed protocol responding to the incident and determined Zynae was breathing and did not need CPR.
“I kept thinking, ‘This is just temporary. She’s going to wake up,’ ” Green said.
A security guard who was nearby touched the railing as he tried to help Zynae and was slightly injured. Green said he, too, started to reach for it until he heard a guard yell not to touch it and another guard shouted, “Cut it. Cut the switch.”
It was then, Green recalled, that he realised Zynae had received an electric shock.
According to an engineering study done for the county after the incident, a faulty installation of a device meant to control the electrical flow to the rail lighting left the handrail charged with 120 volts, 10 times the 12 volts intended for the lighting.
Prince George’s records showed an ambulance was dispatched just before midnight from the MGM carrying Zynae and a security guard to the United Medical Center in Washington, about 3.5 miles from the MGM. The security guard who was also shocked was admitted with minor injuries.
When Green and Rosier reached the hospital, Rosier remembered screaming, “Where’s my baby? Somebody tell me where’s my daughter.”
At one point in the hospital, the couple said, the same officer who started CPR earlier urged them to briefly take their eyes off the harrowing scene around them. “He came out of nowhere and just reminded us to stop and pray,” Green said.
As they waited, the couple finally heard loud applause coming from the area where Zynae had been taken, they remembered, as the medical team regained her pulse. She was then flown to Children’s National.
CJ was hospitalised for a few days with relatively minor injuries.
Zynae spent about three months in the hospital, followed by a little more than four months in a rehabilitation centre.
She returned home at the end of January.
Rosier once worked three jobs that back-to-back, she said, to help make ends meet: as a school bus attendant, at a TJ Maxx, and as a custodian at the school Zynae and CJ attended.
After Zynae was injured, the couple agreed Rosier should stay home to take care of their daughter between the shifts of healthcare workers.
A registered nurse tends to Zynae from 9am to 6pm at the house. Rosier takes the duties from 6pm to 10pm – checking and clearing Zynae’s breathing and feeding tubes, changing bandages, and monitoring her blood pressure. Another nurse comes in from 10pm to 7am.
Finding the right team of caregivers has not been easy, the couple said, and they went through five different nurses to find those best able to care for Zynae.
As the medical bills mounted, Green said, he took out personal loans and borrowed against his retirement plan to pay the costs and fees his insurance did not cover.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “We make do with what we can. We’re just trying to stay positive for the children. It’s hard.”
As he talked about the struggles, Green’s mood shifted and his voice intensified, and he asserted no one from MGM has reached out to him or his family. “You know, they haven’t said anything to us. Nothing,” he said.
MGM officials said they tried to contact Zynae’s family. “MGM repeatedly reached out to the family from the moment the incident happened. We were told they did not want to have contact with representatives from MGM,” MGM spokeswoman Debra DeShong said.
“Once they retained counsel, we were asked to only communicate through their attorney.”
A lawsuit is working its way through court.
Green and Rosier contacted Benedict Morelli, a New York-based personal injury attorney who represented actor and comedian Tracy Morgan.
In 2014, Morgan was severely injured when the limousine-bus carrying him and two others was struck by the driver of a Walmart tractor trailer on the New Jersey turnpike.
A colleague of Morgan’s, James McNair, who was one of the passengers, was killed.
A year later, Walmart settled with Morgan for an undisclosed sum.
In November, Zynae’s family sued MGM, Rosendin Electric and Whiting-Turner. Rosendin was an electrical contractor on the project, and Whiting-Turner acted as the general contractor.
“This is tragic and never should have happened. This family, no family, deserves something like this to happen,” Morelli said.
In separate court filings, the three co-defendants deny negligence and liability, blaming one another or circumstances out of their control for the incident.
“Rosendin Electric has cooperated with the investigation since the beginning (of the incident) and continue to pray for Zynae’s recovery,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.
Attorneys for Whiting-Turner did not respond to requests for comment.
A trial is scheduled for February.
Meanwhile, the county, with help from the Federal Bureau Invesigation (FBI), is conducting its own investigation into the event.
Morelli contended that MGM is delaying the case to stall a payout for Zynae’s ongoing care.
MGM’s DeShong denied Morelli’s allegations and said discussions were “ongoing”.
She said MGM hopes to reach a resolution, adding that “a day does not go by that we don’t think of the Green family
and Zynae. We hope that she improves and her condition improves.”
Zynae, Green said, wanted her parents to marry so she could be the flower girl. After so many years as a couple, Green and Rosier said they are planning to wed next year.
Green says Zynae’s accident was a “wake-up call”.
“We have three beautiful children together. We just want to make everything right,” he said. And Zynae will be their flower girl.
CJ harbours dreams, too, for his big sister, proudly showing off his bank and the USD200 he has saved, he said, to help take Zynae to Disney World.
And in the living room, with the wheelchair and rounds of animated movies, Rosier held her hopes close as she talked to her now-silent daughter.
“How are you feeling Zy? You feeling good today?” she asked Zynae.
“Blink three times for Mommy to let me know you’re feeling good.”
Rosier waited. Zynae blinked once. Twice. And then a third time.
“That’s my baby,” Rosier said. – Text and Photos by The Washington Post