THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

THIS SUNNYSLOPE HIGH STUDENT WAS HEADED TOWARD THE GRAND OLE OPRY. THEN HE STEPPED INTO PHOENIX'S MOST DANGEROUS CROSSWALK.

"I was shocked at the size of the verdict," says Jones, a veteran trial attorney unaccustomed to losing so dramatically. "I would not have been shocked had the verdict been $2.5 or even $3.5 million, and had found Coby partially at fault. I suggested $1.3 million in my closing arguments as a proper verdict. One juror commented to us that they had difficulty understanding why we were so upset about the verdict when the week before there had been the $28 million verdict in the AIDS case.

"Number two, the jury just did not understand that a pedestrian at a crosswalk still has some responsibility to look out for his own safety. Obviously, the jury didn't appreciate that it's the law, in part because the judge [Philip Marquardt] refused all of our instructions that would have told them that it's the law."

Jones is well-aware of the emotional impact Coby Perkins and his parents had on the jury: "Quite candidly, the Perkins family is a fine, fine group of people that made a very strong, sympathetic impression on the jury. Still, I don't know how you can prevent accidents when people walk out in crosswalks and don't look for oncoming traffic. It's a mystery to me." IT'S A TYPICAL MORNING at the Perkins household in north Phoenix. Kin and Judy Perkins are rushing around the home they moved into about twenty years ago, fixing food, chatting up a storm. The couple has six children, but Coby and his sister Angel are the only ones living at home. A witty 21-year-old, Angel suffers from spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair.

Though this family has suffered more than any should, its members' spirits seem healthy. Family unity, church and bluegrass are what they are about. And Kin and Judy Perkins can still smile when something moves them.

Kin--the nickname comes from his given name of William McKinley--was born 46 years ago into an Appalachian coal-mining family. He met his Ohio-born wife-to-be when he was barely a teenager. The couple married almost three decades ago. They say the tragedies that have befallen them have brought them closer together. Their faith has helped.

"He must be putting us through some kind of big test," Judy Perkins says, somehow able to laugh at the thought of it. "If it hadn't been for the Lord, I don't think I would have survived."

Coby's small bedroom is dominated by a poster of country star Patty Loveless. He and sister Angel met Patty recently at a local K mart before an autograph session. "The way she was dressed," Coby says, "it flipped your brain. She's smokin'."

Coby's days have a sameness to them, and meeting Patty Loveless was a thrill.

"I wake up, I take a shower, I eat, I do my exercises," he says of his life. "Then I watch TV and play Nintendo in my room. I eat a lot. `Mom, can I have seconds? Mom, can I have thirds? Mom, can I have fourths?' I'm gonna end up like Fat Albert--a big bowling ball."

The Perkinses haven't seen a penny of the $6.3 million. The city plans to appeal, and that will take months or years to resolve. Kin and Judy say they are deep in debt, and that they haven't gotten any work--she paints with him--since the verdict.

"People think we're millionaires now, I guess, but we're still in limbo," Kin Perkins says. "Tapped out ain't the word for it. We're having trouble even makin' our house payment, and it's only $190 a month."

The Perkinses will keep Coby with them until they can find a "safe, healthy environment" at a group home. "Unless we do that," Kin says, "we're gonna be taking care of him for the rest of our lives."

On rare occasions, Coby's parents go out by themselves for a few hours. If they're a few minutes late in returning, Coby dials 911 for help.

"Who else do I call?" Coby explains. "I have to call someone."
Kin Perkins stares hard at his son. His wife has tears in her eyes. Kin walks over to the cassette machine and flips on a hot bluegrass tape.

"That's Coby playing in our backyard," Kin Perkins says. "I would have had him in the Grand Ole Opry by now, and that's not just a dad talking. Instead, we've got a kid who got hit by a car when he shouldn't have. He's reattached that umbilical cord, physically and emotionally. It's a cryin' shame."

end part 2 of 2

"I wake up, I take a shower, I eat, I do my exercises," he says of his life. "Then I watch TV and play Nintendo in my room." "I used to know how to read music, but it looks like a bunch of dots and lines now," Coby says.

It marks the largest personal-injury verdict ever rendered against the city.

Well before Coby Perkins' accident, the marked crosswalk at Central and Townley was among the most dangerous in the Valley.

Phoenix chief of traffic operations seemed more concerned with the city's legal liability at the crosswalk than anything else.

"The van hit Coby and flung him up . . . he had, you know, blood coming from his head. And his eyes were open and I thought he was dead."

"I don't believe that it works," Johnson said. "I put the light in because I couldn't go out and look another parent in the eye."

They say the tragedies that have befallen them have brought them closer together. Their faith has helped.

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