THE LOST GIRLS

Jami Goldman is 21 years old and still trusting enough to think most people are on her side.

She's also a double amputee who is now in the midst of a court fight with the state of Arizona that will determine the future course of her life.

For two days last week, while Jami Goldman testified, there was not so much as a single cough sounded in the packed courtroom of Superior Court Judge Daniel Nastro.

Jami described for the jury what life has become for her, now that each of her legs has been surgically removed exactly five inches below the knee.

Will she ever meet a young man who'll want to marry her despite her handicap? Will she be able to handle the challenge of being an active young mother? How will she dress for the rest of her life to camouflage the amputations?

"I just hope that someday I'll meet a man who can love me for myself and not think about the other thing," Jami said, her voice faltering.

"And if I'm lucky enough to get married," she said, "I worry whether I'll be able to look after my children in emergencies. Will I be able to move fast enough to get to them in time if they're in danger and need me?"

Tears welled in her eyes. Jami's mother and father were sitting in the row directly behind her attorneys, Richard Plattner and J. Tyrrell Taber. Her parents were weeping, too.

Jami Goldman came perilously close to death in December 1987, when her four-wheel drive vehicle became snowbound while she was driving home from a Colorado ski vacation.

She and a friend, Lisa Barzano, also 21, were stranded for 10 days on Arizona 273 near Crescent Lake before they were finally discovered by a snowmobile driver. Both of Jami's legs were badly frostbitten.

Shortly after she was transported to a hospital, doctors performed the amputations to save her life.

The two girls are now suing the Arizona Department of Transportation because the snow-clogged road was ordered closed without anyone bothering to determine if any motorists were stranded on it.

It's rare to encounter a crowded courtroom in a civil trial. But this case has attracted wide attention both because of its dramatic nature and the cynical defense tactics of attorneys for the state.

For one thing, this was a case which might have been settled out of court. But the state never even made an offer to the Goldman family.

Instead, the state has accused the two girls of causing their own predicament because they admitted they smoked marijuana during the time they were stranded.

Steve LaMar, attorney for the state, actually charged that "habitual drug use and continuous bad judgment manifested by a series of incredibly negligent acts and omissions" caused their problems.

The fact that the state closed the road and never sent anyone to search for stranded motorists had nothing to do with the near tragedy, LaMar would have the jury believe.

Only in Arizona could one expect such a heartless, stupid assault to take place upon a victim who had already suffered the loss of both legs.

When Jami's direct testimony was concluded the other day, her attorneys, Plattner and Taber, offered a home video taken during an average day of her life.

The video opened with a scene of the young woman lowering herself carefully down from her bed in the morning. Once on the floor, she crawled and lifted herself to the bathroom sink to brush her teeth.

Returning to her bedroom, Jami began the deliberate process of packing each stump into four white surgical stockings. Next, she attached her two artificial limbs.

Only then was she able to pull herself up and begin walking, gingerly and with a pronounced limp, to the kitchen.

The video was heartbreaking. Jurors leaned forward in their chairs to watch. From time to time, several shook their heads.

And when it ended, LaMar, the attorney for the state department of Transportation, undertook a sarcastic line of questioning about marijuana smoking.

Here's a case that the state shouldn't win and should never have fought.

"I just hope that someday I'll meet a man who can love me for myself and not think about the other thing."

Jami began the deliberate process of packing each stump into four white surgical stockings.

 
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