The Vicky Lyons Story

One Very Bad Decision
(“Treading Not So Lightly,” Forensic Files)

The story of Vicky Lyons is heart-rending, about a little girl who survives being hit by a truck but spends the rest of her life beset by the effects of her injuries.

Vicky Lyons before the accident
Vicky Lyons before the accident

Treading Not So Lightly,” the Forensic Files episode about the efforts of her mother, Crystal Lyons, to use amateur forensic science to find the driver’s identity, is exciting to watch. And her love for Vicky is beautiful, of course.

Still, the case in a way seems like a search for a villain where none exists. Terrible judgment contributed to the incident, but criminal intent or even ill will was nonexistent. Here’s the story:

No playground. One day in 1980, Crystal Lyons called her boss in the circulation department of the Big Spring Herald newspaper in western Texas to say she wouldn’t be coming into the office because her daughter Vicky’s babysitter was unavailable.

But he threatened her with termination, she said, so she went to work and took Vicky, age 4, with her.

At some point, Crystal’s boss told Vicky to go play outside in the parking lot, according to what both women said on the episode. (It was filmed in 2001 when Vicky was about 25.)

Wrong suspect. By the time Crystal went outside to retrieve Vicky, it was too late. She found her lying unconscious next to the toy dishes she’d been playing with. What looked like a tire track mark ran across her face.

No one saw what happened, but the police arrested and jailed a local fish peddler and minister named J.B. Hardeman who had been seen in the vicinity around the time the accident would have taken place.

Crystal said she never believed Hardeman was the culprit. A grand jury declined to indict him after forensics showed that a suspicious spot of blood on his truck actually came from a fish, not a person.

At some point, the police decided the accident was a civil matter and stopped investigating.

Meanwhile, Vicky lay in a coma for three weeks with severe damage to her skull and one eye. When she awoke, she was unable to walk or speak.

Tire test. Here’s where the suspense starts. Crystal decided to embark on her own investigation. She surreptitiously applied shoe polish to the tires on trucks parked in the Big Springs Herald’s lot, then placed sheets of typing paper on top, rubbed a comb over them to make impressions, and saved them as evidence.

By coincidence, in 1982, Crystal saw a Time magazine story by  about Pete “Sherlock” McDonald, a former Firestone designer who taught at the FBI Academy and specialized in forensic tire evidence.

He agreed to help Crystal with her investigation by comparing the tire impressions she had made to pictures of Vicky’s face taken right after the accident.

Laying blame. He determined that the marks on Vicky’s face didn’t match those from Hardeman’s vehicle, but they looked very similar to the Golden Sonic 78 tire patterns on a Ford pickup truck belonging to the Big Spring Herald, according to Mcdonald’s book,  Tire Imprint Evidence (the link enables you to view some of the passages about Vicky Lyons for free).

J.B. Hardman, who picked up his newspaper directly from its facility every day, was wrongfully accused of committing a hit and run
J.B. Hardeman, who picked up a copy of the Big Spring Herald directly from the newspaper’s building  every day, was wrongfully accused of committing a hit and run

The driver, whom the show never identified, later said that if he hit Vicky, he had no idea at the time. His contention seemed believable.

No one expects to see a tiny child alone in a parking lot. Many a driver in a residential neighborhood — where people are accustomed to watching out for kids — has accidentally hit a tricycle left in a driveway. Sitting down like she was, Vicky may have been even harder to see.

Also, as Forensic Files noted, the parking lot was unpaved and bumpy and the driver could have simply thought he hit a pothole. And the accident wasn’t part of any other crime — it’s not as though the truck was being used as a getaway car or that the man had any malice toward the Lyonses.

That’s why the whodunit aspect of the episode, although interesting to follow, rang a little hollow for me.

Damages award. Crystal sued the newspaper for “not supervising the parking lot properly.” That seem a little odd. The problem wasn’t the parking lot but rather that the supervisor suggested a child go outside and play there.

It reminded me a little of “the IRS brought down Al Capone” syndrome, whereby wrongdoers ultimately receive punishment — but for some ancillary offense rather than the egregious crimes.

Whatever the case, the Lyonses received a $750,000 settlement from the newspaper and used the money for the numerous surgical procedures Vicky needed to alleviate damage to her vision, hearing, and sense of balance.

Feeling vulnerable. Vicky learned to speak and walk again, although her neurological impairments remained apparent. She said having others gawk at her in public was the worst part of her ordeal.

“[Sometimes people] ask me if I’m mentally retarded or if I had a stroke,” Vicky told Forensic Files.  “I’d rather they ask me than sit there and stare.”

The episode manages to end on a positive note, revealing that Crystal Lyons, divorced from Vicky’s father, went back to school to study forensic science.

Vicky Lyons, shown here as an adult, said she remembered a truck hitting her and seeing the driver's face in the rear-view mirro
Vicky Lyons, shown here as an adult, said she remembered a truck hitting her and seeing the driver’s face in the vehicle’s mirror

But it takes a chilling turn during the closing credits: They reveal that Vicky died in 2011 at the age of 34.

Epilogue odyssey. So what happened to Vicky in the decade between the Forensic Files interview and her death? Did her impairments continue to lessen to the extent that she felt comfortable getting out and finding more fulfillment in life?

After nosing around on the internet, I came across some information about Vicky’s later years, although a lot of it came from reader comments — hardly a verifiable source of intelligence.

I’m doing more research and should be able to weave together a reliable epilogue for next week’s post. Until then, cheers.RR

Update: Read Part 2 of the Vicky Lyons story.

31 thoughts on “The Vicky Lyons Story”

  1. I say blame the media. It’s always biased anyway.

    Actually, I was hit by a car when I was in high school. I was a pedestrian, and I got a ticket for jaywalking. Of course, the driver — a teenager — was probably going too fast and not paying attention.

    1. Sounds like compound negligence on the part of the employer, the driver and the authorities. On the other hand, it could be called the ‘blue suede shoes’ case, in which ‘you can knock me down, drive over my face…’ In other words, the police should have tried harder to connect the vehicle to the driver.

      1. Her father died as well from a battle of cancer — his name is William and it also stated that Vicky’s mom passed as well, yet it only showed Vicky’s and her dad’s obituaries! Good luck in your endeavors — also you can Google it’s all there, no need to research unless you’re looking for other things we all aren’t aware about? The story was also just shown on forensic files today May 9th, 2017

  2. This is such a sad tragedy that happened to a little angel (Vicky). I felt so bad for this little girl — I have 2 nieces.

    And my oldest niece also was in a car accident when she was very little — the only thing I thank God for is at least I knew of a great attorney, so she was nicely compensated.

    But the ending of Vicky’s story broke my heart, finding out she died recently so young.

    R.I.P. Poor sweet little angel.

    1. She passed away at the age of 34, a full grown adult. Her father passed from cancer soon after! Google also stated her mom passed after her daughter Vicky passed as well! However, it only showed the obituaries of Vicky who was fully grown and 34 as well as her dad William from cancer! It didn’t state if Vicky passed from her old injuries sustained from her child accident — it just said she passed and that her parents passed soon after. The entire movie was on Forensic Files today actually, May 9th, 2017 just a sad, sad story!!

  3. Interesting how the police were quick to pin the crime on a black man in the area. Thank goodness for Crystal’s savvy investigation.

    1. Judi, it is a good thing Crystal took the initiative — otherwise, that poor man’s life could have been ruined. Interestingly, before Charles Whitman was identified as the shooter in the University of Texas massacre (the documentary is the subject of True Crime Truant’s Oct. 20 blog post), one of the police immediately guessed that a Black Panther was the culprit. Fifty years later, racism in law enforcement persists.

      1. Yes, there are racist police. Also racist hairdressers, teachers, data processors, etc. and the racists come in ALL colors. The number of racist cops is much less than the media and movies suggest. Similar to the Second Amendment controversy. A very small amount of gun owners (or should I say people with guns) use firearms to commit crimes. So for safety, everyone is protected by taking away “privileges.” A very small amount of cops act in ways that embarrass and disgrace the uniform, so all cops are looked down upon and with a suspicious eye. Owning a firearm is a right and a major responsibility. Being a Police Officer is a duty to serve and protect the public and is a huge undertaking of responsibility. Both gun ownership and law enforcement are to be respected and undertaken only by mature and responsible people. Unfortunately, a few slip through the cracks and bring dishonor to us all. Judge the individual, not the group. Kind of like “Don’t be racist!”

        1. Jason, thanks for writing in! I definitely see your point, and I didn’t mean to imply that all or most police officers are racists. But I think there is a double standard out there — “drunk white kids are rowdy, drunk black kids are animals” — that many of us subscribe to without thinking about it. It’s good to be aware and watch out for bias in our own actions as well as in other people’s.

        2. @Jason Vanmeter “Yes, there are racist police. Also racist hairdressers, teachers, data processors, etc. and the racists come in ALL colors”

          But the problem with that analogy is a hairdresser, teacher, data processor, etc. aren’t in the position to ruin and/or take someone’s life with the backing and protection of the State. Also a police officer is more likely to be racist than those other occupations because they are government employees and don’t have the pressure of free market forces. A racist hair dresser will be fired or boycotted out of business for example. Since the police are a government institution they can’t “go out of business” because of how they treat people.

          Lastly, do you remember Jim Crow? That was police officers enforcing that racist law and if you say they were “just doing their job” well that excuse didn’t work for the Nazis either. I would never do or take a job that required me to treat another human being that way.

          I dont think all cops are racist, but even the ones who aren’t racist can treat regular citizens with contempt.

  4. Crystal’s boss should have been held accountable for sending a 4-year-old out to play in a parking lot, for any number of things could happen and of course did. She should have a larger settlement, much larger.

    1. The child’s mother is ultimately responsible for her child, not the boss, and it’s unclear what is meant by ‘sent out’: ordered out, escorted out, what? Did the child’s mum know that’s what happened and left her there (sorry, not seen the FF episode). Mum took her there, and it seems to me that mum is largely responsible for her well-being, except in areas of proper culpability such as basic workplace safety, etc.

      I agree with RR that it’s hard to see a culprit here. If one wants to apportion blame, she must take some responsibility if she’s going to make her employer responsible. As for who in fact ran the child over, it seems there’s no evidence that the person knew they had (I may be wrong), and only if there’s evidence that someone did know and failed to render help and report the accident should there be effort to identify that person. In other works, was this a ‘hit and run’? It seems not.

        1. Indeed — and it may be that displaced guilt was the impetus for her search for ‘the culprit’ (not that anyone would say this of a devastated mother at the time of this awful accident). Like your sense, RR, the mother’s contribution to the accident — if any — and the alacrity with which she sought the perpetrator and its justification, seem to be overlooked by many commentators perhaps blindsided by the sadness of it all… That, however, doesn’t explain the legal context and why a man was suspected of ‘the crime’ and jailed. What was he jailed for? As said, it’s entirely plausible that a truck driver wouldn’t know he’d run over a toddler sitting on the ground in a car park…

          1. Great thoughts — guilt may have motivated the ‘manhunt’ to some extent. The jailing of Hardeman didn’t make much sense. On the bright side, he went on to live a long life after he was let out.

  5. Vicky was also a wrestling diva for six years. So sad she passed so young, but awesome how she lived her life to the fullest and seemed to be very happy. Her Facebook page is still up and there are lots of awesome pictures of her.

  6. I’ve seen Vicky’s story in TV (Medical Detectives). She was such a brave and pretty girl. I wish I could be so tough and clever like her mother! I searched for Vicky on facebook because I wanted to tell her how impressing her life is. I was so shocked and sad as I read that she died 2011… I wish I could give her mother a big hug and tell her how clever and strong she acted to fight for her daughter!
    (I’m sorry about my English, I’m only an Optician-Student from Germany)

    1. Thanks for writing in! I was sad to hear that Vicky Lyons had died, too! She really made the most of her short life — her colleagues and teachers at wrestling school really admired her.

  7. Wer immer das liest, soll wissen, dass die kleine Vicky sehr viel Eindruck in der Welt hinterlassen hat – in ihrem leider sehr kurzen Leben. Ich hatte erst kürzlich von ihrer Geschichte gehört – es hat mich sehr traurig gemacht. Ich wollte ihr meine Achtung aussprechen und ihr weiterhin Mut wünschen, aber ich war geschockt als ich gelesen hatte, dass sie bereits verstorben war. Das Leben war nicht fair zu ihr, aber ihre Geschichte wird mich für immer begleiten… Ruhe in Frieden Vicky, unsere Gedanken sind bei Dir

    1. Hope you don’t mind, but I plugged your comment into a German to English translator so I could read it — thanks so much for the nice thought about Vicky Lyons…

      Anyone who reads this, should know that the small Vicky has left a lot of impression in the world – in her unfortunately very short life. I had only recently heard of her story – it made me very sad. I wanted to express my respect to her and continue to wish her courage, but I was shocked when I read that she had already passed away. Life was not fair to her, but her story will accompany me forever … Peace in Peace Vicky, our thoughts are with you

  8. If the child was told, in so many words, to “go play in traffic” by a company representative, and the parent was NOT informed, that company is liable. I do not know how the company got off so easily. The mother would only be responsible if she concurred with the company’s position, which I am sure she did not. Vicky’s mom, Crystal, sounds to me like a great mom who wanted to see justice done. The fact that the Big Spring Herald newspaper company did not even have the courage to publish the settlement, according to “The Forensic Files” where I saw the case, indicates that they appeared to have too much control over people’s lives and very little accountability.

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