“Maria’s Law” victim is ready to tell her own story, on her own terms
The moment Maria Federici is most known for is one she has no recollection of.
It was approaching midnight on Feb. 22, 2004 when the young, attractive 24-year-old Renton woman was driving home from a bartending shift at a Kirkland club on I-405. She found herself behind a rented U-Haul trailer with an improperly secured load when that moment struck.
A large piece of particle board broke free from the load, crashed through Maria’s windshield and into her face, causing serious brain trauma, structural damage and permanently taking away her sight.
The driver was tracked down but, with no laws against improperly securing your load, he was never charged with a crime.
In the aftermath Maria’s mother, Robin Abel, went on a crusade to change that. In 2005, Washington lawmakers passed “Maria’s Law,” criminalizing failure to properly secure a load.
Nearly a decade after the accident, and after more reconstructive surgery than she can recall, Maria has decided to tell the rest of the story with her self-published book “Obstacles … Bring ‘Em.”
Maria’s reconstructed face is recognizable for many Washingtonians, and she said she is approached on a regular basis by those who want to thank her for changing the secured load law, or possibly give her a hug and say they are sorry for what she’s had to endure.
“People wanted to know about my story,” Maria said in an interview with the Herald from her Admiral District home in West Seattle on Sept. 17, “and I wanted to get it out.”
Obstacles was transcribed by a friend who interviewed Maria, family members who have known her both before and after the accident, one of the first paramedics on the scene, her first caregiver, and her skin care specialist who has seen her scars lessen and glow come back over the years.
“I talk about obstacles that I’ve been through and, you know what, I guess I’ve just shown that I’m strong enough to bust through them,” she said, describing Obstacles. “I talk about obstacles in growing up. There are funny parts in there too. It’s not a sad book, whatsoever.”
Asked if there is a greater lesson she is trying to convey, Maria said, “The overall message is: You can get through it, whatever it may be.”
It’s not a topic Maria (whose last name is now Doyle after marrying her husband Rob in 2012) likes talking about, but she said she had a falling out with her mother, Robin Abel, and they no longer speak.
Abel, in addition to her high profile push for Maria’s Law, wrote a book about her daughter’s ordeal and her own advocacy efforts called Out of Nowhere.
Maria said much of what happened after the accident – the press conferences, the media tours, and the testimonies – was not her crusade, but her mother’s. Just like Out of Nowhere is her mother’s story, Obstacles is her own.
While she said its good Maria’s Law is on the books, “It was never anything that I pushed because securing your load should just be a no-brainer. But I guess there needs to be a law because people can’t figure it out.”
“This book is me, this is my story, my struggles, just … how I’ve beat them down.”
“One day (in the past year) I was doing this with my lip, just rolling it around in my fingers, and I’m like, ‘I’m pretty sure we don’t have bone in our lips, what the hell?’”
Turned out it was a little piece of windshield, Maria said, coming to the surface after nine years in hiding: a reminder of the accident she cannot recall.
Maria’s survival was called “remarkable” by many. Her chances at the onset were slim, and her recovery in the long run was a huge question mark.
That question mark seems to be transforming into an exclamation point as Maria has many milestones that she said “make me smile.”
Part of the seven reconstructive surgeries Maria endured included giving her face structure again with titanium. Today, she said, in a surprise to doctors, her bone is actually growing back and pushing the titanium into strange places. To shave the titanium down means more surgery.
“Stuff like that will continue to happen, but that’s OK,” she said.
For years after the accident Maria couldn’t even open her jaw wide enough to slip her tongue between her teeth. Nowadays, after a nine hour surgery in Spokane a few years back, she can laugh heartily and eat what she wants.
Her husband Rob remembers Maria coming out of surgery. “She stuck her tongue out at me and it was gray and ugly and the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Their first order of business after she recovered? Making a beeline for the nearest diner so Maria could have a Philly cheesesteak and a salad.
“It was just … ahh” she recalled, reciting the alleviating bliss of taking a real bite once again.
Maria and Rob met in 2008 in Renton and forged a friendship that they said quickly morphed into a romantic tangle. By October of that year, they made a move Maria had dreamed of her entire life.
Also during that year Maria won a court judgment of $15.5 million against U-Haul and the driver, but U-Haul appealed. The case went into mediation and was settled for a lesser, undisclosed amount, but Maria said she’s “doing fine” as a result.
With that money, she could finally move to West Seattle.
“This is where my grandparents lived forever; this is where they raised their kids. I came here all the time, I came to Husky Deli for my ice cream, and I knew I just felt comfortable here,” she said.
Maria visited a number of homes with a real estate agent, and finally walked into a beautiful, modern craftsman in the Admiral District that “just felt right. I just ended up not having a hard time moving around here at all. I can picture it in my head, and I love it.”
When Maria was interviewed by the Seattle Times in 2008, before meeting Rob and moving to Admiral, she said she was feeling pretty low.
“I just sit here and listen to TV and get so bored,” she said at the time from the Renton apartment she shared with her mom.
Times have changed.
“We live close to things,” Maria said with a smile. “There is a Starbucks just a couple of blocks away: fabulous. I go to the gym, that’s always great. We have three dogs we take care of, we go out in the evenings, grab a bite, visit with friends.”
“She turned me onto karaoke,” Rob chimed in, “and created a monster.”
The two got married on Nov. 7, 2012, and said Maria has been so focused on her book they haven't even had a honeymoon. With the book now published, they said the brainstorming for that long overdue trip has begun.
“I don’t think of it as this one thing that will always hold me down,” Maria said, looking back on the accident. “It’s just, OK, it happened … other things have to.
“I just keep moving forward.”
More information on Maria's book Obstacles ... Bring 'Em can be found at http://www.obstaclesbringem.com/