UPDATE | Girl hit by boat is back on her feet after 2 months

Friday, September 28, 2018
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WRDW/WAGT) – Two teen girls, Sydney Doremus and Abigail Hiers, are still recovering after being hit by a boat back in July. The man deputies say hit them, John Speer, faces several charges including not stopping to help after the accident.

“I looked back and tried to run, but,” Sydney was emotional when we spoke to her after the accident. She told News 12 she was afraid her friend was even worse off than her after being hit in the face by the boat. “I thought she was dead.”

As Speer remains out of jail on PR bond, Abigail and Sydney are making progress – especially Sydney. Her leg was hit with the boat’s propeller and she lost all feeling in her foot. She couldn’t walk.

That’s all changed now. She’s been in rehab at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"It was really scary the first time, and it still feels like my leg is so unstable since I can't feel my foot."

Her mom Tiffanie has been by her side the entire time, keeping her recovery on record.

"It's been awful,” Tiffanie told us. "It's just an accident that should have never happened."

Sydney's been in rehab two weeks, using her walker to get around and an anti-gravity treadmill to train and prep her leg to walk again.

"I'm so proud of her. But it's emotional every day."

Doctors told her she may never walk again. But then a miracle happened – Sydney took her first steps on her own.

"I felt like I finally did it, you know? Like I didn't think I'd be able to,” it was an emotional moment for Sydney.

"I'm thanking God for actually letting her take those steps,” Tiffanie is overjoyed with her daughter’s success.

Sydney still doesn't have feeling in her foot and says she has quite a limp right now, but she’s just glad to be able to walk again.

"I didn't think that I was strong enough, but I guess I did it."

As for Abigail, she suffered a lot of injuries to her face and head and there still may be multiple surgeries to come.

Either way, it looks like both teens might be able to start college sooner than expected, in January.

Friday, Aug. 17, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

FAIRFAX, Sc. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It's been a terrible ordeal for the two friends. Instead of heading off to college with their friends, they're dealing with a long recovery.

"I ate mashed potatoes and I felt better," Abigail Hiers said.

"You ate mashed potatoes?" Sydney Doremus asked Abigail.

"I cried the whole time," Abigail said.

The first real food Abigail's had in five weeks. Her jaw was wired shut.

"I slowly start to open it and it'll get more and more open," Abigail said. "So I'm happy."

While Abigail recovers slowly, Sydney feels she's taking steps back.

My leg still hurts," Sydney said. "It's mostly shooting pains up my leg, but my foot it still feels like I'm getting stabbed."

A pain she says is not going away. Every day her mom straps on her brace and helps her out of bed.

"I can't feel my foot yet, but I try to walk," Sydney said. "But I can only make it to the kitchen and then I feel like I'm going to faint."

A discouraging feeling after nearly losing their lives on a sandbar in Allendale in the Savannah River.

"I just always wonder if I'll even be able to walk again," Sydney said.

DNR officers say John Speer was driving the boat that day when he hit the girls. The propeller severed Sydney's nerve at her hip and her knee. Instead of staying to help, officers say Speer left the scene.

"All I can feel is hate in my heart, for him," Sydney said. "I don't know how somebody can be so selfish."

Both families still upset that a judge released Speer on a personal recognizance bond. Sydney's dad, Gary Doremus outraged.

"They act like this guy, the way they acted at the bond hearing, that this guy's a hero just because he turned himself in," Gary said. "Bottom line, he hit two girls, thought they were going to die, left them, and left the scene. God, it makes me so mad."

Doctors say it could be two years before Sydney feels her foot, or worse case never gets feeling back again.

This case is still open, but as far as the legal process, the solicitor's office scheduled a preliminary hearing for next week. They'll present the evidence and the judge will decide if there's probable cause to move the case to a grand jury.

Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

HAMPTON, Sc. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It was a serious boat crash on the Savannah River that left two teenagers severely injured. DNR says the boater who hit them did not stick around to help. Deputies found his boat 60 miles upstream in Burke County.

After two weeks in the hospital, Abigail Hiers and Sydney Doremus are back home. Sydney is using a walker to get around but still has no feeling in her foot. Abigail, still having nightmares about the accident in Allendale.

"It was honestly the worst thing I've ever been through, it was awful," Abigail said.

Abigail spent 10 hours in surgery to fix the damage. X-rays show the clear break in her jaw where the speedboat hit her.

"I had no idea it was that bad," Abigail said. "[Doctors] said it was some of the worst they'd seen and that's why it took so long in surgery."

In the ICU Abigail says she was left feeling helpless.

"After the surgery, I was in so much pain and confused and I just felt like I could not do it," Abigail said. "I thought that was it, I really did."

Doctors say a part of her face was too shattered to even fix. She still can't feel half her face.

"My lips are so swollen and my eye and I feel like it's two weeks after surgery, so like when is it going to go down? "It's just hard to see myself like this," Abigail said.

Her jaw still wired shut, but Abigail is now back home. She sits in bed next to a table full of medication and a daily routine. Scissors are taped to the wall beside her, just in case she can't breathe. If she has to cut the wires early it would undo all the work from surgery.

"It's summer and all of our friends are having fun and enjoying the end of summer and it's just like my whole life changed," Abigail said.

Today, instead of packing up for their freshman year of college, both girls are stuck at home recovering from serious injuries.

"We were so excited and we were going to get out of here and go to school and have the best time and that's just taken away," Abigail said.

Life is being put on hold. The man accused of causing these scars, John Speer, was released on a PR bond to go free until his trial. This ruling leaving Abigail upset, angry and confused.

"He's not in bed with the rest of his summer ruined," Abigail said. "He has it so easy and he should be held more responsible for what happened."

Abigail will have her jaw wired shut for another couple weeks. Her next trip to Augusta will be in 2 weeks, where she'll get the wires removed and rubber bands put on. Then, 12 weeks from her surgery date, doctors will unscrew the bars over her jaw. For Sydney, in about five weeks she'll head to Charlotte for a month or so of rehab. It's still a very long recovery to go for both these girls.

As far as the court case, the solicitor's office is looking at all the evidence now. They'll decide whether there's enough evidence to indict John Speer in this case. They say it usually takes about three months to take a case like this to trial.

Friday, July 27, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- We continue to follow the progress of Abigail and Sydney.

Today Sydney had a chance to stand up for the first time in two weeks. Her new leg brace arrived and medical staff assisted her in taking her first steps in it.

We received reports from Abigail's family that her feeding tube was removed and she is undergoing breathing treatments. When she has completed that, Abigail's mother said she may be able to go home.


Congratulations ladies!

10:28 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- We're hearing an update from Abigail Hiers' parents about her condition.

Abigail continues to recover, but she is having trouble eating. Her blood pressure has also become more of an issue.

On the brighter side -- her parents tell News 12 the sutures have been removed from her eye, and "she's getting her sparkle back!"

We continue to keep Abigail and her friend Sydney in our thoughts as they recover.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Sydney and Abigail had a chance to venture out today.

Together, along with family and friends, they enjoyed the day.

Sydney cannot use her foot and is still using a wheelchair but she is doing better. Recently she had ten stitches removed from her left leg. A brace is holding her leg in place for the next six weeks.

Abigail was on her feet but needed a bit of help to walk. Her parents say her breathing is a little better.

Both young women are improving with each day.

Friday, July 20, 2018
9:00 p.m.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – We are learning that Abigail Hiers went into surgery today but has recently been sent to ICU.

News 12 Lia Fernandez is in touch with family members.

We will continue to follow her progress.

The Hiers family is in our thoughts.

Friday, July 20, 2018
(News 12 at 5:30/News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC 26 at 7)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – Sydney Doremus and Abigail Hiers say they know exactly where they’d be had their three friends not stepped up when they were hit in a boating accident.

“If they weren’t there I would have died and so would Abigail,” said an emotional Sydney

A fun day on the Savannah River turned into chaos when John Speer’s boat came speeding toward Cade Cope and his friends.

"I reached out because Abigail was right there. I reached out and it just went boom," Cade said, reliving the moment.

Tristan Mode and Michael Googe were also on the sandbar with Sydney and Abigail. They jumped into action along with Cade.

“I saw Abigail laying there. I thought she was dead,” Tristan gets emotional recalling that fateful day. “I've got to stop for a second."

"I pulled her out the water then checked her pulse and there wasn't anything,” Cade told News 12. “I did mouth-to-mouth and she finally – I heard a breath."

Abigail was alive but bleeding from her head. Sydney's leg had been severely cut by the boat's propeller.

“When we were on the boat, I was holding her leg with my hand,” Cade said he felt Sydney’s blood running through his fingers as he worked to keep the pressure on the wound. “I thought she was going to bleed out."

All of three of the young men who helped say boat driver John Speer got out of the boat in a panic.

"I told him to meet me at Allendale County Hospital,” Michael said, to give the driver piece of mind. "He gave me a thumbs up. He never showed up."

The young men remain angry and confused about what Speer did after the accident.

“He left them to die. He even said he thought he killed them."

Thankfully, that didn't happen. But just the thought is enough to keep the three of them up at night.

“I thought she was gone,” Cade said about Abigail. “But I was looking at her telling her ‘I love you and just stay with me’.”

DNR says Speer left the scene, abandoned his boat after driving miles in the opposite direction, and led deputies on a manhunt.

He turned himself in the next day.

Thursday, July 19, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Two teen girls, Sydney Doremus and Abigail Hiers, are in the hospital after suffering life-threatening injuries in a boat crash. They were standing on a sandbar in the Savannah River in Allendale when deputies say a man hit them with his boat.

He's charged with failing to render aid and reckless driving. In an exclusive interview with News 12, those two girls tell us about the moment their lives were changed forever.

While these two girls are in the hospital recovering, investigators are still trying to figure this one out. John Speer was let out on bond after turning himself in the day after the boat accident. DNR says they can't tell us whether alcohol was involved, and we won't know until after his trial.

"I thought we were both going to die," said Sydney Doremus.

It's a friendship changed forever.

"We were just talking about how good our life was going to be and now I'm just hoping I can feel my foot again," Sydney said.

"My face just felt so huge and I just had no idea what had happened I was just very confused," Abigail Hiers said.

17-year-old Sydney Doremus can't feel her right foot.

"I looked back and I tried to run, but..." Sydney said shaking her head.

18-year-old Abigail Hiers can't feel part of her face after DNR says a man hit them with his speedboat.

"We were just hanging out at the sandbar and this man kept showing off his boat," Sydney said. "And then he came around the curve one time and he just hit us."

DNR says 39-year-old John Speer left the scene. Abigail and Sydney don't understand why.

"He knew we were there and the steps he did afterward," Abigail said.

"I saw him and he just left us there," Sydney cried. "I don't know why he would just leave us there."

Both Sydney and Abigail were life-flighted to the ER in Augusta and rushed right into surgery. The day before, these two high school graduates were at college orientation. Both of them ready to start their next chapter at Columbia College.

"We were going to be roommates and we made our schedules and I was super duper excited and we had a great time," Abigail said.

But now, school is being put on hold.

"I was so excited to go to college and now I can't," Sydney said as she wiped away tears.

Doctors say Sydney should have lost her leg and It's a miracle she didn't. They also said if Abigail would have been hit in the head just a couple centimeters in either direction she could have been brain dead or paralyzed.

Both families now just counting their blessing, thankful their little girls are alive.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- "There's nothing like a parent's love for their children and when something is going on as dramatic as this, it really takes a toll on you," Gary Doremus said.

A fun day on the river, with a pit stop at the sandbar, takes two families to the hospital.

"They decided to go to the Savannah River just to ride on the boat and they almost died," Tiffanie Doremus said.

Gary and Tiffanie won't leave their daughter's side at Children's Hospital in Augusta. Their youngest, 17-year-old Sydney Doremus and her friend, 18-year-old Abigail Hiers, were hit by a boat.

"She was totally innocent and doing nothing but having a good time and this guy comes and runs her over," Gary said.

Three other friends were with them in the water at the time. The boys say it was a miracle they didn't get hit too. They did everything they could to stop the bleeding after the girls had been hit.

"These boys are heroes," Gary said. "I mean they saved these girls' lives."

With life-threatening injuries, both girls were air flighted from Allendale to Augusta after this happened Saturday.

Deputies say the man that hit them, 39-year-old John Speer, left the scene after hitting Sydney and Abigail. DNR found his boat 60 miles away from the crime scene, abandoned.

"I want to tell him that he's a coward for leaving those girls there, running them over," Gary said.

Speer turned himself in the next day, on Sunday. He was arrested and charged with two counts of Reckless Operation of a Water Device and two counts of Failing to Render Aid After Injury. That second charge is a felony that could lead to a possible 10 years in prison. Speer was released on Personal Recognizance Bond, or "PR Bond" and is waiting for his court hearing.

As Speer waits to hear his fate, both Sydney and Abigail lay in their hospital beds with a long recovery ahead.

Abigail has to have her jaw wired shut. They'll put four or five plates in her face and she's going to have surgery on Friday. Sydney, on the other hand, has already been through two surgeries. Doctors had to put a rod in her femur and it took four hours to fix what the propeller tore up on her leg.

Both girls and their families say it's a miracle they survived and they're holding onto one another tighter than ever.