Whatever Happened to ... the woman who was hit by a boulder?


Daphne Dudley, shown here in June 2011 in Atlanta, where she lives with her mother, Wanda. (Courtesy of Daphne and Wanda Dudley)
August 4, 2011

In June 2003, a boulder fell onto newlywed Daphne Dudley’s car, shattering her face and her life.

Daphne and her new husband, Brian Gipson, were driving home to Rochester, N.Y., from their honeymoon in Florida when someone dropped a 70-pound rock from a Spotsylvania County overpass. Her story first appeared in The Washington Post in 2003.

Eight years later, no one has been charged with the crime, and Daphne’s hopes for recovery have not been realized.

The boulder smashed through the couple’s windshield and split Daphne’s face, breaking nearly every bone in it. Daphne, who sustained brain injuries, barely survived; her lungs and kidneys began to fail, and she was in a medically induced coma for three weeks. She remained at Inova Fairfax Hospital for several more weeks as surgeons attempted to reconstruct her face.

Then, Daphne had to relearn the basics: walking, washing, cooking. Early in her recovery, she was optimistic that she would be able to regain elements of a normal life: to go on to college, to buy a house, to drive again. When huge gaps in her memory remained, she had to let even these ambitions go and accept that her former life was gone. In October 2004, she separated from her husband, and, feeling a need to stick close to her mother, eventually moved to Atlanta to stay with her.

“She is not totally herself,” said her mother, Wanda Dudley, choosing her words carefully. “She has made a great recovery but is not fully ...” she trailed off.

Daphne remains under the care of a doctor, has difficulties with daily tasks, doesn’t work a regular job and struggles financially. Yet she tries to stay positive, her mother says. She never stops smiling, works out at a gym and mentors teens at her church every Saturday. And her life has taken on enough regularity for her focus to shift a little — to the unsolved case of the dropped boulder. Daphne said it still bothers her “that someone could commit a crime such as this and get away with it.”

The Virginia State Police had few leads. Wanda herself investigated and, in a possible breakthrough, learned the names of the supposed perpetrators from a witness who hadn’t come forward to the police. Investigators say they are actively pursuing the lead.

Daphne, now 38, is eager for resolution. “It’s gone on far too long, and it is time something happened.”

Wanda said that when Daphne was injured, she prayed for a miracle and got one in her daughter’s survival. But now Wanda is in need of another: “As a mother, I want to see justice served for Daphne. She didn’t ask for this, and she has suffered for it, and so has our family. Life will never be the same for her.”

If you have information pertaining to the case, call the Virginia State Police at 540-829-7771 and leave a message for Special Agent Joseph B. Root.

Tell us what past Washington Post story or person in the news you want us to update. E-mail trents@washpost.com or call 202.334.4208.

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