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UI custodian heads back to class

BY JOHN STAAK | SEPTEMBER 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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As the smoke cleared, Ed Phipps tried to open his car door. It wouldn’t budge. He panicked, afraid the car might explode into flames — a fear he said was developed from watching too many action movies.

When he finally escaped the damaged vehicle, he stumbled toward the other driver. Her head was draped over the steering wheel, motionless.

That was more than four years ago.

In the blink of an eye, Phipps went from starting his second year of college to putting all plans on hold. After high school, he had waited a few years to begin his college career. He was forced to wait even longer after that tragic August morning in 2007.

But today, the 32-year-old UI custodian said he looks forward to finally starting classes again in January.

Phipps was all set to start his second year of business classes at Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids when he hit a wall of bad luck. The day before classes, the Iowa City native drove to Cedar Rapids to speak with the school’s financial-aid office. Out of nowhere, a car pulled out of a parking lot immediately in front of him. He was driving in a 45 mph zone.

“I probably had about one second on the brake before I hit her,” Phipps said.

That second may have saved his life. Slamming down hard on the brakes with all his might, he broke his foot in two places and his three middle toes. The front of both cars smashed into each other, creating smoke and confusion.

He sat motionless for a few minutes. After getting out of the car to check on the other driver, bystanders told him to sit down and wait for help. After around 10 minutes, an ambulance rushed Phipps to Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids.

In addition to his foot, he had broken his right hand and nose. After about four or five hours, he was released to face a different life. His desire for a college education had to be put on hold for recovery.

Just three months after the crash, he started working a second job to compensate for his time off. At first, physical therapy consumed a lot of his time, but today, Phipps works around 70 hours per week between his custodial job at the UI and his position at Hardee’s in Coralville.

Phipps said, for a while, he was bitter about the accident. At a certain point, though, he decided all he could do was take a few positives from the accident. He said by putting off school for a few years, he was able to lessen the financial burden of education.

Albert Roy, one of Phipps’s coworkers at Hardee’s, said he didn’t know about Phipps’s crash.

“Ed has never to the best of my knowledge let that keep him down or get in the way of his job performance,” Roy said. “I know that I can count on him.”

After four years of constant work, Phipps plans on enrolling in classes in January. For him, receiving an education is essential.

“My life’s really going to start to pick up,” he said. “I’m going to be doing a lot more things that I want to be doing.”

He said he would love to start studying political science, and he hopes to start classes at the UI after a semester at Kirkwood. As of now, he is not entirely sure where school will lead him.

“I think I’m going to be better off than ever before,” Phipps said. “You know something like that, you can’t have it change you. It’s a matter of whether it’s going to be for better or worse.”


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