Russian exchange student Irina Sushkova worked three jobs and saved all summer to buy a bit of two-wheeled independence -- a scooter.
She picked it up Aug. 17, a bright, sunny Wednesday morning.
As she drove to a friend's house a few hours later, just after midnight, a 19-year-old driver who police say was drunk smashed into the back of the motorbike, throwing Sushkova and passenger Tomas Hofirek, 24, onto the road on the Karl S. Bowers Bridge over Mackays Creek.
Now, Sushkova, a marketing student from St. Petersburg State University, will turn 21 Monday in a hospital bed at Savannah's Memorial University Medical Center.
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Her back is fractured in three places.
Both feet are broken.
And the skin on the back of her body was ripped away by the pavement, said Rick Cody, Sushkova's Hilton Head work-study host.
"The worst thing is that there's just no skin along the entire back of her body. Her nerve endings are exposed. She's on a morphine drip, but she's still in a lot of pain," said Cody, a 56-year-old retired Army officer. "Amazingly enough, her face and head are OK. But there's scratches everywhere else.
"It's just very difficult to see her like that."
A HAPPY BEGINNING
The day of the crash began happily.
This is the second summer Sushkova and her friend, Irina Patentova, also from St. Petersburg, have stayed at Cody's Bermuda Pointe home.
The two picked up the scooter and posed on it so Cody could snap a photograph with his cellphone.
Over the past three months, the girls worked at various jobs on the island -- as checkers at Bi-Lo, as ticket-takers and concession workers at Northridge Cinema 10, and as hostesses at Carrabba's Italian Grill -- to earn money, learn English and get work experience, Patentova said.
They pooled their cash to buy the Peace Sports Scooter and were excited to be able to drive to work, she said.
Sushkova took the scooter to Carrabba's that night and showed it off to co-workers, including Hofirek, a student from Brno, Czech Republic, who owns a scooter on Hilton Head and one at home.
"She was so excited she wanted to take it out," Patentova said. "We want nothing to do with it now."
It was just past 12:30 a.m. when Sushkova and Hofirek left Cody's house.
They were headed to Bluffton to see some European friends, Hofirek said. Sushkova drove.
They were traveling west over the bridge when Hofirek heard a loud crash.
The last thing he remembers is seeing the pavement rise to meet him, he said.
"I don't know what our speed was. We were the only ones on the road. I heard the car crash into us, and then I woke up in the ambulance," he said. "I don't remember much, but I didn't see lights or hear a horn."
The two were not wearing helmets, according to Cpl. Bob Beres, S.C. Highway Patrol spokesman.
The 2001 Honda that rear-ended the scooter was driven by Mathew Allan Raucci of Hilton Head, Beres said. The crash occurred about 12:45 a.m.
Raucci, a 2010 graduate of Hilton Head Island High School, was charged with two counts of felony DUI, Beres said. He was released from the Beaufort County Detention Center on his own recognizance the next morning, according to the jail log.
Raucci told Highway Patrol officers that he had been drinking beer at home before the crash, Beres said. He would not release the results of Raucci's blood-alcohol test.
The teen had a prior misdemeanor citation for alcohol possession from Nov. 21, 2009, when he was 17, but has no other criminal charges, according to the Beaufort County jail log.
Beres said the investigation into the crash continues.
If convicted of the DUI charges, Raucci faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
A LONG RECOVERY
Sushkova faces a difficult recovery, her doctors have said.
"Irina says she doesn't remember anything -- just seeing the road and waking up in the ambulance," Patentova said. "She's never been sick and never been in a hospital. We waited two days to call her family so she could talk to them herself. They are very upset."
Hofirek, who suffered bruises and scrapes in the crash, was released from the hospital a day later but had to return. Doctors discovered his knee was broken. He was ordered to stay in bed for six weeks, he said.
"I can't walk. I can't work. I can't do anything. My friends are helping take care of me," Hofirek said.
The third-year biomedicine and technology student isn't sure what to do next.
He's hoping to feel well enough to travel home earlier than his scheduled Oct. 11 departure date.
"My mom says, 'Come home now,' " he said, laughing.
Meanwhile, Cody visits Sushkova every day.
Though he has two grown children, the girls have become "like family." He's even hired an attorney to represent Sushkova.
"Her family wants to come right now, but they can't. They're trusting me to handle the situation," he said.
Patentova said the girls couldn't cope without Cody.
"Mr. Cody is an amazing person. He's like a father. If you need something, he's always there," she said. "I don't know what we would do without him."
Follow reporter Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LcBlotter.