Widow's torment after husband's death

A SUFFOLK widow is desperately searching for answers after a trip of a lifetime turned into a five-month nightmare.

Rebecca Lefort

A SUFFOLK widow is desperately searching for answers after a trip of a lifetime turned into a five-month nightmare.

In October Liz Whyte's husband, Alex, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury during a historical road trip in America, and despite fighting in intensive care he died this month.

Now Mrs Whyte said she is still no closer to discovering what happened to take the 50-year-old away from her and their young daughter, five-year-old Emily.

Police in Natchez, west Mississippi, say he was involved in a scuffle outside a bar which knocked him over.

But the doctors who treated Mr Whyte, of Charsfield, near Woodbridge, say his injuries could only have been inflicted by something as dramatic as a 20ft fall or being hit with a baseball bat.

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“Emily asks who did this to daddy and I can't give her an answer,” Mrs Whyte said.

“I want to give her an answer, but I think they want to brush it under the carpet. The police department said they will never find who has done this.”

Mr Whyte, an ITFC season ticket holder, spent nearly a month in a US hospital before being transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridgeshire.

Eventually, the former policeman who jointly ran a manufacturing company in Stowmarket, died on March 7 after his life support machine was switched off.

Now Mrs Whyte, 42, wants to highlight the dangers of road trips, particularly in the Deep South, and warned: “Not a lot of hotels and bars have CCTV cameras or public liability insurance, and the bar is even denying he was in there.

“It is the thought that it will happen to another family that makes me want to say something.

“It is awful not knowing what happened or why.”

Mr Whyte's funeral will be held on March 26 at Ipswich crematorium, at 12.15pm. The family ask for no flowers, but donations can be made in his memory to Headway or Addenbrooke's neuroscience critical care unit.

The fateful trip:-

Mr Whyte turned 50 in February 2008, and decided it was finally time to fulfil his lifelong dream of taking a historical road trip through America.

After months of planning, on September 26 he and a friend from his village flew into New York before heading down the east coast, visiting sites such as Gettysburg.

“He finally got down to the deep south and Mississippi,” said Mrs Whyte.

“He and his friend reached Natchez. They booked into a hotel, they had a rest and went for a beer at a bar, then went to another bar called Doc Bigloves.

“They stayed in there for a while. There was a live band playing. They had a few beers and were talking to the locals. Alex was a friendly and social man and got to know the band members and was talking about music.”

Later the pair returned to the first Natchez bar, but Mr Whyte became concerned that he had not paid the tab at Doc Bigloves and disappeared.

Although his friend looked for him Mr Whyte could not be found, and early on October 4 Mrs Whyte was called to say there had been a tragic accident from which her husband might never recover.

He had been found lying outside Doc Bigloves with massive head injuries and was rushed to the local Accident and Emergency before being airlifted to a bigger hospital in Jackson, Mississippi's capital.

American police view:-

Natchez police sergeant Craig Godbold told the Natchez Democrat newspaper: “The surgeon told the wife that he didn't see how that could be from a push, but blunt force trauma can do that.

“If he hit his head on the kerb, that could cause that much damage.”

He said Mr Whyte was trying to re-enter Doc Bigloves bar when he was pushed down after bumping into another patron, and added: “The guy, without looking just pushed him back.

“It's just a horrible accident is what it looks like so far.

“(Witnesses) commented that he was nice, he was polite and they were impressed by his British accent,” The newspaper reported that the police are still investigating the incident, but have no leads.

The fight for life:-

After Mr Whyte's accident Mrs Whyte caught the first flight to America and joined him in the Jackson hospital.

After 36 hours of care the swelling in his brain intensified and he had to have a craniectomy, where part of his skull was removed to relieve the pressure, and a very small part of his left temple was removed as well.

On October 23, once his condition was stable enough for the journey, he was taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge by a private jet.

There doctors tried desperately to help him recover, but warned Mrs Whyte she would never again know the same man she had said goodbye to in September.

Mrs Whyte, who met her husband in 1993 and married him in Florida in 2006, said: “I've been through five months of hell.

“On the impact that person had gone, and I was waiting for the new Alex to emerge.

“The level of injury was such that I had come to accept that it was never going to be the same again and I had done a lot of my mourning in that period.”

There were glimmers of hope during the ordeal. On November 1 Mr Whyte regained consciousness, and it looked like he was making progress.

Then at the end of January doctors decided to try to rebuild his skull and he underwent a cranioplasty.

But four days later Mrs Whyte got another phone call to say Mr Whyte had suffered massive internal bleeding and once again they would have to take out part of his brain, this time there were not sure if he would ever regain consciousness.

Eventually Mrs Whyte and her parents-in-law made the agonising decision to switch off his life-support machine because they knew he did not wish to live without quality of life.

He died on March 7, 13 days after the machine was turned off.