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February 19, 2013 | 03:21 PMOn Dec. 15, 2012, Charlene Bixler Krueger had to answer a question no parent wants to be asked: Should doctors shut down the life support machines that were keeping her son alive?
Chuckie Bixler, 22, a new resident of Lake Geneva who worked at MPC, Walworth, suffered a brain injury Dec. 10 during a three-vehicle traffic accident in the town of Linn. His injury was so severe that Charlene said surgeons performed a risky emergency procedure in an attempt to help Chuckie recover.
"Because he was 22, they wanted to give him a fighting chance," said Charlene, of Rockford, Minn.
During a Feb. 15 interview, Charlene discussed Chuckie's childhood, his life and the moments before his death in a hospital room. She said a neurosurgeon told her 90 percent of people who suffer this injury die instantly. The 10 percent who recover show signs of improvement the second day, she said.
Chuckie's condition worsened. Part of it, Charlene said, was that he kept having strokes.
"On the second day, he got worse, but they told me (his condition) on day four was where he would end up being for the rest of his life," Charlene said.
So when doctors asked her that question, she told them to withdraw life support.
"Did I want to do it? Not at all," Charlene said. "But the fact that he wanted me to do it, that was all that mattered."
She said she didn't remember how they landed on the topic, but Chuckie once told her if he was ever in this situation, he wouldn't want to live. Charlene said one of the doctors also told her he wouldn't have even tried the emergency procedure if it was his own son.
And in death, Chuckie was able to save some lives.
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"I look at it that way because he donated a kidney and a liver," Charlene said. "Usually, people on those registry lists are dying. I was just glad that he was able to do that."
But she said others didn't take her decision to pull the plug on Chuckie so well. Charlene said Chuckie's girlfriend, Amber Lazowski, wanted to take care of him. Amber and Chuckie had a daughter, Elizabeth, on Nov. 2, 2012.
Nevertheless, Charlene said she takes life one day at a time.
"Some days are better than others," Charlene said. "I'm finally past the point where I felt responsible for killing him. That was very hard for me, but I know he would never have wanted to live that way."
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While Charlene continues to come to terms with following her son's wishes, recently released details surrounding the Dec. 10 accident provided information Charlene said she didn't want to hear.
"No one wants to hear that her son created his own end," she said.
During a separate Feb. 15 interview, Linn police officer James Bushey discussed details of the Wisconsin State Patrol investigation of the accident that occurred at about 7:52 p.m. on Linton Road, just east of Highway B and Academy Road. According to Bushey, Chuckie was driving a red Ford Taurus west on Linton Road when he crossed the center line. He struck a grey Mercury Sable being driven by Jessica M. Matusek, 20, Antioch, Ill. Shortly after the crash, Nancy Chapliciki-Sullivan, 43, Fontana, was driving a silver Saturn Ion west on Linton Road.
Police believe because of how dark it was in the area of the accident, Chapliciki-Sullivan didn't see the Taurus in time. She struck the vehicle. For more about the accident, see story Page 4A. The speed limit in the area of the double crash is 55 mph.
"He basically took a front-end collision, full force, then a rear-end collision, full force," Bushey said. "Between the two, we're not sure which one caused the most damage."
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Charlene said her son suffered a fractured pelvis and vertebrae and a laceration to his left leg in addition to what one neurosurgeon called "a horrific brain injury."
She said she wished police would have warned her about the graphic photos in the accident report.
"When I saw that car, my first thought was (Chuckie) didn't stand a chance," Charlene said. "In my mind, he died in that car."
She said she was grateful that she and Chuckie's brothers — Chase, whose seventh birthday is Feb. 23, and Carter, 4 — were given the chance to say goodbye to Chuckie at the hospital.
She said Chuckie hung on for what seemed like a long time after medical professionals withdrew his life support.
"The last thing I said to him was, 'Daddy's waiting,' and that was the last breath he took," Charlene said.
Chuckie's father, Charles Bixler, died in August 2010.
Charlene described Chuckie as a smart, quiet kid.
"He was one of those kids who didn't really have to try very hard and got straight As," she said
But still, Chuckie had a difficult childhood.
When he was 8, Charlene divorced Charles. She said Charles had left them and moved to Illinois.
Chuckie lived with his mom in Minnesota until he was 13. Charlene said Chuckie began to experience depression. He also wanted to live with Charles, she said.
Charles suffered from health problems. He was born with a congenital heart defect, Charlene said.
So when Chuckie wanted to live with Charles in Rockton, Ill., Charlene agreed. However, she said Chuckie had a hard time with him. She said father and son fought all the time, but Chuckie "still loved his dad."
"They had a very odd love-hate thing," Charlene said.
Then, shortly before Chuckie's 18th birthday, Charles left him a second time. He had moved to Michigan, Charlene said. "He left Chuckie with no job, no place to live, no nothing."
As for the mother-son relationship, Charlene said it was strong.
"There was nothing he couldn't tell me," she said, adding she knew that Chuckie was a habitual marijuana user and he "didn't hesitate" to tell her that he and Amber were expecting a child together.
"Because it was just me and him, growing up, nothing was off-limits," Charlene said.
Charlene wouldn't say on the record why Charles left Rockton and moved to Michigan. But rather than move back with his mom, Chuckie stayed with friends in Rockton and "found his own groove." He enjoyed music and skateboarding.
But the last time Charlene and Chuckie spoke, it didn't end well.
"He was mad at me, so we hadn't really been speaking," she said.
Their last conversation was on the phone. Charlene said they spoke some time after Elizabeth was born, between Nov. 2 and Dec. 1. According to Charlene, Chuckie was telling her about a fight with Amber. Charlene said she told Chuckie he needed to "grow up" and think about his new family.
"He just needed to cool off," she said. "Only this time, it took a little too long."
Then there's Chuckie's alleged marijuana use.
Bushey said when state police were investigating the crash, they discovered an orange pill bottle containing a substance which field tested positive for marijuana in Chuckie's vehicle.
They also found a multicolored pipe believed to be used to smoke pot.
Charlene said that shouldn't surprise anyone who knew Chuckie.
"I've never condoned it," she said. "I don't approve of mind-altering anything.
On the other hand, he was an adult. He made his own choices.
Not a lot I could have done about it."
But what if test results indicate he had marijuana in his system the time of the crash?
Charlene said that would surprise her.
"He was on his way to work and he took his job very seriously," she said.
Charlene said a lot of her friends and some family members disagreed with the decision to withdraw Chuckie's life support.
She said they couldn't understand how she could do it.
They asked her why she isn't falling apart.
"I'm a very scientific-y, pragmatic person," Charlene said. "I don't deal well with feelings."
She said she cried, but by herself, because she's a "very private person with her emotions."
It's a question no one ever thinks they'll need to answer, but Charlene said wants people to have the kind of conversation she had with Chuckie.
She said her son made it easier for her to answer that question by having that conversation.
Charlene also said there's something that's important.
"I just wanted people to know how easily someone can disappear in the blink of an eye."