SPARTA, NJ – “To look at me, you wouldn’t know I have a brain injury, unless I talk,” Will Kimberlin told the crowd at the “1st Annual Clam Jam with Scotty” on Saturday afternoon at Sparta’s Village Saloon.
The celebratory crowd went from boisterous to quiet, as they intently listened to Kimberlin’s perspective.
“Scott knows, we deal with problems every day people take for granted, breathing, walking, and talking,” the Randolph resident continued.
Kimberlin was injured in a 1993 accident when he and a friend were riding back from the Georgia base where he was stationed in the military, through North Carolina. The car Will was in flew down an embankment, due to reasons still unknown, and Will was hit by a tree while in the passenger seat. Originally, doctors told Kimberlin’s mother there was no hope for recovery, and, in turn, Kimberlin has overcome many obstacles. Click here to read more of Kimberlin's story.
Scott Harris nodded in agreement.
“I couldn’t walk for seven months,” Kimberlin said. “It’s 14 years for me [since the accident], and I’m still getting stuff back."
“So, Scott, never lose hope,” Kimberlin said, turning to Harris.
“Thank you,” Harris replied in affirmation.
Family, friends, and other supporters, gathered to honor brain injury victims like Kimberlin and Harris at the “1st Annual Clam Jam With Scotty,” to benefit the Brain Injury Alliance New Jersey. All proceeds were donated to the alliance in Harris’ name.
Approximately 200 attendees, including Harris and Kimberlin, socialized while enjoying clams and other buffet items, soda, a cash bar, live music, and more.
For Harris himself, it has been an arduous journey, when the vibrant Montclair State University Classic Guitar Graduate suffered his brain injury during a freak accident on July 7, 2006.
Harris was working at Wild West City in Byram Township. He grew up next door to the theme park, and had helped out there since childhood in various jobs, from selling tickets, to helping to tend to the horses. Eventually, Harris worked his way up the ranks, and became an actor at the park, starring in hundreds of shows in the part of “Wyatt Earp.”
During the usual shootout performance in which Harris played the famous lawman, one of his fellow co-stars, DeSean Sears, accidentally loaded his weapon with live .22 caliber bullets, not blanks. Adalberto Morales, another park employee, brought live and blank ammunition to the park, after having used the live ammunition at a shooting range, and Sears placed the wrong ammunition in his gun.
At the end of the shootout, Harris did not get up, and he was flown to UMDNJ (University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey), where they discovered a bullet lodged in his brain.
The bullet has left Harris partially paralyzed, and, removal of it could cause further paralysis.
“It’s a silent epidemic,” Jon Kinsella, Communications Associate from Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey told The Alternative Press. “The brain doesn’t heal like broken bones.”
“People love Scott,” Kinsella continued. “Scott’s family contacted the alliance, and we’ve been on board since. It’s a wonderful event. They’re putting a face behind brain injury. He’s inspired people to come together, and, by helping us, you’re helping Scott.”
Kinsella said the funds would benefit education, and programs, for the Brain Injury Alliance New Jersey.
Kinsella said brain injuries could be common, especially when dealing with concussions, which the Brain Injury Alliance has been educating the public about (the group is sponsoring a free event, “Concussion In Your Community: Protecting Our Young Athletes,” in Little Falls, N.J., at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, on Thursday, October 25 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.).
Village Saloon owner Barbara Toth was pleased to help with the event. Toth said she has two friends herself who have suffered from brain injuries. She met event organizers Erin Braun (Harris’ family friend), and Kathi Unangst (Harris’ girlfriend), and she wanted to help.
“These people are dear to my heart,” Toth said.
Onstage while introducing one of the musical acts, Toth spoke to the audience, with tears in her eyes.
“You guys have really touched my heart, I’m never going to complain again,” Toth said. “You’ve given me such inspiration. I’ll help you as much as I can. You all deserve a round of applauds. Without you, it couldn’t have happened.”
Braun, who has known Harris’ family for over 30 years, told The Alternative Press, “We’re trying to take the negative, and turn it into positive.”
While onstage, Braun also wiped away tears, and then embraced Harris and Unangst when leaving the stage.
“Thanks for coming out, I hope you come back again,” she said. “Because we’re not done yet. We’re going to jam again.”
There are plans in the works for another “clam jam” next year. Additionally, the Village Saloon is sponsoring a golf outing on Thursday, Oct 4 at the Lake Mohawk Golf Club to benefit Brain Injury Alliance New Jersey. Click here for more information.
Family members, and other friends, shared their perspectives about Scott, his injuries, and the “clam jam.”
Christina Honthy also helped coordinate aspects of the event. Her brother is a longtime friend of Harris’, she said. Harris’ mother, Betty, was Honthy’s Sunday School teacher.
“I was impressed how she [Betty Harris] handled it with such grace,” Honthy said. “For me, it was more about supporting Ms. Harris.”
Of the event, Honthy said, “I think it’s a success, to see how many people came out to support Scott.”
Honthy was not the only former student of Betty Harris’ in attendance.
Brian McNeilly, Stanhope Borough Administrator, said he did not know Scott Harris, but came to the event to support the family, and, Betty Harris had been his first grade teacher in the Stanhope School.
Another student connection brought about a reunion after 60 years.
“She was my favorite teacher,” recalled Marijane Brandan, now a Butler resident, who was in Betty Harris’ fifth grade class 60 years ago at the River Styx Grammar School.
She learned of Harris’ injury while working at town hall in Morristown.
“My heart just went out to them, when I found out about Scott,” said Brandan, who also has a son named Scott.
She reunited with her fifth grade teacher, and, attended the event to support Harris.
“I think it’s wonderful that they’re [Brain Injury Alliance New Jersey] reaching out to people with brain injuries, who may not have the money that Scott has received [Harris has received some workers’ compensation for his injury]," Betty Harris said.
Of her son’s injury, she added, “It’s impacted our whole family, but we trust in God. He’s working every day. I’m praying for Scott to be back where he was.”
Harris now has a drivers’ license, she said (Kimberlin too), and took special driving lessons, which he passed. His vehicle is specially equipped, however, to help him drive.
Harris’ brother Paul also came to the event, and said friends even flew in from out of state to attend.
“I’m really happy, a lot of his friends got together to do this,” he said.
Scott Harris grew tired as the event continued, yet he remained smiling as attendees approached him with kind words, and hugs. Daily activities alone can be exhausting for Harris.
“I feel good,” Harris said, in between breaths.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Harris replied, when The Alternative Press asked him how he was enjoying the festivities.
“Thank you for everything for this event,” Harris told the crowd earlier onstage. “I love you. God Bless.”
The verdict is expected in Harris’ case on Friday, October 12, at the Sussex Courthouse, after it was previously scheduled, and adjourned on September 13.
Coincidentally, the Endorphin 5K or 2K Run to benefit the Irene & Eric Simon (IES) Brain Research Foundation, was held at Wild West City on Saturday morning as well. The IES Brain Research Foundation, according to its website, helps with research and education about addiction, and pain, and also brain diseases, disorder, cancer, injury, and more.