By Mike Mooneyham

March 4, 2007

First of two parts

There was always a helping hand when Boris Zhukov was in the wrestling business.

Like most successful wrestlers, Zhukov could play both ends of the fence, working in the ring as a likable good guy or as a hated heel.

But there was always a hand to make the tag when things got a little too hot in the ring.

Zhukov, 48, has been retired from the business for more than a decade, but he needs a helping hand now in the worst way.

His 25-year-old son, Wayne Harrell, was critically injured in a catastrophic automobile accident three months ago in Seminole, Ala., and medical expenses are piling up. Harrell had just started a new job and was waiting for his insurance to kick in at the time of the accident. The bills already have exceeded $800,000.

The accident occurred on the Friday evening of Dec. 8 on U.S. Highway 90 heading toward Pensacola, Fla. Harrell was living in Silverhill, Ala., and was en route to visit a friend.

“He and his girlfriend had been arguing, and she was driving too fast. They both had been drinking. He was talking to his friend on the phone” when the accident occurred, says Zhukov. The friend, whose house was less than a mile away, heard the final few seconds of conversation before the crash.

Boris Zhukov

Boris Zhukov

Police estimate the car’s speed approached 100 miles per hour before striking a power pole. The driver’s side was crushed, with the passenger side being the only survivable part of the vehicle, according to Zhukov.

Harrell’s girlfriend, who landed underneath the car after it flipped and rolled, suffered crushed ribs and was killed instantly. Harrell was flung out of the side window shortly before the car erupted in flames. He was burned when either the exhaust pipe or the catalytic converter landed on him and he was splashed with oil from the engine. It took nearly 15 minutes before a small volunteer fire department responded.

The car, an early ’90s BMW belonging to a friend of the driver, was upside down on its roof when it finally came to a stop. But it didn’t come to a halt before taking down a power pole, hitting two parked cars and crashing into a video store, collapsing the support beams on the porch of the business.

“It was lucky no one else was killed,” says Zhukov, adding that a customer had walked through the door just 30 seconds earlier.

Harrell suffered second- and third-degree burns in his abdomen and groin area, severe head trauma, massive swelling and a blood clot on his brain that was later removed, along with a broken right collarbone, shattered right leg and a broken femur in his left leg.

“They weren’t expecting him to live that night,” says Zhukov. “They didn’t wake him up until Christmas morning. They didn’t want him moving around or coughing. They wanted him in a coma-like state.”

Road to recovery

His son, says Zhukov, is a walking miracle.

“Very seldom does anyone traveling at that speed and gets thrown from the car survive. So many people who have seen the car can’t believe he lived through it. He would have probably burned up in the car had he not been thrown out of it.”

“He’s doing a little better every day,” Zhukov offers.. “It was by the grace of God that he survived.”

But there’s much work and mending left to be done – both physically and emotionally.

“He’s still in the hospital. First time he was in there three weeks. He has to return for physical therapy. He has to see a psychiatrist. They didn’t tell him until he left the hospital that his girlfriend had been killed. He doesn’t remember details. They had been seeing each other on and off since 2001.”

It had been a tumultuous relationship, says Zhukov, that ended in one losing a life and the other having his life changed forever. Hi son’s girlfriend, he says, had been driving on a suspended license and had been charged three times in the past with DUI.

Zhukov says it hasn’t entirely hit his son yet, but he’s concerned that guilt will weigh in on him eventually.

“I think if he hadn’t been drinking, he wouldn’t have gotten into the car with her,” he says. “He didn’t trust her driving anyway, and I think he would have had better judgment and not got into the car with her if he hadn’t had anything himself.”

Some additional surgery was performed several weeks ago to help reduce swelling in his frontal lobe area. His burns are heeling pretty well, says Zhukov, but there’s memory loss along with a host of side effects from the head trauma.

“Long-term is better than his short-term. He still has headaches and vision problems. He’s going to probably have some psychological stuff to go through because of the side effects. He’s very argumentative right now and gets upset real easy. His reactions are different now. His mother had to call the hospital last time when he was having problems, and they told her to either bring him to the hospital or they’d have to send an ambulance for him. He gets mad at her for calling the hospital. You get agitated very easily with a frontal lobe injury.”

Zhukov, who has worked as a trucker for the past 15 years, says fundraisers and charity events to help raise funds for his son are being planned. A benefit motorcycle ride was held last Sunday in Pensacola. Zhukov hopes to organize a wrestling show at some point in the near future. “Wayne didn’t have insurance. He had started a new job, and the insurance hadn’t kicked in yet. He was still in a 90-day waiting period.”

Zhukov describes his son as athletic and an outdoorsman who loves hunting, fishing and NASCAR. He’s a landscaper by profession who works on a sod farm and runs a tractor.

Life will be different when he returns. He’s lost more than 60 pounds and is down to 120. He faces intensive physical therapy and rehab. Zhukov says a slight leakage might force surgeons to go through his son’s sinus cavities.

“They’re trying to hold off on that,” he says. “His neurosurgeon is hoping to get by without it, because it’s pretty tough surgery. I don’t think he’s healed enough from the second operation to where they can go back in. It’s a last-resort thing, but they may have no choice.”

“His legs are doing well,” he adds. “His right leg is going to be shorter than his left one since he lost a chunk of bone. He’ll have a noticeable limp.”

But he’s alive.

“Praise the Lord for that. I look at the accident scene and the pictures and cringe. Wayne’s been able to look at some of them, but he has to turn away from some. He can’t look at them all.”

“For a while it was very depressing for him,” he says. “He was very active until the accident. He can get around now without a walker. “It’s going to be as long haul. But he’s lucky to have survived. I really think the Lord’s got a plan for him.”

Donations can be made to the William Harrell Benefit Account at the PenAir Federal Credit Union at: PenAir Federal Credit Union, William Harrell Benefit Account (2579836), 1495 East Nine Mile Road, Pensacola, Fla. 32514. Checks should be made to the William Harrell Benefit Account (please put Member No. 2579836 on the check).