WOONSOCKET – It was a long and painful struggle for Suzanne Potter, but in the end it was a battle she could not win.
With her husband and two sons at her side, the 46-year-old Bernon Heights woman died in Rhode Island Hospital Wednesday, 34 days after being struck by a hit-and-run driver from Pawtucket who, police say, was drunk.
Detective Cmdr. Edward J. Lee Jr. says the police will now lodge more serious charges against the driver, Peter Major.
Potter lived with her husband, Kenneth Potter, and two sons, Kenneth Jr., 28, and Jarrod, 26, at 347 Grove St. A few minutes before 2 a.m. on July 1, Potter was riding a bicycle just five houses away from the front door of her gray multi-family when Major allegedly slammed into her and fled the scene.
A neighbor heard the crash and got a description of the vehicle. Major was arrested on the Old Louisquisset Pike in Lincoln a short time later and charged with drunken driving based on the observations of police officers because he refused a breath test, according to Lee.
The force of the collision was so severe it knocked Potter out of her shoes. According to her husband, she suffered massive internal injuries, including a broken pelvis and a severely ruptured liver.
Over the next few weeks, family members say, Suzanne was in and out of consciousness at the hospital. Though she tried with all her strength, she never spoke again after the crash.
“She'd wake up and shake her head 'yes' and 'no' – that was it,” says her son, Ken Potter Jr., 28.
“She understood,” says her husband. “She'd try to talk, but she couldn't get the words out. Sometimes she'd squeeze your hand.”
The family spent “hours and hours and hours” at the hospital to be at Suzanne's side. Often, family members camped out at the hospital overnight.
Toward the end, the hand-squeezing and head-shaking grew less frequent. Shortly before she died, doctors called Kenneth Sr. to the hospital, telling him his wife was “very sick,” he says.
“They did everything they could for her,” he says. “I was right there. We all gave her a kiss goodbye.”
It will take some time for him and the boys to get accustomed to the idea that Suzanne isn't coming back, says her husband. The family, he says, is still in shock.
What galls him most about what happened is the way Major left his wife on the ground, bleeding.
“I think he should get life,” Potter said. “The guy just hit somebody like he hit a squirrel running across the street and he took off.”
The Potters have hired a lawyer to represent their interests in how the charges against Major are resolved.
“They want to make sure there's justice for Suzanne,” said Woonsocket lawyer Rosina Hunt. “We want to make sure the guy doesn't get just a slap on the wrist. The most egregious thing for the family is that he just left her there instead of calling someone. If he had called someone, she might still be alive.”
Major, 41, is currently free on bail after being arraigned on the original charges of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in bodily injury and driving while intoxicated involving bodily injury, according to the Judicial Records Center.
“Obviously we're going to be adding new charges,” said Cmdr. Lee. “Those charges are going to be leaving the scene of an accident, death resulting, and driving while intoxicated, death resulting.”
Originally from Burrillville, Suzanne Potter also has a daughter in Florida in addition to her two sons, says her husband. Suzanne was legally disabled and took care of most of the chores around the house.
She enjoyed her life, especially going for walks and riding her bicycle around the neighborhood, he says. Her days revolved around taking care of, and spending time with, her family.
“She was like the homemaker,” says her husband. “I think she just really wanted to be happy.”