In a Saturday-night car crash on the North Hollywood Freeway, the teen-aged driver escapes with bruises, but the passenger, his best friend, is left paralyzed, perhaps for life. It is the stuff of nightmares, but for the driver in this case—teen idol Leif Garrett—it is all too real. “It’s hard to know what to say when something like this happens,” says Garrett, his voice breaking. “You always think it could never happen to you or your friends.”
On the night of the accident, Leif was driving his black Porsche 911 sports car, accompanied by his closest friend, Rowland Winkler, 19, whom he had met five months before at a rollerskating rink. Because Leif was then a minor five days shy of his 18th birthday, police will not release details of the collision, but the Porsche reportedly swerved, hit another car and flipped over. Garrett suffered contusions and a mild concussion. Winkler, a student at Valley College, was thought at first to have been paralyzed from a severed spinal cord. In recent days he has been able to move his arms and feel some sensation in his legs, but his prognosis remains uncertain.
Garrett passed a field sobriety test (walking in a straight line) given by the police after the accident. When his mother, screenwriter Carolyn Stellar, arrived at the scene, she took him to a Burbank hospital. There, at the request of the police, Leif underwent an additional blood test to determine if he was intoxicated. The results are not back from the lab. (If he were to be charged with the felony of drunk driving, Garrett would be tried before a juvenile traffic referee and, if convicted, would likely be placed on probation.)
Until the accident, Leif’s closest contact with tragedy had come while visiting handicapped children and acting as a fund raiser for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation—work he undertook, as he once explained, “because I’m lucky to be so well.” He has indeed been blessed. His skyrocketing career (he has one platinum record, Feel the Need, and a starring role in an upcoming TV boxing movie) has provided him most recently with a three-bedroom house in Sherman Oaks. (He shares it with his mother and his sister, Dawn Lee, 16.) But his luck and success are cold comforts now. “I am so emotionally upset over the accident and its effects,” he says. “I only wish it had never happened, and I would give everything I have to turn it all around.”