A second major back surgery in less than a year has not slowed Vicki Gardner down.
The former executive director of the SML Regional Chamber of Commerce is recovering from surgery last month to repair damage to her spine caused by an August 2015 shooting at Bridgewater Plaza. Gardner was the only survivor in the shooting that killed Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two WDBJ-TV employees during a live, on-air interview.
Gardner currently has a civil complaint against WDBJ that seeks $6 million in compensatory damages and claims the station is guilty of negligence in its hiring and handling of Vester Lee Flanagan II, the man who shot them. Flanagan, who went by the on-air name of Bryce Williams, had been fired from the station two years earlier.
While initially filed Aug. 25, 2017, the lawsuit has moved slowly through Franklin County Circuit Court and, on Aug. 15, it was amended and shortened. On Sept. 13, WDBJ filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. A decision is expected in the coming months.
Earlier in the year, in January, Gardner had surgery to fix lingering pain from the shooting. When the pain continued, doctors told her another surgery was necessary.
“It went very well. I am hoping this is the last surgery,” Gardner said of her surgery in October.
Since stepping down from her position at the chamber in July after 17 years, Gardner has worked as a bookkeeper and marketer for her husband’s home inspection service.
She also has continued work on local boards, including as a member of Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital’s board of directors and on Ferrum College’s board of trustees.
In addition, Gardner continues to advocate for an Amtrak rail station in Bedford as a member of the Bedford/Franklin Regional Rail Initiative. She also serves on the board of the Smith Mountain Lake Center. Both, she said, are of critical importance not only to the community, but also the region.
“They are something I am so passionate about,” she said.
The BFRRI currently is working with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to study the possibility of a Bedford rail stop with results expected sometime in March. The new stop, Gardner said, is critical in bringing visitors to the region, including to Smith Mountain Lake State Park, the National D-Day Memorial and Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount.
The nonprofit Smith Mountain Lake Center has been working to identify and secure a permanent location to host arts and entertainment events for the community. While little information has been released in the past year about the center, Gardner said work is progressing and an update is expected in the coming months.
“There is no place out here, and we are growing,” Gardner said of the need for a community center.
Laurence Hammack and Neil Harvey of The Roanoke Times contributed to this story.