A Craven County Teacher of the Year faces the biggest challenge of his life following a crippling traffic accident that left him with major injuries.

On Sept. 4, 2020, Jesse James, his wife Jessie James, and their two young sons were traveling on I-95 with their pop-up camper packed up and prepared for a weekend camping trip.

“We were going to camp for two nights at Raven Rock,” Jessie told New Bern Post. “My parents live in Fayetteville and we were going to stop by their home for a brief outdoor visit. It was around lunchtime on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. We were very happy to take the kids camping for the weekend since COVID had halted many excursions since March.”

Jesse James in a photo provided by Craven County Schools earlier this year.

You can help

  • To help the James family with its rising medical expenses and other costs, a GoFundMe page has been established here.

Then the unthinkable happened

The camper blew a tire near Dunn and they pulled to shoulder.  While Jessie and Jesse worked to change the tire on the passenger side, a man driving erratically attempted to pass a semi-truck using the shoulder and collided with the camper. 

“As we were changing a tire a man was using the shoulder to pass a semi and collided with our camper,” Jessie told The Post. “Jesse was on a knee at the tire and took the impact to his head. This man had been seen speeding up I-95 at speeds over 85 and was witnessed using the shoulder to pass other vehicles. He destroyed our camper and truck and changed our lives forever.

Jesse was airlifted to WakeMed Raleigh campus with two collapsed lungs, multiple fractures, and a traumatic brain injury. Jessie and their boys were taken to another hospital by ambulance.

The boys, Beckett, 8, and Elliott, 6, and Roxy, the family dog, were uninjured.

The James Family in a family portrait taken before the September traffic accident.

But Jessie suffered a deep cut to her right forearm that tore through 3 tendons and her ulnar nerve, which required surgery, occupational therapy, and the possibility of additional surgery in the near future.

“I did not get to Jesse’s side until late Friday night. He was in the Neuro ICU at Wake Med,” Jessie said.

On Sept. 23, after weeks of prayers, Jesse opened his eyes briefly and waved to Jessie across the room.  In that moment, she said she knew her husband was still there and that he was going to come back to her. 

“He has amazed staff with his determination, kindness, and strength. Which is not a surprise to anyone who knows him.  He has fought through pneumonia and neuro storms, and nights missing his family.  He pushes through pain hourly, withstands constant changes with his brain and nerves, and pushes down his homesickness daily to prevail like our very own Superman.”

That description comes from a GoFundMe page set up to help the James family with their mounting medical bills.

The James Family during a previous Holiday season. They face a huge challenge as Christmas 2020 approaches.

Lingering impacts

A nightmare experiences like this left the family struggling to recover financially due to not only the medical bills, but also the costs to bring Jesse home and to meet his and his family’s needs for the foreseeable future. 

“At the end of the day, there is still a long road to recovery for the entire James family and any support you can provide would be so appreciated and beneficial to them and their ability to adjust to their new normal,” the GoFundMe article said.

“Unfortunately after initial medical bills we will not be left with much insurance money to cover the continued cost of outpatient therapy, modifications needed for our home, and lost wages,” Jessie told The Post.

The response from the community has been significant. By Thursday afternoon, 210 donors have contributed $22,830 to the James family in the first three days. Donations have ranged from $20 to $1,000.

The fundraising effort is just under halfway toward its goal of $45,000.

“Jesse and I are absolutely blown away by all of the kindness and generosity shown here. Thank you so much,” said Jessie, who is the nurse manager of New Bern Family Practice and Urgent Care and CCHC Extended Care unit.

“At this time, Jesse is at WakeMed Rehabilitation Hospital working diligently on healing and becoming more mobile and self sufficient. We hope to have him home by the end of the year.

“He has made steady and impressive gains making it difficult for the staff to pinpoint exactly what equipment and modifications we will need but please know that these donations are going toward what his needs will be and continued therapy,” she said.

Jesse James gets some sunshine in this recent photo taken during his rehabilitation.

A remarkable person

“If you know Jesse then you know that he’s one of the best humans alive,” fundraiser organizer Tiffany Soper wrote on the page. “He’s the guy that tracks down the owner of a missing case of Girl Scout cookies, the guy that gives you the shirt off his back, and the guy that just makes this world a better place to live in.  He restores faith in humanity.  He and Jessie teach their kids to love everyone, to be kind to all, and to give back to the world.  And now we have the opportunity to return that kindness to him and his family.

“The James family is forever grateful for the community that has risen up around them to carry them through this difficult time. Every little bit will help this family.

“Thank you for donating.  #NewBernStrong #HJ4thewin #supportourlocaloutlaws #bringjessehome #wakemed #godwinfalconfiredept #herosworkthere.”

At the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, Jesse James transitioned from classroom teacher to District Beginning Teacher Mentor.

He joined a team that provides support, professional development, and resources to the school district’s newest educators.

James was in his 14th year with Craven County Schools. He started his career with Craven County Schools as a tutor at J.T. Barber Elementary School before joining the Warcubs of H.J. MacDonald Middle School where he taught 6th and 8th grade ELA/SS.

In 2018, James was named Teacher of the Year for H.J. MacDonald Middle School. More

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