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Accident Puts UC College Of Law Student
On Course To Law Degree

Date: May 21, 2001
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photo by Dottie Stover
Archive: Profiles Archive

An accident in 1991 could have shattered Ernest Lee's life. Instead, it altered it in ways previously unimagined, leading to Lee's graduation on May 19 from the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

Lee spent the first eight years after his high school graduation as an over-the-road trucker, driving big rigs from the Southeast to the West Coast and back. It was a life of freedom, and he enjoyed it.

But then driving home from work in Chattanooga to Dunlap, Tennessee on a mountain road one rainy, foggy night in January of 1991, he lost control of his car. It flipped over. Lee's neck was broken in three places.

Ernest Lee on the steps in front of the UC College of Law

He spent two weeks on a ventilator. He couldn't move his arms or legs. Slowly, his condition improved, until after 128 days in the hospital, he was released.

He regained the ability to walk, but still has only limited use of his left hand and even less in his right. But looming larger than his physical problems was the question of what he would do with his future.

"It obviously forced a change of careers," Lee said of the accident. "Finally, after sitting around on the couch for a few months, I decided I would enroll in college."

He started by studying chemistry at Chattanooga State University, but switched directions and eventually earned a bachelor's degree in history from Tennessee Tech University. One of his professors was a UC alum who suggested Lee continue his studies at UC's College of Law.

Lee always was curious about the law. "They always said I asked more questions than a Philadelphia lawyer when I was a kid," Lee recalls, "but as a practical matter, I had not (seriously considered it)."

He was accepted and before he knew it, was in school in Cincinnati.

Besides going to school, Lee has been working for the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and the county prosecutor's office. He's leaning towards a future in that area of the law, but has several other options to explore. He completed three externships in the area of mental health law as part of his involvement with the college's Glenn M. Weaver Institute for Law and Psychiatry. He might also focus on the issue of criminal competency.

For now, he's looking forward to hooding ceremonies and becoming the first lawyer in his family. A contingent of 12 to 14 family members are expected up from Tennessee, including his mother and brothers and sisters.

To meet other UC people, go to the profiles archive.

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