A teenage boy who was seriously hurt when a food truck crashed into his family's car in Northern Virginia last fall, killing his mother, is set to graduate on time with his class.
Ben Kaplan was near death after the crash that killed his mom, Erin Kaplan, on Sept. 8, 2017. Eight months ago, the 17-year-old from Ashburn couldn't speak, walk or remember the accident. But thanks to help from his community and a special motivation, he is expected to complete high school.
"There was only one thing that kept me motivated and it was my mom, my mother," he told News4. "I felt like I owed it to her to get stronger, to recover, to lead a happy life."
Kaplan's body was crushed when Tony Steven Dane ran a stop sign in Leesburg while driving a red, converted school bus for his company Dane's Great American Hamburger. The food truck crashed into the Kaplans' Audi station wagon, which had Kaplan, his mother, his two sisters and his grandmother inside. Erin Kaplan was killed, and Kaplan was rushed to a hospital. He would spend 90 days there, plus another month at a rehabilitation facility.
"I stepped into the car, and I woke up in a hospital bed," he said.
At first, he was just told that his legs were broken. Then, his father delivered the worst news.
"Ultimately, it was my dad who told me there was a car accident, that my mother was dead and that I was really hurt," Kaplan said.
The teen had only transferred to Briar Woods High School during his junior year. But the school community rallied around his family, with a fundraising event and the hashtag #KaplanStrong. Students and teachers visited him in the hospital.
"As the days went by, more and more of me came back. It was kind of like breaking away the shell," he said.
News4 first met Kaplan in October, when then-candidate for governor Ralph Northam visited him in the hospital. Kaplan's humor about a head wound was on display.
"Do you like my mullet?" he asked the soon-to-be governor.
Josh Mosser, a teacher and mentor of Kaplan's before the accident, remembered a turning point during one hospital visit.
"The first thing he asked me was, 'Do you think I can graduate with my class this year?'" Mosser said.
That was the goal, but whether it was possible was still unclear.
From the hospital, Kaplan was transferred to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore to learn to walk again.
"I didn't know pain could hurt that bad," he said.
Finally back home in December, Kaplan asked again about getting back to Briar Woods.
In late January, he returned and teachers had provided him some individualized instruction to complete his final courses.
"It was combination of good people who ultimately put me in a place where I can graduate on time," he said.
But thoughts of his mother were his true motivation.
Kaplan asked others to value their parents.
"You only get one set of parents, and I feel like you should treat every day like it's your last with them, because they love you, you love them -- you just gotta show it," he said in a special video he recorded for News4.
Kaplan said that after he graduates next month, he plans to go to Northern Virginia Community College and then go to a four-year college to earn a degree in technology. He hopes to fall in love, get married and name his firstborn daughter Erin, after his mother.