After crash, Tinley Park man adapts to new ‘lifestyle’
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org May 23, 2013 8:38PM
Adam and Nichole Copack talk about Adam's injuries from the accident accident in their yard in Tinley Park, IL, Monday, May. 20, 2013. | Karen Gioia ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 25, 2013 6:08AM
A bag of golf clubs, long unused, hangs inside the garage of Adam Copack’s Tinley Park home. Gone is the hockey gear that used to come out several nights a week when he’d hit the ice with friends.
They’re reminders of a past life, one the 35-year-old is uncertain to recapture.
For Copack, there’s a clear-cut demarcation — with everything that happened prior to the early morning hours of Jan. 12, 2008, in one life, and all that’s happened since, which doctors have referred to as his new “lifestyle.”
It’s a lifestyle that means adapting to a body that doesn’t work the way it used to, when weekly golf outings were a common occurrence and simple things such as using his right hand to write were not given a second thought.
It’s a lifestyle brought about when a Cadillac Escalade, racing along at better than 70 mph, blew a red light at Kedzie Avenue and 111th Street in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, slamming into the driver’s side of Copack’s Toyota Tundra.
The impact sent him flying out of the pickup truck and onto the pavement — fracturing his skull and causing traumatic brain injury, damaging his spinal cord and leaving bits of broken glass from the truck’s window that are still embedded in the left side of his face.
“There’s not one thing in my entire life I can do the same way” as before the crash, Copack said.
The crash was the result of a police pursuit by a Merrionette Park officer of Michael O’Donnell, a Mount Greenwood resident who lived a few blocks from where the collision occurred, according to a lawsuit Copack filed against the village.
O’Donnell, who tested positive for having narcotics in his system at the time of the crash, pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges stemming from the collision.
Merrionette Park opted to work to settle the lawsuit out of court, and, with the help of a mediator, the village’s insurance carrier last week agreed to pay Copack $5.25 million.
He and his wife, Nichole, who is six months pregnant with the couple’s first child, said the money does nothing to make Adam whole but will help with his ongoing rehabilitation and provide a more secure future financially for the family.
“You can give me all the money in the world, and I still can’t do (physically) what I want to do,” Copack said.
He and Nichole were dating at the time of his life-altering crash — he was going to pick up her engagement ring that day and propose a couple of weeks later on his 30th birthday. Copack, who at one point was in a wheelchair and must use a cane to walk, proposed in the spring of 2009, and they were married in September 2010.
“I think we both had apprehensions at points” about marriage, Nichole, 33, said. “We finally found a way to make it down that aisle.”
She is a nurse at Southwest Vascular, an outpatient surgical center in Alsip. Copack said he didn’t want Nichole to play the role of his caregiver in their relationship.
“I didn’t want her to be my nurse, I wanted her to be my wife,” he said.
‘I remembered nothing’
The evening of Jan. 11, 2008, Copack had finished playing hockey with friends at Johnny’s Ice House in Chicago, then met another group of friends at a Mount Greenwood bar near Kedzie and 111th.
He left the bar about 1 a.m., and as he headed west through that intersection, Copack was broadsided by O’Donnell’s SUV. He said he didn’t see the Cadillac coming.
“I remembered nothing for the next three weeks,” he said.
Copack was at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn until the end of January, then spent more than four months at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Elizabeth Kaveny, an attorney with the firm that represented Copack in his lawsuit, said it was “relatively benign traffic offenses” that sparked the high-speed pursuit.
A Merrionette Park officer, in a deposition in September 2009, said he initially was going to pull O’Donnell’s vehicle over because it had tinted windows and at one point crossed over the center line.
O’Donnell didn’t stop after the officer flipped on his squad car’s lights and stuck close to the speed limit until the two vehicles were at Kedzie and 113th Street, when O’Donnell began to accelerate, according to the officer’s deposition. He insisted that while he was following O’Donnell, he never initiated a pursuit and turned off the flashing lights after the Escalade sped away.
Kaveny said statements the officer gave to Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office indicated that he was in high-speed pursuit. Copack’s suit alleged that the officer didn’t have his emergency lights or siren activated.
Progress has ‘plateaued’
Copack works as a business manager at a Chicago law firm, which held his job for him while he recovered and modified his medical insurance coverage to ensure that it didn’t max out. He’s able to work from home two days a week.
While he was right-handed, Copack said he’s barely able to write legibly with that hand and uses his left hand to type on a computer. He has weakness throughout the right side of his body, forcing him to put more strain on the muscles on his left side. Helping him to walk is a device that uses electrical pulses to stimulate the nerves in his right leg.
Copack also had to have his vehicle modified, with the gas pedal now to the left of the brake so he can operate both with his left foot.
He continues to go to therapy twice a week, but despite the progress he has made since the crash, Copack fears that he’s “plateaued” and this might be as good as he gets.
“Each person responds differently,” he said.
Still, he worries about whether he will be able to pick up and cradle his newborn, or later on, toss a ball around in the back yard with his son or daughter.
The idea of ever being able to play hockey again is almost too much to hope for.
“That would be a miracle,” he said.