Tahlequah Daily Press

March 8, 2013

Living with the pain

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — During a time in his life when he should be concentrating on raising his family and pursuing a career, Michael Foutch worries about bankruptcy and keeping his family together, while remembering the son he lost.

On Aug. 4, 2009, Michael and his wife, Vanessa, both 22, were returning home from Broken Arrow after watching the OU-Nebraska football game at the home of Foutch’s mom, Kathy. With Michael and Vanessa was daughter Jordan, 2, and Vanessa was seven months pregnant with their son, Adyn.

The Foutches had just exited U.S. Highway 412 and onto State Highway 82 when their vehicle was hit head-on by Oran Spencer. The last thing Michael remembers is paying the toll.

First responder reports provided by  Michael indicate Pete Milliron, of the Peggs Volunteer Fire Department, was on scene at the crash. Milliron said he “detected an odor of alcohol” coming from Spencer’s vehicle, and believed Spencer’s speech to be slurred.

Spencer pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in September 2012 for his role in the crash, but he was never charged with drunken driving.

Michael has no memory of the actual crash.

“I woke up in the hospital two days later,” he said. “Vanessa was seven months’ pregnant with Adyn, and Jordan was in the back seat. Vanessa remembers seeing headlights, and that’s it. Everything went black.”

Michael suffered a broken pelvis, broken left arm, broken jaw and nose, as well as a brain bleed. Vanessa’s ribs, left arm clavicle, hip, and ankle were broken; she also suffered a ruptured spleen, collapsed lung and burns on her left leg. An emergency Cesarean section was performed, and Adyn was born eight weeks early.

“We already knew we were having a boy,” said Michael. “He had a name. His bedroom had already been set up with a crib, blankets, toys and stuffed animals. We were already set up to have him – just not like that.”

Michael said Adyn weighed 3 pounds when he was taken by C-section.

“He suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen,” said Michael. “This was caused by Vanessa’s being unconscious and her loss of blood.”

Neither Michael nor Vanessa had a chance to hold their son, who eventually died as a result of his injuries.

“Vanessa, my mom and dad [Tim] and sister [Brittney] got to see him. I never got to see him,” said Michael. “They showed his picture on the TV news, but my glasses were mangled in the crash, so I couldn’t see. A volunteer for the hospital cleaned him up and took pictures of him that she brought to me after he died. I have those. But I never got to see him while he was on the ventilator.”

Jordan suffered burns on her stomach from the seat belt. Her spinal cord was severed, which has left her paralyzed and confined  to a wheelchair.

Since the accident almost four years ago, the Foutches have given birth to a second daughter, Bria, who will be 2 in May. Michael admits that holding the marriage together has been tough.

“We fought a lot, argued a lot,” he said. “The only reason we came through it was because we lived with my dad, whose house is wheelchair-accessible. We were all in wheelchairs for a while. That, and we received a lot of donations from my mom working at the radio station, which helped us get a fresh start. But probably what really got us through it all was Jordan. We had to be a team to care for her, get her to physical therapy and fitted for a wheelchair. Things like that.”

Michael and Vanessa are now both able to work, but they’ve amassed a mountain of medical bills – and Spencer has helped with very few.

“The way it happened is [Spencer] said ‘I did it,’ signed a book down at the courthouse, and as long as he stays out of trouble for a year, it comes off of his record,” said Michael. “His liability in the whole thing was $25,000. A little piece of that went to Jordan’s bills, another piece went to Vanessa’s bills, and another piece went to mine. But I’m still looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical bills.”

The couple has asked the Cherokee Nation for assistance, and hopes their request pans out.

“But if not, we’ll have to declare bankruptcy,” said Michael.

Though they had hoped to be present for Spencer’s court appearance to make a victim’s impact statement, the Foutch family was not notified in time. Since then, the need to speak their piece – to perhaps prevent something like this from happening to another family – has weighed heavily on their minds.

Michael said that at first, he knew exactly what he’d like to say and how to say it. But as the years dragged on between the accident and the actual court date, he really just wanted to forget about it.

“All I’ve done is try not to think about it,” said Michael. “The fact it took him three years to be a man and admit it – well, what I would say to him now would get me thrown out of a courtroom. Knowing he put a little girl in a wheelchair and killed a little boy, I just don’t know what to say.”

Michael said his wife, Vanessa, feels the same way. But his mother, Kathy Sumner Foutch, “has quite a bit to say.”

Kathy provided the Daily Press with the written statement she would have read in court to Spencer had she been provided the opportunity. In part, it reads:


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