Wittenberg grad adjusts to new life after being hit by drunk driver

The couple, Cory Winfield and his wife Lindsey, took their story online this spring. It is there that Cory, a former college baseball pitcher and police officer, posted a video that showed the damage he suffered from a hit-and-run drunk driver in 2007. And it is in that video that they also show that, for them, life can continue after tragedy.

Lindsey Winfield posted the video to Facebook in February as part of MasterCard’s Priceless Surprise campaign. In the clip, the two sit side-by-side while Lindsey holds up pieces of paper in front of the camera that tell her husband’s story. Cory reads the words out loud to the camera.

“This is my husband Cory,” he says with halting, slow speech. “He played baseball in college. He was a pitcher. He pitched a no-hitter against the Dutch national team. He went on to earn his master’s degree. He was a police officer.”

They don’t talk much about the details: that he was a dominant closer for the Wittenberg baseball team as a senior in 2000. Or that his former teammates compare him to Ricky Vaughn, the closer with an attitude from “Major League.” Or that he had followed his dad and brother into law enforcement in Marion, Ohio. Or that his life was upended not only by his injury, but by the death of his brother, a fellow officer, in the line of duty.

In the video it is clear that things have changed since Cory’s glory days. He has a long scar on the side of his head. Many of his words take time to form.

Lindsey sits silently through the video. At some point she holds up photos as Cory speaks. There’s Cory in his Wittenberg uniform. There he is as a police officer. Then she holds up a piece of paper with the date, “Aug. 19, 2007,” written in large letters and the words, “Cory was hit by a drunk driver,” below it.

Cory doesn’t read those words out loud. He lets them speak for themselves and sets the paper down.

“When Cory was hit, he was on his way home from work at the police department,” the papers say. “He was only a block away from home. Cory had a broken pelvis and life threatening traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was in a coma for two months. Because of the TBI, Cory had to relearn to walk, talk, write and even prove he was okay to drive our car. All of his rehab took a looong time … like a couple of years. But the hardest of all was Cory had to retire at only 29 years old.”

The story continues and then gets to a surprise. A grin grows on Lindsey’s face. Cory starts giggling. The words on the cards reveal she has secured seats behind the dugout for a Cleveland Indians game. The video was meant to show the world that a simple act like going to a baseball game could help return joy into a damaged life.

Then two of Cory’s Wittenberg friends, Jason Kidic and Tim Becker, saw the video and worked with the Indians to make the visit extra special. On May 19, Lindsey and Cory visited Progressive Field, visited the clubhouse, sat in the dugout and mingled with players before batting practice. Manager Terry Francona helped carry Cory’s wheelchair onto the field.

“I was just along for the ride,” Cory said.

Two tragedies

Aug. 19, 2007. That night stays with Cory, not in his memories — he doesn’t remember that night or the month before it or some of the months following it — but in the daily difficulties he faces.

Cory was on his way home from work with as a Marion police officer around 1 a.m. He worked second shift. He was riding his own motorcycle when he was struck head on in a hit-and-skip.

Another motorist followed the car that hit Cory. Joshua Abrams, 20, of Marion, was arrested and charged with aggravated vehicular assault, driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an injury accident and underage consumption.

Cory and Lindsey had been married for just under four years at the time.

“I got a call a little after 1 from his dad saying he’d been in an accident and they were on their way to pick me up,” Lindsay said. “By the time I made it downstairs, there was already a lieutenant’s cruiser in our driveway, so I knew it was bad. You just kind of know that. It’s not good if another officer’s coming to get you.

“I don’t really remember who, but somebody told me he had been hit by a drunk driver and he was pretty critical and they were getting ready to load him up for LifeFlight. They asked me, ‘Do you want to see him before we put him on the helicopter?’ I was able to see him, but he wasn’t awake or anything.”

Cory was flown to Grant Hospital in Columbus. He suffered a broken pelvis, but that was put on the backburner, Lindsey said, as they treated his brain injury.

Some of Cory’s former Wittenberg teammates visited him in the hospital. It wasn’t easy to see a guy who was considered to be the best athlete on the team - probably the toughest, too - fighting for his life.

“That was the first time in my life that somebody that close to me had experienced something so significant,” said one of those former teammates, Brian Davis, who lived in Pickerington at the time. “It’s not about me, but it was very humbling. I guess when you’re 27 years old, you don’t think things like that can happen to you. It was very difficult to see Cory in that situation. Cory was a big, tough guy. He was on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was a police officer.”

Cory spent a month in the ICU on a ventilator. Then he spent four to five weeks at Select Specialty Hospital in Columbus. Not until the end of that stretch was Cory more awake and able to begin short stretches of physical therapy.

He lost his sense of smell because of the head injury. He has some double vision. Many of his motor skills were impaired. He uses a walker to get around the house and has trouble tying his shoes.

Four months after the accident, Abrams was sentenced to four years in prison for aggravated vehicular assault and one year for leaving the scene of an injury accident. He was released from prison two years ago.

Cory can’t work. He calls himself a house husband. He takes out the trash, does the dishes, washes the clothes, stays on top of bills.

“He’s a great house husband,” Lindsey said.

During the initial weeks after the accident doctors prepared Lindsey for the worst. They told her patients with head injuries can experience personality changes. They can be impulsive, violent, emotional. She heard tales of head injury patients taking off their gowns and running down the hall.

“I was already panicking,” Lindsey said. “How am I going to take care of him?”

Fortunately, Cory didn’t have those problems. He’s different, but in an easygoing way. He laughs a lot.

“He had a big personality, and he still does,” former teammate Randy Pore said. “His wife Lindsey may be the most amazing piece of this whole story. She does an excellent job and is very selfless.”

The accident sidelined Cory from his job as a police officer, a job that he says, frankly, he doesn’t miss. His dad Rick was an officer for many years in Lima, but Cory didn’t grow up wanting to be in law enforcement. He made that decision after college. He followed not only his dad but his brother Brandy, who was three years older, into the business.

As much as Cory’s life was affected by being hit by a drunk driver, he’s more bothered to this day, Lindsey said, by what happened to Brandy. Brandy was 29 years old when he was shot and killed while checking on a disabled vehicle along Ohio 423 near Marion on Oct. 14, 2004. Two suspects were apprehended later that same week. One was sentenced to two years probation for obstruction of justice. The shooter was sentenced to 40 years to life.

Brandy Winfield left behind a wife and two children. Cory wears a tattoo on his arm in honor of Brandy.

“He will bring up how he misses his brother more than anything he’s gone through,” Lindsey says. “You would think since you’re living it every day, you would get depressed about yourself, but his situation doesn’t bother him as much. Just the other day, he was telling me he wanted to call his brother to tell him about the (Indians) game coming up and couldn’t and that really bothered him.”

Cory today

Everyone loses touch with some college friends over the years. Cory and his teammates were no different. Pore stayed in touch more than others but admits they probably didn’t see each other as much as they could have once they both married. He visited Cory a half dozen times in the hospital and stayed in touch even after Cory and Lindsey moved from Marion to Huron to be closer to her family.

A year ago, Pore drove from his home near Mansfield, where he is a teacher at Clear Fork High School, to take Cory fishing. Last fall, he and Davis spent a day watching football with Cory at the Winfield’s home.

“We just knew he needed some special things to happen,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been easy for him and that whole family. Anything positive or fun we can bring to them is definitely worth doing.”

Lindsey appreciates the effort. She said Cory has come as far physically in his recovery as he’s going to, but she continues to see improvements in his social side. He’s texting friends more than ever before and knows the neighbors on their block better than she does.

“I think Cory’s co-workers and friends, it was just hard for them to see Cory down,” she said. “They think, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say.’ As the years go by, you hear from someone who says, ‘He’s fine. You need to go see him.’ Everyone’s come back around.”

Lindsey’s job is working with people who have disabilities and helping them find jobs. Even so, she’s in a different world, she said, taking care of her husband. Having the college friends visit gives her a break. She can walk out of the room knowing Cory’s having a good time.”

The Winfields are trying to turn Cory’s experience into a positive by speaking about the consequences of drunk driving to drivers who are court-ordered to attend intervention programs and at high schools usually just before prom season.

In April, they spoke to seventh- and eighth-graders in Lima. Cory told the kids he can’t forgive the man who hit him, according to a report in the Lima News and said, “Don’t put somebody or yourself through what I’ve been through.”

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