published Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Dalton State coach's light gets 'brighter and brighter' after tragic crash

  • photo
    Almost two weeks after his son's crash, Bo Redman was still waiting for movement from his 23-year-old son, John. On Sunday, Bo placed a miniature basketball in John's hand. And John, a Dalton State assistant basketball coach, squeezed the ball.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Alone in the hospital room with his son, Bo Redman placed a ball in John's left hand.

It was orange, like a basketball. But small, like a tennis ball, seated in John's palm. Dense foam packed its insides -- "a squeezy ball," Bo, 54, called it -- and the Dalton State logo was on the outside.

John Redman, 23, joined the school's basketball team as an assistant coach last summer. On April 28, he and his fiance, Brittany Huber, were driving from Dalton to Mobile, Ala., when Redman crashed his Lexus IS 250 on Interstate 85 in Meriwether County, Ga.

A Georgia State Patrol spokesman said Redman was driving too fast for conditions, that he lost control and crashed his car into a concrete bridge support. A coroner pronounced Huber, 25, dead at the scene, five days before her wedding.

Nearby drivers found John Redman unconscious. The impact of the crash ripped holes in his eardrums and snapped his head so fast that his brain rammed into an interior bone in the back of the head, cracking the bone. Blood leaked from his ears, nose and mouth.

Paramedics rushed him to Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, where doctors kept him in a medically induced coma. They told John's family that he has brain damage. Now they wait to find out how severe that damage is.

Bo Redman says his son has progressed this week, has shown signs of hope. But, two weeks after the crash, John Redman still doesn't know how much he has lost.

Doctors kept Redman sedated for six days after the crash so they could drain fluid from his head and spine. They began to draw him out of the coma on May 6, once the swelling in his head and back decreased enough, and for the next four days his eyes crept open -- an eighth of an inch one day, half an inch the next.

Finally, his eyes opened all the way. They were dead eyes, though, eyes that stared straight ahead, eyes that failed to react to the movements in front of them.

Around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Bo Redman stood over his son and a tangle of wires that feed John and clean John and give John medicine. Bo stared at the ball in his son's hand.

"Can you squeeze the ball?" he asked.

John Redman's fingers curled. His knuckles turned white.

The ball grew smaller, tighter, more compressed within his hand.

Bo Redman tried to stay calm. His son had moved once before, wiggled his toes, but that happened after Bo touched them. Doctors told him that was only a reflex; it didn't mean a lot.

Maybe this, too, was somehow just a reflex. He asked John to blink twice.

"And it was two long, perfect blinks," Bo said a day later.

He then asked his son to wiggle his toes. So his son wiggled his toes. No touching on Bo's part. No unconscious reaction from John.

On Monday, John sat on the side of his bed with help. And he brushed his teeth with help. He laughed and cracked a smile and waved when his therapist left the room.

On Tuesday, staring at his 18-year-old brother, Jesse, through iPhone's FaceTime feature, John gave a message in sign language: "I love you."

"I knew the light was coming on," Bo said. "Now, it's just getting brighter and brighter."

Bo Redman didn't find out about his son's crash until about four hours after it happened on April 28. A Professional Golf Association-certified instructor in Blowing Rock, N.C., Bo had switched his phone off after a long day on the course.

But around 11:15 p.m., for some reason, he decided to turn the phone back on. Soon after, he got a call from his middle son, Ben. Almost immediately, he was speeding down the road, driving four hours to Grady Memorial.

Bo, who cared for his dying father last year, didn't sleep for three days after John's crash. Finally, a nurse gave him a blanket, and he rested on the floor, under the sink in John's hospital room.

He said his son has always wanted to be a college basketball coach. When he was 14, he coached his 11- and 9-year-old brothers' team.

John joined the coaching staff at Spring Hill College in Mobile as a student assistant his freshman year.

"He's the chosen one," Bo said. "He's going to do whatever he wants to do in this business. I see this as a speed bump, a horrible speed bump. I think this will refocus him. He will be a better coach, a better person because of this."

This morning, John's family will move him to Atlanta's Shepherd Center, which specializes in rehabbing brain and spinal cord injuries.

Two weeks ago, GSP spokesman Gordy Wright said that weather was not a factor in the crash and that investigators did not know whether they would charge John Redman in Huber's death. On Tuesday, a GSP spokeswoman said there were no updates on the investigation.

On May 2, Huber's family and friends gathered for a funeral at Spring Hill Baptist Church -- the day before Redman was supposed to marry Huber, in the place where Redman was supposed to marry her. Seven women wore matching mint green dresses, according to AL.com. Bridesmaids' dresses.

Bo Redman said he isn't sure how much John remembers from the crash. He still can't talk. He doesn't know that Brittany is dead.

Bo isn't sure how they are going to tell him.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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