Basalt couple improving, but face long recovery after crash
July 18, 2008
BASALT ” A Basalt couple who were severely injured when an alleged drunk driver plowed into their vehicle near Basalt in May have come out of comas and started intensive rehabilitation, according to family and friends.
John “Jeff” Reese and Susan L. Grove are both being treated at Craig Hospital in Denver, which is dedicated to rehabilitating patients with severe brain and spinal cord injuries.
“Basically they’re making progress, but it’s slow,” said John “Jack” Reese, Jeff’s father and a resident of Aspen. He said their long-term prognosis for recovery won’t be known for at least two months, but they will be affected by their injuries all of their lives.
The elder Reese preferred not to discuss the specific injuries of his son and daughter-in-law nor the ongoing challenges they face. Both suffered extensive physical injuries, as well as brain trauma.
Reese and his wife Beverly said the prayers and support from people in Aspen have been vital for Jeff and Susan and their families. “This community is just wonderful,” said Beverly.
Jeff, 46, is an Aspen native who recently returned to his hometown and was working for the Marolt accounting firm. Susan was a nurse at Aspen Valley Hospital.
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Roger Marolt grew up with Jeff and was his colleague at the accounting firm. He said he visited Jeff and Susan at Craig Hospital last weekend and was impressed by their progress.
“When I walked into [Jeff’s] ward at Craig on Sunday, he was sitting at a community table, fully clothed, working a puzzle,” Marolt said in an e-mail interview. “He recognized me and the rest of my family instantly. We sat down and had a normal conversation.”
Marolt said Reese has some short-term memory loss, but works hard on physical, mental and emotional rehabilitation exercises.
“Susan joined us at the table [in a wheelchair] and she appears sharp, too,” Marolt said. “She believes she might be able to ski this winter and they tell her that she will be able to run again.”
Marolt said he saw Reese about one month ago and never would have guessed he could make this progress. “The visit was totally uplifting for me,” Marolt said. “I can’t really believe the progress they have made. Incredible!”
Reese and Grove were driving home from a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver on Thursday night, May 8, and were within one mile of their home in Basalt when tragedy struck. Police said Reese’s SUV was struck head-on by a Chevy Blazer driven by Oscar Canas Portillo, 32, of El Jebel. Investigators concluded Canas Portillo borrowed another person’s SUV at 10:30 p.m. after drinking at a downtown Basalt restaurant.
He crossed the centerline of Two Rivers Road in a place where evasive action by Reese was impossible, even if there had been time to react, due to a steep embankment to the Roaring Fork River. Reese and Grove were wearing seatbelts and their air bags deployed, according to emergency responders, but they were still seriously injured because of the force of the collision.
Reese and Grove were taken to local hospitals, then both airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center. Both were in comas for weeks. They were transferred briefly to another facility when they came out of the comas, then transferred to Craig when they could begin rehabilitation, Beverly Reese said.
Canas Portillo suffered a broken leg in the wreck and was arrested May 14 when discharged from Valley View Hospital. He was charged with two counts of vehicular assault causing serious bodily injury and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Basalt police suspect Canas Portillo ingested cocaine that night in addition to drinking alcohol.
Canas Portillo is being held in the Eagle County Jail. His bond is $25,000. He was scheduled to enter a plea July 16, but progress in his case has slowed because he doesn’t have an attorney. He applied for representation by the public defender.