Road to Recovery

Madison Regatta accident victims
struggle to cope with injuries

Madison’s Cutshall in rehab and responsive
but has a long road ahead, his family says

"It’s tough because he can’t talk,
but his eyes tell stories."
– Stew Cutshall, Chris’ father

By Don Ward

October 2011 Edition Cover

October 2011
Edition Cover

MADISON, Ind. (October 2011) – Laura Cutshall was at home on Sunday, July 3, with her 10-year-old son, Austin – 14 miles away from downtown Madison – when she got the phone call around 3:30 p.m. There had been an accident at the Madison Regatta, and her husband, Chris, a volunteer safety-rescue worker, had been aboard the tiny boat that was destroyed in a freak collision with an Unlimited hydroplane that had veered off course during a late afternoon heat race.
“I just broke down and cried,” she said. “I felt so helpless.”
Only minutes before, she had received a call from her mother-in-law, Nancy Cutshall, Chris’ mother, asking if she knew which boat Chris was on that day. Nancy was home babysitting and heard about the accident over the two-way radio used by safety-rescue workers. She did not know at that time that her son was involved.
But the news would arrive quickly for both women as the events unfolded that would change their lives – and Chris’ life – forever.
Chris Cutshall, 31, and two others – Michael Brand, 46, of Middletown, Ohio, and Angela Greenwell, 34, of Louisville, Ky., were in the path of the U-21 Unlimited Miss Lakeridge Paving, driven by 26-year-old Brian Perkins of North Road, Wash., and there was no escape. Perkins apparently had hit a wake and missed the entry and exit buoys of Turn 1 on the westernmost end of the oval race course, and he was attempting to cut through the infield to come back around to take the turn again.
But something went tragically wrong.
Perkins, running up on plane at about half speed, according to Brand, drove his turbine-powered race boat into a safety area of the infield and plowed right into the small custom-built, 8x16-foot, metal, open bow “barge” that the Regatta uses to set up the race course.
“The barge has no protection – just a large canopy, console and a reinforcement bar – or “butt bar,” as we call it,” Brand said in a Sept. 20 telephone interview. “There was no time to think about what to do or to even jump when we saw him coming toward us. It just happened too quickly.”

Regatta Crash 1 1
Regatta Crash 1 2
Regatta Crash 1 3

Photos by Don Ward

In the seequence of photos, the Unlimited hydroplane U-21 Miss Lakeridge Paving, driven by 26-year-old Brian Perkins of North Road, Wash., attempts to take Turn 1 at the Madison Regatta on Sunday, July 3, after missing the buoys on the first pass. But instead he cuts across the infield and runs over a small Safety-ResCue barge (Photo 1) manned by Michael Brand, Angela Greenwell and Chris Cutshall. Perkins’ race boat spins to a stop on the turn (Photo 2). Then Perkins climbs out of the cockpit and stands on the nose of his boat (Photo 3) while volunteer Safety-Rescue workers rush to the scene to retrieve their fellow crew members from the Ohio River. Cutshall is found unconscious and dangling from the back of the race boat.

Brand, an engineer by profession and Regatta safety-rescue veteran of 26 years, was at the controls of the barge. He was knocked into the water and in addition to a large cut on the head suffered two broken ribs, cuts to the thigh and heel, a bruised lung and injuries to his knee and hand.
“I remember the impact. The next thing I know I’m in the water. I took a pretty good gash to the head, and I must have blacked out for a minute because the next thing I know I’m in the hospital.”
Greenwell, meanwhile, was standing at the far side of the barge at impact and was tossed about 30 feet into the water, Brand said. She suffered several broken bones, including a broken femur. She was in serious but stable condition initially and later released on July 22.
The crowd of about 35,000 gasped in horror at the sight of the collision, then watched – almost as if in slow motion – as the bright green Unlimited hydroplane slowed to a stop at the corner of the race course, then turned around and drifted aimlessly in the Ohio River as rescue boats scrambled to get over to the demolished boat.
From the riverbank, it was hard for spectators to see anyone in the water or what was occurring. Perkins, uninjured, climbed out of his cockpit and crawled to the front end of the race boat. He stood there helplessly on the nose of the craft, helmet off, peering into the murky river water as if searching for any sign of life. Safety-rescue workers, meanwhile, retrieved Brand and Greenwell from the water. They then found Cutshall unconscious and entangled in the back of the race boat. His legs were dangling in the water but his upper torso was on the back of the boat with his left arm clinging to the upright, according to Brand and Chris’ father, Stew Cutshall.
“He never hit the water; there was no water in his lungs. He had taken the full brunt of the impact and he was still hanging on to the upright back by the turbine exhaust,” said Stew. “He got hit very hard, but he’s strong.”
Cutshall was taken back to shore aboard the rescue craft and then flown by helicopter to the University of Louisville Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where he remained until July 16 when he was moved to a regular room. He suffered severe head trauma, cuts to his head, a crushed right leg that had to be reconstructed with rods and screws, and fractures to three vertebrae and his neck, according to his wife. He was moved to Louisville’s Christopher East Healthcare Center on Aug. 4 to receive rehabilitation therapy.
But on Sept. 21, he came back to the Madison area when he was moved to Hanover Health and Rehabilitation Center in nearby Hanover, Ind. “We hope that by being closer to home, it will be easier on everyone and more friends and family can go visit him,” Laura said. “The more contact he has with people he knew, the better it is for his memory recall.”

Chris Cutshall

Photo courtesy of Stew Cutshall

Chris Cutshall, 31,
takes his first
steps Sept. 16 at
Christopher East
Healthcare Center in Louisville, Ky. He was
moved to Hanover
(Ind.) Health &
Rehabilitation Center
on Sept. 21.

Once notified of the accident, Laura Cutshall called Nancy and arranged to meet her in town so they could immediately drive to Louisville to be with her husband.That set into motion a chain of events that would result in weeks of waiting and prayers and local fundraisers and hospital stays for family members.
They waited until 2 a.m. the next morning before the hospital staff would allow anyone in to see Chris. “He was lying in bed with weights on his knee, a C-collar around his neck and wearing a back brace,” Laura recalled. They had rods holding his leg bone in place and screws to put his leg back together. Other than that, he looked perfectly normal – no facial scars or damage like I expected to see.”
Learning to cope with the aftermath
Chris and Laura Cutshall have known each other since they were teenagers. They graduated from Madison Consolidated High School and were together for several years before marrying in 2001.
Chris earned his carpenter’s license and is employed by Carpenters Union 631 in Charlestown, Ind. He has worked on jobs at I.K.E.C. power plant and helped build the new playground at Lydia Middletown Elementary School. Recently, he had been working on the new Madison-Milton Bridge just prior to the Madison Regatta.
The couple reside in a rented mobile home on 46 acres located on the eastern side of Jefferson County past Brooksburg, where they care for horses, chickens, dogs and cats on property owned by John Fenig.
“We are just plain country folks,” says Laura, 31. “We are home bodies and like to be at home with our son.”
Chris is an avid amateur photographer and volunteer fireman for the Milton-Brooksburg Volunteer Fire Dept. near Madison. He likes to play video games and is a very talented carpenter, say family members.

Cutshall with kids

Photo courtesy of Nancy Cutshall

Chris and Laura Cutshall,
with their son, Austin.

“Even as a kid he was always building things,” said his mother, Nancy. She says he gets his fascination for firefighting from his late grandfather, George King, who was a charter member of Madison Volunteer Fire Dept. No. 6.
Chris took several photographs while working on the Jefferson County Courthouse fire in May 2009. Many of his photographs are on display and for sale at two local stores in Madison – All Ways Pottery and Something Simple.
“He’s a very easy going guy and he has a talent with the camera,” said Jeremy Douglas, or “J.D.” as he is known to friends.
Douglas, 37, is a truck driver and volunteer fireman for Ryker’s Ridge Volunteer Fire Dept. who met Cutshall several years ago during fire-rescue training exercises. Douglas was on a safety-rescue boat with his wife, Brandy, down near the bridge that day when the accident occurred. He could only wait and listen to the events unfold over the two-way radio.
“I was stuck on the boat the rest of the day, so I wasn’t able to get to him,” Douglas said. But in the weeks and months since the accident, he has visited his friend in the hospital many times. And not a day has gone by that he hasn’t called Laura Cutshall for support.
“He has called me every day to ask about Chris – or if nothing else, just to talk,” she said.
Asked how Laura is holding up through all the turmoil, he said, “She’s a strong girl; she’s doing what she’s got to do. The whole family has been helping her out. She was at the hospital the whole summer, but when school started, she had to get back to work, so the family has been taking turns going to the hospital.”
Laura has worked in the lunch room and as a janitor at local schools and this fall took a new job in the lunch room at Anderson Elementary School. She and her father-in-law, Stew Cutshall, spent most of the summer at the hospital. Stew is a Madison native but now lives in Bloomington, where he works as a financial analyst in the student housing department. As soon as he learned of the accident, he and his wife, Donna, were on their way to Louisville that day. He has spent so much time at the hospital that he only worked at IU four days in July, he said.

Rescue Boat before

Top photo courtesy of Michael Brand;
Below photo by Don Ward

The Madison Regatta custom-made
8x16-foot “barge” is pictured before
the accident (above) and after the
accident (below). It was designed for
setting up the race course and as
a safety-rescue craft.

Rescue Boat after

“I pretty much lived at the hospital the month of July,” said Stew, 49.
Until now, the family has not discussed these events with the media. The only information has been released through Laura or Nancy Cutshall, or through an Internet website created by Chris’ stepmother, Donna Cutshall. The website, www.CaringBridge.org, shows some photos of Chris in rehab with occasional updates on his progress. But Laura said she thought it was time to let the public know what is going on and decided to tell her family’s story to RoundAbout.
“At first, I wanted to keep the media away and to focus on Chris and my family,” Laura said. “It’s not about the reporters; it was about Chris and getting him back.”
Laura admits that accepting help from family members – and in many cases perfect strangers – took some getting used to.
“I have learned a lot about myself,” she said of the experience. “I have always been the type of person who does things for myself, so I am not used to asking for help. But this time, I needed help.
“Austin has spent a lot of time with his grandparents and at relatives’ homes and has learned that it won’t just be us three at home any more. But my family has expanded immensely, primarily because of the volunteer firemen in the area.”
Both Chris and Laura come from divorced homes and have nine siblings or step-siblings between them. Family members from all sides have come to their aid, she said. “It has been a learning experience for all of us.”
Meantime, the Madison Regatta Committee organized a candlelight vigil at the riverfront on July 4, the very next night after the accident. At the Unlimited hydroplane race in Detroit the following weekend, the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club raised $2,000 for the accident victims, primarily through the auction of racing collectibles and autographed items.
On July 30, the Madison Regatta organized a large fundraising event at the Madison Township Fire Dept. that featured several bands, including guitarist Jimmy Davis. He is the brother of Madison Regatta President Crystal McHargue. The event attracted a large crowd and raised $13,000 for the accident victims.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, Madison Volunteer Fire Dept. Chief Robert Black organized a “Boot Drive” collection for the Chris Cutshall Relief Fund on several street intersections around Madison. Firemen from six of the eight local volunteer fire departments collected $7,400, Black said. His mother, Nancy, is dating a fireman and stood at the intersection of Hwys. 62 and 7 all day wearing a T-shirt that said” “Chris’ Mom.”

Chris Cutshall

Photo courtesy of Nancy Cutshall

Chris Cutshall is moved into Hanover
Health & Rehabilitation Center in
Hanover, Ind., on Sept. 21 to be
closer to friends and family.

“I have felt helpless throughout all of this, but this was something I could do,” she said. “And it made me feel good to see all the community support.”
In addition to monetary donations, she said her group collected a ring, a safety deposit box key and live turtle.
“We let the turtle go,” she said.
Rehab and recovery
“I was fairly blessed. Although I was beaten up, I came out of it fairly well,” said Brand. He was treated at King’s Daughters’ Hospital and released by 9:30 that same night. But he is still suffering from pain from his injuries, he said.
The others were not so lucky.
Greenwell spent three weeks in the hospital in Lousville, then went to her mother’s house to recover and only recently returned home, Brand said.
Cutshall, meanwhile, has a long road to recovery. But family members and friends are optimistic because they see many signs of progress in the weeks since the accident. But no one, including the doctors, know to what degree he will ever recover because of the brain injury.
“Within the first couple of weeks, he opened his eyes,” Laura recalled. “The next couple of weeks, he moved his left arm and head. He still cannot move the right side of his body. The C-collar is off his neck and he can move the left side of his body.”
He went back to the hospital from Sept. 2-9 because of bleeding on the brain. But he has improved a lot since returning to the rehab center. With the help of rehab staff members, he took his first steps in early September. He walked for the first time on Sept. 14. Other than brain stimulants, he is on no medication.
“He recognizes me and other family members,” Laura said. “He can write our names and answer a few questions.”
Doctors have told Laura that it will take up to two years for complete recovery – “to whatever degree he is going to recover to.”
Stew Cutshall says he was told that the dehydration of being on the river all day actually helped his son’s recovery because it helped reduce the swelling of the brain when he first arrived at the hospital. “They kept him in a coma for a long time at first to help reduce the swelling,” Stew said. “It’s tough because he can’t talk, but his eyes tell stories. He hears us and he responds to certain things that are said to him.”

Nancy Cutshall

Photo provided

Nancy Cutshall,
wearing a T-shirt
that reads “Chris’s
Mom,” collects money
during the eight-hour
Sept. 10 “Boot Drive” organized by local
volunteer firemen.

He says his son is tough and will make it back. “It’s just going to take some time.”
Nancy Cutshall, a social services case manager at Madison’s Salvation Army, said that during a late September visit with her son, Chris wrote her name and that he loved her.
“I see signs of progress, but this is not easy for any of us,” she said.
Meantime, the final report of the accident investigation being conducted by the Indiana Conservation Office has yet to be released. But a spokesperson from the office in Versailles, Ind., said the report is nearly complete and will be released very soon.
Madison Regatta media spokesman Joe Hertz said his committee members and safety-rescue director Buddy Gaw are not at liberty to discuss the accident with the media. He said the Regatta has tried to help the victims by organizing the fundraising events.
“You try to train and prepare for these things but this was such a freak accident, and you just never know what might happen at big events like that,” he said.
Meantime, the accident victims' lawyers on Sept. 21 filed two separate lawsuits against the Madison Regatta Inc., the Go Fast Turn Left LLC boat team, and the two sanctioning bodies of the race – the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series and the American Power Boat Association – for what they claim as negligence in failing to ensure that the course was "reasonably safe." The lawsuit filed in Louisville on behalf of Brand and Greenwell contends that the course was set up in a manner that did not effectively keep the individuals out of danger.
The federal court case filed in Frankfort, Ky., on behalf of Cutshall does not list the Madison Regatta Inc. as a defendant but lists the driver, Perkins, the boat team and sponsor, and the two sanctioning bodies of the race. The complaint for damages said Cutshall "suffered serious permanent bodily injuries, suffered physical pain and mental anguish, incurred and continues to incur medical and hospital expenses for the treatment of his injuries, lost wages and his earning capacity has been impaired."
In Cutshall's case alone, medical bills have already topped a $500,000, his wife said.
"We are not trying to get rich. We just want the money that is due us to pay these enormous medical bills that are piling up," she said.
"And we want Chris to come home."

• You may follow Chris Cutshall's road to recovery online at the Internet website: www.CaringBridge.org. Type in Chris Cutshall's name in the search feature. You may contribute to Cutshall's recovery effort by donating to the Chris Cutshall Relief Fund, River Valley Financial Bank, P.O. Box 1590, Madison, IN 47250. A fund also has been established at MainSource Bank in Madison for all three accident victims. Contri-butions are being accepted at all three bank branches. Or send contributions to the Madison Regatta, P.O. Box 341, Madison, IN 47250.

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