WAUWATOSA — One of the two people seriously injured when struck by a speeding vehicle outside Festival Foods on Jan. 14 was released from Froedtert Hospital Wednesday.
Jeff Coopman, 53, of Union Grove, was discharged Wednesday afternoon with part of a leg amputated because of the crash. But his wife, Cheryl Coopman, 47, remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit and has lost both her left leg and arm.
“This has been a very difficult time for me and my wife,” Coopman said. “Cheryl’s injuries are extremely serious. We can only pray that she continues to improve.”
According to the criminal complaint and reports by law enforcement, at about 10:40 a.m. Jan. 14, a Racine County sheriff’s deputy identified a vehicle traveling north on Highway 31 at Newman Road in Mount Pleasant with a license plate that did not match the vehicle.
The vehicle, a 2001 Toyota Sequoia, turned north onto Newman Road. The deputy followed and activated the lights and sirens on her unmarked squad to attempt a traffic stop.
The suspect’s vehicle sped up and abruptly turned left into the parking lot of the Village Center shopping center, near the Kohl’s department store, 5740 Washington Ave. As soon as the deputy saw the Toyota turn into the busy area, she stopped her pursuit.
The Toyota reportedly continued past the stores west of Kohl’s at a high rate of speed before the operator, later identified as 17-year-old Isaiah D. Degroot, lost control of the vehicle and crashed, striking the Coopmans.
“I remember it all; I was never unconscious,” Coopman said. “I try to not to replay it; I really don’t. It’s horrific; something like this can happen at 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.”
“I think I survived a little bit better than my wife because I jumped,” he said. “I just had a split second to see what was happening.”
Extensive crash injuries
Dr. Marc de Moya, chief of trauma/acute care surgery with Froedtert, said that when Jeff Coopman arrived at Froedtert, he had a broken pelvic bone and tears to both kidneys. Because of severe muscle damage to his left leg, his kidneys began to fail. Coopman’s lower left leg was amputated at the knee to save his life.
“He’s been a real trouper through all this,” de Moya said.” He has obviously had to deal with a whole lot, the grieving of his own injuries and obviously dealing with his wife.”
Cheryl’s injuries were even more severe. She came into the hospital with significant injuries to her left arm and leg, which resulted in the amputation of her leg below the knee and arm below the elbow, de Moya said.
Additionally, Cheryl suffered significant head injuries including bleeds in the brain and neurological deficits, as well as bruising to the lung, rips in the liver and spleen and blood collection in her abdomen, de Moya said.
She also had broken bones, including rib fractures and a lower spine fracture.
After more than 10 surgeries, Cheryl remains in the intensive care unit at Froedtert, where she is minimally responsive, de Moya said.
“This is something that is going to affect her for the rest of her life,” De Moya said. “She still has a long way to go.”
Frustration with justice system
During the briefing, Coopman thanked the rescue personnel that reported to the scene, people from Festival Foods who assisted, the doctors and staff at Froedtert and the community for their generosity and support.
“I just can’t tell you how much that helps,” he said. “… I’m extremely grateful for the help we’ve received from everybody.”
However, Coopman said he feels a lot of anger toward Degroot and frustration at the criminal justice system.
“I don’t know how he was able to get out for his last felony he committed in November,” Coopman said.
According to online records, in connection with an Oct. 30 shots-fired incident, Degroot was charged with felony charges of discharging a firearm from a vehicle (driver), two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety as a party to a crime and a misdemeanor charge for carrying a concealed weapon.
At the time of the crash that injured the Coopmans, Degroot was out on bond, online records show.
“The bail was a meager $2,500 for what he did,” Coopman said. “I think our justice system failed me. I know it failed me and my wife, big-time.”
Degroot, who allegedly fled on foot after the crash but was captured, is facing 27 felony charges from the crash that injured the Coopmans, including two counts of hit-and-run, great bodily harm; two counts of knowingly operating a motor vehicle without a valid license, causing great bodily harm; two counts of first-degree reckless injury; operating a motor vehicle without owner’s consent; 18 counts of bail jumping; and possession with intent to deliver or manufacture THC.
Life after the hospital
Coopman, who was set to leave the hospital just after the briefing, said he looks forward to going home and hugging his granddaughter.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’d like to be closer to the wife, but it feels good.”
Coopman now hopes to get himself physically ready to return to work at Advanced Plating Technologies in Milwaukee, where he designs and builds electroplating equipment.
“It’s something I need to do for myself, but also, pending the miracle Cheryl gets better, she’s gonna need me more than ever,” Coopman said. “I’ll start there and see where I go.”
To contribute to the Coopmans GoFundMe accounts, go to www.gofundme.com/jeff-cheryl-coopman-accident-fund or www.gofundme.com/50g549k. Yorkville United Methodist Church is also collecting money for the couple.
“Right now, every little bit helps,” Coopman said.
“This has been a very difficult time for me and my wife. Cheryl’s injuries are extremely serious. We can only pray that she continues to improve.” Jeff Coopman, hit-and-run victim