Tacoma man hit by alleged drunken driver loses legs, struggles to cope with injuries

Cortney Spencer, 29, rests in his room at St. Joseph Medical Center on Wednesday. Spencer was hit by an allegedly drunken driver earlier this month and lost his legs.
Cortney Spencer, 29, rests in his room at St. Joseph Medical Center on Wednesday. Spencer was hit by an allegedly drunken driver earlier this month and lost his legs. lwong@thenewstribune.com

Cortney Spencer had a mantra Wednesday as he practiced getting in and out of a wheelchair at his hospital bed.

“I’m over this already,” he said.

Doctors amputated the 29-year-old Tacoma man’s legs above the knees after he was hit Jan. 5 in Tacoma by a driver who Pierce County prosecutors allege was drunken.

“She’s caused me a great whole deal of dysfunction,” Spencer said of the driver. “In the blink of an eye everything can all change. Know that.”

Since the accident, Spencer’s been recovering at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, healing and preparing himself to go home, which his family hopes can happen in about three weeks.

But first, he needs to work on getting himself from bed to wheelchair, which is difficult and at times painful.

“I’m over this, I’m over this, I’m over this,” he reiterated after a particularly challenging swap.

He uses what’s called a transfer board to slide himself a from bed into the chair. If the board’s not positioned just right, it can make the move more difficult.

It’s also a harder move for Spencer because he lost much of the function in his right arm due to the accident.

A small positive in a series of terrible events: He’s left-handed.

Spencer said he doesn’t remember what happened Jan. 5. Charging papers against the driver give this account:

Spencer was standing behind his disabled Oldsmobile on East 38th Street at Pacific Avenue about 12:30 a.m. when 41-year-old Brenda Pleasants’ BMW crashed into him.

Police said Pleasants had the smell of alcohol on her breath, watery and bloodshot eyes, and showed signs of impairment during field sobriety tests,

Pleasants told police she was driving 30 miles per hour, saw the Oldsmobile and knew it was stopped in the road. She said she didn’t stop because “it happened so fast.”

After the crash she “was concerned about her cellphone and her purse but did not ask about the well-being” of Spencer, police said.

She pleaded not guilty Jan. 6 to vehicular assault. Her attorney, Charles A. Johnston, said the results of a blood test she submitted to the night of the wreck are pending.

“The injuries sustained by Mr. Spencer are horrible,” Johnston said. “They are dreadful, and Ms. Pleasants’ heart goes out to him. She feels horrible, as anybody would. But we believe that those injuries were the result of an accident and not a criminal act.”

Spencer said some of his struggles have been with phantom pain, a condition in which an amputee feels discomfort where a limb used to be.

He said he sometimes feels sharp pains where his feet were. At times he gasps or grimaces as it passes.

“I feel helpless basically,” Spencer said about his situation.

He wasn’t without struggles before the wreck. He was supposed to be going through proceedings for a December drug possession charge in Pierce County Superior Court, but that, among other life events, has to be put on hold.

It’s the mental part of recovery, he said, that’s especially hard.

“The psychology part about not being able to do anything that I want to anymore,” he said.

For the past year, Spencer said, he’s been working at a temp agency. But he’d like to find a job to earn him enough to buy a house.

“That’s hard to do now though,” he said. While he’s worried about paying medical bills and can’t work, a house isn’t a possibility.

But it’d be nice, he said. For his kids, sons ages 14, 12, and 1, and a 4-year-old daughter.

His oldest son plays basketball and football, and Spencer said he goes to games.

“I can’t throw a football with my son no more,” he said.

His children, too, have been grappling with the new reality.

“It was a struggle for them to even want to get close to me,” he said about the kids visiting the hospital. “They’ll hide behind the curtain and talk to me.”

When he gets well enough to leave the hospital, Spencer has another goal in sight.

“I would love to walk again, but that’s months down the road,” he said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

How to help

Cortney Spencer’s family is accepting donations online at gofundme.com/krkf6q6c.