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Bar Crawl

Bar Crawl is Indiana Lawyer’s new section that will highlight bar association news around the state. We try to include bar association news and trends in our regular stories, but we want to include more news from specialty and county bars. If you’d like to submit an update about your bar association or a photo from an event your bar association has hosted to Indiana Lawyer, or if you have questions about having your bar association news included in the newspaper, please send it to Rebecca Berfanger, rberfanger@ibj.com, along with contact information for any follow up questions at least two weeks in advance of the issue date.

Following a car accident in early June, a St. Joseph County deputy prosecutor’s life was dramatically changed.

Since then, Geoff Spiess said he has been overwhelmed with the amount of support he has received from the legal community, including his employer and the St. Joseph County Bar Association, which helped hold a fundraiser Aug. 8 for Spiess and his family.

That event brought in 400 people and more than $5,000, which he said was in addition to other financial and emotional support the family had already received.

The Mishawaka family – Geoff, a second-career attorney who was admitted to practice law in October 2008, his wife, Jennifer, and their four children – were returning from a vacation in Atlanta, Ga., June 2 when he swerved and the car flipped over when they were driving through Fulton County.

Geoff couldn’t remember what caused the accident, but police on the scene said he was likely swerving to avoid something in the road, according to news reports.

Geoff, Jennifer, and daughter Hayden were air lifted to Fort Wayne from the accident site. The other three children were taken to the hospital by ambulance.

As a result of the accident, Hayden, 15, suffered two broken ankles and a broken left wrist.

“She is out of her casts and is recovering nicely and is doing physical therapy,” Spiess said via e-mail Aug. 12.

Mallory, 12, suffered a cut on her knee that required five stitches but was otherwise fine, he said.

Taft, 8, and Tanner, who has since turned 6, were uninjured.

Geoff broke two fingers and suffered soft tissue damage and lacerations in his left hand that was crushed, he said. His thumb and wrist are still recovering, but he said those injuries have not significantly affected his daily living. He also had a skull fracture and internal bruising that he said, “seems to be healed.”

But Jennifer suffered the most injuries: She broke both of her tibias, both of her fibulas, her pelvis, her tailbone, her humerus, shoulder bones, and nose. She also suffered compression fractures in several vertebrae in her lower back. Her head injury involved bleeding on the brain. She also had numerous lacerations that were stitched and stapled.

Since the accident, a pelvic external fixator and metal pins in one leg have been removed, Geoff said. She also has lost weight and has nerve damage in her right shin and foot.

“But overall her body is recovering slowly but steadily,” he said.

However, he added, “her tailbone is ‘anatomically out of place’ according to doctors, but her original orthopedist and a spinal specialist ruled further surgery too risky.”

Beyond these physical injuries, Geoff said, “our biggest concern is her brain injury. She has had serious short-term memory problems and confusion/dementia, although we have seen encouraging improvement the last week or so.” 

Shortly after the accident, Geoff and Jennifer’s children stayed with Geoff’s brother in Cincinnati and returned home to Mishawaka in mid-July.

Geoff stayed with Jennifer in Fort Wayne for the five weeks she was there after the accident and would visit the children on weekends.

In early July, Jennifer was moved to a rehabilitation facility in Batesville. Since then, Geoff has visited her there every weekend, except the weekend of the fundraiser.

The children saw Jennifer for the first time since the accident the weekend of July 24, and again the next weekend, he said.

“Our next step is to move her to an in-patient rehab facility, hopefully in the South Bend area, or at least closer to home,” Geoff said.

As far as the help he’s received from the community, he said, “my reaction is to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I am amazed at the outpouring of generosity and concern from all corners. In the legal community, I cannot say enough about the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, where I work. People in the office took up a financial collection right away. People took care of all sorts of details for me. …

“Numerous members of the local bar have made extremely generous financial donations, in addition to contributing at the fundraiser.  And when I see people in court, nearly everyone first asks me how we are doing before delving into whatever business we have.”

He added his boss, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak, drove to Fort Wayne one Saturday to visit Geoff and Jennifer at the hospital.

He also thanked Tom Walz at Hahn Walz & Knepp for handling the donations and a number of related legal matters for the Spiess family. 

The family has had a Caring Bridge website for friends and family to keep up-to-date on Jennifer’s progress at www.caringbridge.org/visit/spiess. Neighbors of the Spiesses, Kathy Dempsey and her husband, Scott, maintain that site.

Donations are still being accepted for the Spiess Family Fund. They may be sent in care of Tom Walz, Hahn Walz & Knepp Attorneys at Law, 509 W. Washington Ave., South Bend, IN 46601, or by calling (574) 232-5988 for more information.

“I just cannot thank everyone enough for the tremendous outpouring of thoughts and prayers, along with the assistance,” Geoff said. “I am truly humbled and amazed by the generosity. People I have not even met have done very charitable things. I am so very impressed by how selfless so many people have been. I don’t feel I deserve it, but I certainly appreciate it.”•

– Rebecca Berfanger

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