What does L. Brooks Patterson remember about the accident that left him seriously injured Aug. 10?
"Not a thing," the Oakland County executive told Patch in a phone interview Friday, one of his first contacts with the media since the accident.
Patterson, who is running for re-election in November, will begin intense physical therapy Monday to begin to walk again, he said.
Seven weeks after being seriously injured in a car crash, Patterson spoke Friday about his injuries, his first year missing the Brooksie Way, and why he wasn't wearing a seat belt.
That August afternoon
"You always hear about amnesia and think, 'Well that's got to be strange,' and now I know," Patterson, 73, said Friday afternoon.
According to a report from the Auburn Hills Police Department, which responded to the accident at Opdyke and Walton roads at 3:59 p.m. on that August Friday, Patterson was sitting on the ground next to the front passenger door of the Chrysler 300 he had been riding in and was "bleeding significantly from the head" when officers arrived. He was conscious.
Patterson's driver, James Cram, was also conscious when police arrived and told officers he was headed eastbound on Walton on a green light when another vehicle turned in front of him.
Patterson said he has been told he was leaving his office for the day when the accident occurred. But the last thing he remembers about Aug. 10 was speaking at a breakfast at the Detroit Athletic Club that morning.
Patterson spent the first six days at McLaren Hospital in a semi-conscious state. When he awoke, he had pins in his legs. He learned he had been through major operations to repair a broken hip, leg, ankle, five ribs and both wrists. He spent a total of five weeks at McLaren; he was then released to a private location, where he has been in rehabilitation ever since.
His daily physical therapy routine consists of mostly weights and "toning" exercises. He has taken only "a couple" steps, he said. On Monday, he starts intense physical therapy to work on his lower extremities and begin to walk again. He will be taken each day to a rehabilitation clinic for that therapy. Before the accident, Patterson had been working out regularly with a personal trainer; he credits his recovery to that training.
On Friday, Patterson's voice cracked when he talked about his friend and longtime driver, Cram. Patterson said Cram's injuries are more serious than his own and that he has not been able to talk with him since the accident.
"This job should not have been a dangerous job," he said.
Seat belt remorse
Patterson was not wearing a seat belt when the crash happened. He was ticketed and fined $65 for the seat belt infraction on Sept. 18.
The seat belt in the Chrysler 300 was buckled behind Patterson's seat.
"There is no question I was in the wrong by not wearing my seat belt," he said. "This is how I rationalized it: on trips on the expressway where I was going 75 or 80 mph, I wore my seat belt."
But not on city roads, where Patterson said he was in a "comfort zone." That day, he said "I made that conscious decision to not strap on the seat belt."
Today, he calls himself a "reformed seat belt operator."
"I won't even go to the mailbox without wearing a seat belt from now on," he said.
Patterson said that if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or some other organization wants him to do a public service announcement, he would be willing.
Patterson does not know exactly when he will be able to physically return to his office. But from the location where he has been recovering, he said he speaks to his staff on a daily basis and maintains he is still running the county.
Earlier this week, Commissioner Craig Covey (D-25th District) said he and other commissioners have been "kept in the dark" about Patterson's condition and prognosis. County Commissioner Jim Nash (D-15th District) said Patterson does not have "a right to be totally private" in offering details about his medical condition. Kevin Howley, the Democrat running against Patterson, said he was frustrated that no debates have been scheduled in the race. Patterson is seeking his sixth term in office.
On Friday, Patterson called their comments "reckless and unfair."
"The timing really shows they lack class," Patterson said. "I understand politics, but I don't understand classless politics."
Specifically in response to Covey's comments, Patterson said "he was born in the dark and will die in the dark."
He said Howley is "taking advantage of the situation for his own political gain." He said Nash, Covey, Howley and other Democrats could take lessons from the show of support he has received from his Democratic counterparts in southeastern Michigan.
Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Conan Smith, Chairman of the Washtenaw Board of Commissioners, are planning to stand in for Patterson on Sunday morning and kickoff the Brooksie Way.
"I salute them for understanding the situation I am in and for putting the Oakland County Democrats in their place," he said. "We're all human beings."
Patterson added that he is willing to debate Howley.
That 'unknown liquid'
Anthony Prainito, the driver of the Volkswagen Passat that Patterson's car crashed into at the intersection of Walton and Opdyke, was charged with a misdemeanor in the crash. Police say he failed to yield at a flashing yellow light at the intersection. He pleaded not guilty; his attorney filed a series of motions earlier this week in district court.
One of the motions was about an "unknown liquid" found in a bag on the floor of the car that Prainito's attorney asked to have tested.
"It was mouthwash," Patterson said, laughing. "What could be more innocuous than mouthwash?"
Patterson responded to other accusations that have circulated since his accident. His medical bills and rehabilitation are being paid for by his own insurance, and there has been "no cost to the county" for his care, he said.
When the start gun sounds at 8 a.m. Sunday in Rochester for the fifth-annual Brooksie Way, Patterson said he will be overwhelmed with nostalgia.
The rest of the Patterson family will be there.
But for the first year since he created Oakland County's half-marathon event, Patterson himself will not. He said he is sure the race's namesake, his late son Brooks Stuart, will understand.
Patterson called his accident a "narrow brush with death."
"You don't come out of something like that without some sort of change," he said. "I've always had a very close family. No conversation ends with any of my kids without an 'I love you, dad.' But we're an even more expressive family now than we were a month ago.
"It was a real close call. It gives you a chance to reflect on life itself and on the fact that you're a tiny speck in the universe. It makes me think whether I have fulfilled my role and what I would do over."