Fort Bragg soldier, double-leg amputee, recovers after being injured by alleged drunken driver

A soldier's tells of his inspirational battle to walk again, and to live life on his terms.
February 25, 2014 11:35:22 AM PST
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has been home to Army Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Bruns and his wife Jenny since late 2012.

Each day, Bruns takes one more step. He learns one more lesson, and he's inspired by his fellow servicemen and women recovering from injuries sustained on the battlefield.

Bruns, a Special Operations soldier out of Fort Bragg, has been deployed nine times, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's very tough to learn how to walk again," Bruns said during a February workout in Walter Reed's Military Advanced Training Center. "Something you take for granted after mastering it 40 years ago, and then you start all over."

But the 42-year-old double leg amputee and partial hand amputee's injuries are not a result of war. They're a result of a drunk driver.

On Nov. 10, 2012 the Fort Bragg soldier was attaching his kayak to the back of his pickup truck in front of his Calamar Drive home in Fayetteville. Around 10 a.m., his neighbor Rhonda Renee Sutton Bryant would come speeding down the residential street at 45 miles per hour, on the wrong side of the road. Bruns was pinned between Bryant's hood and his bumper for nearly an hour.

"She didn't stop when she hit me," Bruns recalled.

An accident report indicates he'd been pushed another 60 to 80 feet along the road before coming to a complete stop.

"My left arm broke and dislocated just smashing her window trying to get her to stop," he said. "At that time, my thumb was hanging off."

It would take between 45 minutes and an hour for emergency personnel to extract Bruns, while the entire neighborhood watched, and held a hysterical Jenny Bruns back.

"His blood was all over the road. It was horrible," she said. "He looked like a dead man. I would have died if he had died."

"I could actually smell my flesh burning on her engine," continued Bruns. "I pretty much felt if I closed my eyes, I wouldn't wake up again."

Bryant, at the time a 47-year-old military spouse, would be transferred to Womack Army Medical Center, while Bruns was stabilized at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, before heading to Duke, and finally Bethesda, Md., where he spent months confined to a hospital bed before beginning daily rehabilitation in the MATC.

"He's a survivor," said Jenny Bruns as she gazed her husband in their campus apartment. It's outfitted from ceiling to floor for an amputee and his caretaker, and decorated by her pieces of artwork and his military medals.

Now the concern rests in the legal proceedings.

Bryant was only originally charged with misdemeanors serious injury by vehicle and driving while impaired, in addition to a driving left of center infraction.

The Cumberland County District Attorney's Office says it was initially unaware of the seriousness of Bruns' injuries, and had to wait to pursue felony charges until a complete investigative file reached the office from the Fayetteville Police Department. The police department had to wait until they receive Bruns' certified medical records. This was all completed five months following the accident, and Bryant would serve an April day in jail following an arrest warrant issued in March 2013. She bonded out for $10,000, but blood alcohol results did not return from the State Lab until July of 2013.

In turn, a grand jury did not indict Bryant on felony serious injury charges until September 2013, nearly a year following the near-fatal accident.

Jenny Bruns tells ABC11 that Bryant had been offered a plea deal that would have put her in jail for a few months, in addition to several years' probation, but a deal has not been cut. The family says it hasn't received an apology from Bryant.

A message to Bryant regarding this story has not been returned.

"Hopefully through all this, we can prevent senseless, needless calamities and tragedies like this," said Jenny Bruns.

The D.A.'s office estimates a trial for the 2012 accident is still 30 to 60 days away. In the meantime, Bruns, who is still active duty with his Special Operations unit out of Fort Bragg, said he is grateful for world-class care at Walter Reed, but he realizes his 22-year military career is over.

"I can't continue the way I want to continue," he said.

However, the family, including their adult son, plan to live a full life.

"I refuse to let my injuries dictate what our life is going to be," said Bruns. "I'm not going to allow that to happen."

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