By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — “He’s my hero, and he always will be.”
That’s how Janelle Cox described her 23-year-old son, Jesse Sperry, who was killed in an April 6 traffic accident. Sperry was the passenger in a car driven by his wife, 22-year-old Rebecca Sperry. The two were heading home to Noblesville from church services at Edgewood Baptist about noon, driving west in the 7500 block of West Indiana 32, midway between Lapel and Anderson. Rebecca, who was nine months pregnant, was scheduled to have labor induced that night.
The next few minutes completely changed the family’s world.
Their 1996 Buick Century was rear-ended by a GMC Yukon, now believed to be traveling 92 mph at the time of impact by off-duty Edgewood Police Officer James D. Foutch, 41. According to police reports, the SUV made no attempt to brake or swerve, and Foutch was allegedly high on hydrocodone and Xanax at the time. The 12-year Edgewood police veteran now faces felony charges for his role in the accident.
Over the past week, the family has been gripping with the duality of mourning the loss of Jesse, while celebrating the introduction of baby Autumn Marie into the world. Rebecca Sperry was airlifted from the crash site to an Indianapolis hospital, where she delivered Autumn Marie by emergency C-section that night. For the past week, the two have been recovering in separate Indianapolis hospitals. Rebecca was finally released on Sunday and was admitted to a rehabilitation facility.
On Monday, Cox reflected on the short but full life her son lived. Over the last week, something doctors and nurses told her further solidified the heroic portrait of her son.
“In the last moments, he knew the impact was coming, and he reached out to protect his wife and unborn child,” Cox said. “If he hadn’t, we might not be celebrating the birth of Autumn right now. I believe he died a hero.”
That account was confirmed by John Keefe, Rebecca Sperry’s father, on Monday. The new mother suffered several injuries in the accident, including a torn uterus. Keefe was told by hospital officials that if the tear had been any worse, the baby would’ve been ejected, and likely would have perished.
Both Keefe and Cox called it a miracle.
Cox wasn’t surprised by her son’s bravery. She said Jesse was always her spiritual center and a guide through difficult times, particularly as she battled cancer a few years ago. He met his future wife at Pendleton Heights High School, where the two went to senior prom together. The sweethearts were close to celebrating their second year of marriage when Jesse was killed. When he found out he would be a father, Sperry picked up a second job so his wife could stop working and focus on her pregnancy. Sperry would still find time to contact his mother and visit her in Columbus. She called her son a very devoted Christian.
Cox recalled the last moments she spent with her son.
“It was that Saturday night before the accident, he came over to have dinner. I knew he was really excited about becoming a father, but he was also really nervous. He was a strong, tough outdoorsman, and here he was, being nervous about a baby. I was picking on him about that,” Cox said with a laugh. “It turned out to be our last meal together.”
With the memory of Jesse in their minds, the family members have turned their attention to helping Rebecca and Autumn Marie recover. Keefe said they’re hopeful the mother and baby can be reunited this week as Rebecca continues physical therapy. She’s expected to walk again, but the rehabilitation could take one to three weeks. Keefe said members of Edgewood Baptist have been extremely helpful in guiding the family through the tragedy. On Monday, friends from the church were at the home painting the baby’s room.
“The church has been fantastic. Rebecca doesn’t like being alone right now, so some ladies from the church have been keeping her company,” Keefe said. “For us, it’s been tough. We’re holding up pretty well. The Lord has been gracious in sustaining us. Most of our time has been spent at the hospitals the last seven days, and we’re really tired.”
But Keefe said he was blessed to be able to hold his new granddaughter. Last week, he read some books to the infant as she recovered at Riley Hospital for Children. He said he was reminded of the time his daughter was newly born as he held Autumn Marie, whom he described as having her father’s nose and ears and her mother’s eyes in facial features.
“I just kept thinking about how precious that little life was in my hands,” Keefe said.
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How to help To donate to the Sperry family: • Visit youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/love-for-rebecca-and-autumn/160859 and click on Give Now. • Send a check payable to Edgewood Baptist Church, 3743 Nichol Ave., Anderson, IN 46011, and reference Rebecca and Autumn Sperry. More than $19,000 has been raised to help the Sperry family with expenses. Friends have set a goal amount of $25,000.