KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Kansas City, Kansas man hit by a Las Vegas drunk driver finally returned home to his Piper neighborhood Tuesday, more than nine months after the crash. There was a huge homecoming party there to greet him.
Supporters lined the streets Tuesday evening to get a glimpse of Tom Jochen’s return. There were lights and sirens as police and firefighters drove through Kansas City Kansas’s Piper neighborhood.
“I thought we were pulling up on an accident and then one of my good friends Denny said we’re going to escort you home,” Jochen said.
Home from a trip to Vegas eight friends in November to celebrate the 50th birthday of a Kansas City Kansas Police officer. Because of that drunk driver one woman never came home and some wondered if Jochen ever would either.
“I do remember being cut out of the car and jaws of life,” crash victim Carla Jadish said.
A speeding drunk driver, later identified as Abelardo Ricardo Perales, ran a red light t-boning the hired SUV they were riding in causing it to roll before they struck a light pole.
Shawnee’s Gina Artzer, 54, was killed. Two of the most seriously injured were husband and wife Tom and Jody Jochen.
“You just don’t imagine when you go to have fun and you come back what life changing events can happen to you,” Michelle Hereford, who was watching one of the couple’s two children at the time of the crash, said.
Jody had broken vertebrae, a broken pelvis, lacerated liver and punctured lung. Tom had many of the same injuries plus trauma to his spinal cord. The seven surviving victims started returning home in the weeks after the accident. But Tom Jochen was flown to Denver for wound care and rehabilitation.
“He’s our Piper optimist he keeps us all going,” Hereford said.
Tuesday, nine months later he boarded a flight home to Kansas City. As he saw everyone there to greet him he couldn’t hold back the tears.
“As I pulled into the neighborhood to see all the support it was an incredible feeling,” Jochen said.
As soon as he was out of the van, he didn’t make a beeline to see the new single story accessible renovated home his wife and two kids had to purchase. He zoomed in his wheelchair to see all his supporters.
“It’s just good to have him home and have his spirits high,” wife Jody said.
He pledged not to let his current paralysis from the neck down affect that spirit. He’s hopeful he’s begun to regain limited motion in one arm.
“The Piper optimism will live on. My optimism will remain for however long I live,” he said.
Now finally back home, the family says their most immediate need is an accessible van to get around. A gofundme account has been established.
Abelardo Ricardo Perales was sentenced in July for reckless driving and driving under the influence resulting in death. He will serve between six and 20 years behind bars.
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