Mike Cokins can run. He wanted to make sure of that before leaving his desk job in the investigations division of the Illinois State Police and getting back into a squad car to patrol Chicago-area highways.
But it still hurts. His lower body is riddled with 50 screws and nine plates that hold his bones and joint together, the result of the eight surgeries to repair 15 broken bones suffered when he was struck by a drunk driver while making a traffic stop on the Tri-State Tollway near St. Charles Road in the western suburbs on Sept. 6, 2014.
“‘Pain-free’ will never be a thing that comes out of my mouth,” said the 30-year-old Cokins, a Riverside native and 2004 graduate of Riverside-Brookfield High School. “At the end of the day, I’m happy to be alive.”
Dec. 6 marked 27 months since the event that changed his life. And on Dec. 1, he confronted the woman responsible for his pain, 61-year-old Leslie Thurow of Mount Prospect, in a room at the Maybrook courthouse, speaking to Judge Geary Kull and a gallery filled with Cokins’ friends, family members and colleagues.
Thurow, who wept as Cokins spoke in court, had pleaded guilty to aggravated drunken driving and failure to report an accident at a hearing two weeks earlier. On Dec. 1, Kull sentenced her to 13 years in state prison. It was her fourth DUI conviction since 2008.
Thurow’s car hit Cokins just two days after pleading guilty to her third DUI – in front of Kull, who sentenced her to probation at the time.
“It’s been a long time,” Cokins said in a phone interview. “It’s good to finally know that justice is getting served. I think she needed to understand how her actions affected me, my friends, family and co-workers.
“It’s not fun to see a grown woman cry with no family around her. It was a unique day.”
Those in court also got to see exactly what happened, and how quickly, that day in 2014 via dashcam video from Cokins’ squad car. He’s shown standing at the driver’s side window of a stopped vehicle. He glances right and an instant later Thurow’s 2004 Honda CRV sideswipes him at 70 mph, catapulting Cokins over the hood of the stopped car.
“I remember seeing the car coming at me,” Cokins said.
After that was a blur of pain and almost two years of physical rehabilitation. Cokins spent three weeks in the hospital and two weeks in a rehab facility before being sent home in a wheelchair. Doctors, Cokins said, believed he wouldn’t walk again.
But three days after the incident, Cokins asked to see the dashcam video and begin the road back. He was in a wheelchair for three months and on crutches for five.
“My goal was always to get back to as close to 100 percent as possible,” Cokins said. “Early on I knew I’d never be as I once was – that’d I’d never run as fast or jump as high or skate the way I did when I played hockey.”
Cokins spent 17 months doing physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and returned to the hospital for follow-up surgeries.
“I didn’t just do this myself,” Cokins said. “I owe it to all of the people who saved my life.”
Within 15 months, Cokins could run again. On Dec. 1, 2015 he was back at work in investigations – a goal of his, but not the way he got there. He says he wanted to earn a spot in investigations by making his mark as a trooper on the road.
This summer he was back in a squad car, patrolling the same stretch of highway where he was injured.
Cokins passes by the spot on his way home, every day.
“I say, ‘Thank you.'”