For weeks after a driver fleeing a state trooper slammed into his car, Connor W. Macklin lay unconscious in a hospital bed, his body stilled by a traumatic brain injury.
Even as the 24-year-old first showed some signs of recovery, no one knew if Macklin would ever be his old self, said friend Jillian Knight. Then he woke up and started to show his typical sense of humor.
“He’s still himself. And that’s just a miracle,” she said Wednesday.
Macklin’s survival has become the uplifting coda to a tragic collision on Sept. 9. Yia Her, fleeing a state trooper, ran a red light in Minneapolis and broadsided a car carrying Macklin and his friend Brody Sotona, 20.
Sotona, a budding musician, died at the scene.
The collision brought scrutiny to State Patrol practices, but a spokesman for the agency defended the decision by trooper Andrew Gibbs to pursue Her that night, saying drunken drivers kill more than 100 people in Minnesota every year.
Her, whose blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit, was charged with two counts of fleeing police in a motor vehicle in a manner that caused death or injury. He remains in Hennepin County jail awaiting trial.
The musician friends of Macklin and Sotona, meanwhile, have held a flurry of shows and benefits to raise money for their friends. The latest comes to the Triple Rock Social Club on Thursday night, said Knight, who has been the main force behind it.
“This is what they loved to do,” she said of Sotona and Macklin. “So it didn’t take much to say that to people and help them out.”
Macklin and Sotona were known in the city’s punk music scene for hosting shows at “The Shack,” a Dinkytown house where musicians could find a place to play or, if they needed it, a place to crash for the night.
Macklin usually took the role of event coordinator, said his roommate Paul Kettler.
“He just kind of made it up out of nowhere,” he said. “He made it happen.”
Macklin worked a day job as the aquatics coordinator at the north Minneapolis YMCA, teaching swim lessons and working with kids.
When some of them took a YMCA rap class and made the viral music video “Hot Cheetos & Takis,” Macklin was among the first adults praising it, telling his friends about the “awesome kids” he works with. “He probably showed that video to everybody he knows,” said Kettler.
It’s not yet publicly known how fast Her was traveling when he collided with Sotona and Macklin. The State Patrol continues to work on its reconstruction of the accident, according to spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske.
A friend from Michigan, where Macklin went to high school, started an online fund- raiser to help the family with expenses. In two days it raised $2,000. “The gist of it is everybody has kind of come together to do whatever they can,” said Jimmy Haydon. “It goes to show what kind of person he is if he’s getting this much love and support.”
In the weeks after the collision, friends and family members gathered by his bedside at Hennepin County Medical Center, watching for any sign that he was waking up.
One of the first came when his brother, sitting near his hospital bed, joked to someone else in the room that Macklin was a slow reader. Macklin couldn’t speak, but he made a hand gesture to show his brother what he thought of the joke.
“His big brother was making fun of him and Connor slipped him the bird,” said Knight. “We were all so excited. It was the bird heard ’round the world,” she laughed.
Once Macklin was awake, his family had to tell him about the death of his close friend, Sotona. “It was kind of like going through it all over again,” said Knight.
Macklin spent time in a St. Paul rehabilitation hospital, where friends visited him and helped with therapy or just charting his progress.
Macklin stood up and walked a short distance on Tuesday when Kettler visited.
“It took a while, but his sense of humor is coming back,” Kettler said.
On Wednesday, Macklin moved to a rehabilitation facility in Michigan to be closer to his family.
“He’ll get back into the Minneapolis music scene and everybody wants to see that happen,” said Knight. “The other part of [the Triple Rock benefit] is remembering Brody. He was one of the sweetest people you would ever meet.”