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Wesley Spires, Edgefield County native, survived a frightening and damaging assault in Augusta on Riverwalk in May 4, 2013. Ashley Solesbee was his date and she was injured also. Their story has been told in the media over the CSRA; however, this is the first time that this newspaper has attempted a sit-down, face to face with him since the incident. Our reporter Tiffani Ireland writes her experience in this interview. Ed. note
– By Tiffani Ireland –
A few days prior to my scheduled interview with Wesley Spires, I had the opportunity to run into him at the local rodeo. I watched as, unbeknownst to him, many heads turned to smile and watch the young man in the helmet walk by. Shortly after he was out of hearing distance, I noticed several of those admirers hurriedly turning around to ask, “ Was that Wesley Spires?’ Confirmation that they had, in fact, just seen in person the young man for whom so many of them had offered up prayers, was usually followed by, “He looks so good!” Their amazement at his recovery is shared by many who now happen to meet Wesley. Noted by one person as having united an entire county as nothing else has, Wesley Spires has become, although by no design or desire of his own, a sort of local celebrity.
Approaching the aforementioned interview, I must admit I was a little nervous. My anxiety stemmed from the uncertainty of whom I would be meeting. Of course I had seen that, physically, Wesley was making great strides in his recovery. However, where would he be emotionally and mentally? Would he be an injured man forever marked and scarred, both inside and out, by his ordeal? A young man who would be but a mere shadow of the one he was before the late night attack on the Riverwalk that left him in a coma for weeks and resulted in severe injuries to his girlfriend, Ashley Solesbee. As our interview began, however, I quickly realized the young man I had come to speak with was just Wesley; good old, live-and-let-live, country boy, Wesley Spires.
After being welcomed into his family home by the man of the hour, my husband and I took a seat opposite Wesley. While he sat with his right profile to us, since he did not wear a hat or his helmet when we came in, we had gotten a good look at the most prominent change in Wesley since his attack — his head. No longer rounded, the missing piece of skull that has yet to be replaced gives a concave look to the left side of his head. If he wears a hat or his helmet, however, you do not notice this change to his features.
The helmet he must now wear for protective purposes is not like that that a motorcyclist might wear, but rather one that is reminiscent of the football helmets of old, except that this helmet has quite a bit more protective layers to it. Due to the fact that a portion of his skull had to be removed because of the swelling of his brain, Wesley’s helmet will be necessary until his skull is replaced. Interestingly, doctors actually used the removed bone from his head to cast the metal plate that will eventually serve to protect his brain in place of his missing skull.
Looking at Wesley and quickly assessing the damage to his head and the fact that his eyes, ears, and mouth were unharmed in the attack, I comment on how amazing that is. Just mere inches in either direction of the bats that were used to assail him could have easily left him blind, missing an eye, deaf, or with a broken jaw. Wesley confirms that he suffered no hearing or vision loss from the beating. Finding a bit of humor in his circumstances, however, Wesley says he would not minded having his jaw broken. That way, he joked, he could have gotten his under bite fixed!
Taking it all in, I asked, “Do you realize what a miracle you are?” The quick-to-smile young man answers, somewhat shyly, “No,” but then changes his mind and adds, “I guess.”
After having spent a total 7 weeks trying to regain his life (5 at Georgia Regents Hospital and 2 at Walton Rehabilitation Center), Wesley happily announces he has successfully completed physical, occupational, and speech therapies and is off all his medication. Amazingly, Wesley says he was never in pain, even in the hospital where he suffered from head trauma, a broken hand, and battled pneumonia. He says the only pain he deals with now is from occasional, manageable headaches.
Also astounding is the fact that Wesley has retained all his memories prior to the heinous incident. However, and perhaps fortunately so, Wesley does not remember the attack. “I remember them [his attacker] asking for the cell phones,” he said but his memories of the events thereafter have been supplied by others. Those supplied recollections are not really his memories, he concedes, but they have helped him piece together what happened and make sense of the events. His first memory post-attack? “Uncle Jim cutting on the t.v.,” he said. I asked him if he remembers what was on the channel when he woke up. “A western,” he replied. Not a bad thing for a Westside country boy to wake up to, I comment. But Wesley quickly tells me he had to have the channel changed to something even better – Duck Dynasty.
Other than the obvious physical alterations, has the accident changed him, I wanted to know. To that, Wesley replied, “Not really.” “I go to church a lot more than I used to,” he said. “I don’t dip or chew anymore,” he added. That, coming from a country boy who has grown up in a part of the county where chewing and spitting is as natural for the guys as eating and breathing, is a big deal but not necessarily due to his wanting to become a better, changed man, however. Since he woke up, Wesley has had an aversion to tobacco. One of his relatives explained that while he was in the comma, nicotine was given to him via an i.v. He believes that may be why he no longer desires it.
As for the attack and it changing him, Wesley said, “It is what it is.” He asserted he is not going to change his life or how he lives it because of the incident. It has not caused him to live in fear. The attack will become a part of him, it was agreed, but it will not define him.
Wesley is also not shying away from facing his attackers. In fact, he saw them for the first time since the attack last week as he was in court for their arraignment. Each pled not guilty to their assault of Wesley and Ashley; a plea Wesley found hard to swallow.
Has he forgiven his attackers, I queried. “Yeah, I guess,” he responds. However, forgiving them and holding them accountable are two different issues he says. I ask him what sort of justice would he like to see in this case. Without hesitation, Wesley answered he would like to see his attackers “go to jail for a long time.”
When asked about his future plans, Wesley simply stated, “I don’t know.” He said his relationship with Ashley is “going good” and he is slowly resuming some of his lawn business work, although he is no longer certain if that is the business path for him. For the immediate future, Wesley is gearing up for what he hopes will be his final surgery related to the attack; the one to replace his missing skull with metal plates, which is expected to take place in October. After that, who knows what his future may hold. Wesley did say he has one specific future goal, however. “I want to fly,” he said. Fly? Actually pilot the plane or just take a ride, I try to clarify. “Just for the ride,” he says. Explaining that he has been told that with his metal plates, he will never make it past airport security, Wesley smirks, “I want to fly to just say I did.”
While he might not be flying any time soon, Wesley is planning on doing some running. A benefit 5k run/walk for Wesley will be held Sept. 21 at the Riverview Park Activities Center. (More information on this event can be found at Facebook: Wesley Spires Benefit 5K.) Wesley said he plans to run the 5K. “Have you been training?” I ask. To which Wesley just smiles and says no, he just plans to get out there and run. To that I say run, Wesley, run! Live, Wesley, live!
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