More than a game
John Redman and his fiancee, Brittany Huber, built a life around basketball. That life changed forever when Brittany died in a tragic car accident. This is their story.
DALTON, Ga. -- He doesn't really remember anything about the day -- from leaving his house, to swinging by Starbucks, to stopping at a mall in Atlanta so that his fiancée, Brittany Huber, could grab two dresses from Anthropologie. All that stuff happened; he knows that now. But John Redman doesn't really remember any of it, and he sure as hell doesn't remember the crash.
That's still true today.
And it was definitely true back on May 23.
By then John had escaped what amounted to a two-week coma that was followed by another 10-to-12 days of heavy sedation. He had eight broken teeth, 21 fractures in his skull, a broken jaw, five ribs broken so badly that they had to be surgically removed, and serious brain trauma to the point that he was fortunate to be alive, much less awake, not even a month after the silver Lexus IS 250 he was driving smashed into a concrete column supporting an overpass on Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Mobile.
All John knew, in a pain-medicine-induced haze, was that he was on his way to marry the love of his life, and now he was in a hospital for some reason. And, if you want to know the truth, the first thing he remembers is being mad at Brittany because he was lying in that stupid hospital bed with a trach in his throat, and, best he could tell, in that pain-medicine-induced haze, she hadn't visited even once, and that made him sad but mostly angry.
"I just remember being pissed," John said. "I was like, 'This is bullshit. I'm in the hospital about to die, and Brittany hasn't even come and checked on me.' I just kept asking my younger brother, Ben, about her. And, finally, that's when he made the call and said, 'It's time.'"
The doctors had instructed Ben -- and everybody else in John's family -- to never mention Brittany, and, if John brought her up, to change the subject and wait for him to fall back asleep. So that's what they'd been doing, and it had been working. But everybody knew a day would probably come when John would be just clear-minded enough to where he wouldn't let it go, and that day arrived May 23. So Ben texted their mother and told her, quite simply, that he thought it was time. Then she came to the hospital, and Brittany's parents and grandparents came to the hospital, and they all surrounded John's bed.
Mike Huber, Brittany's father, started talking.
There weren't a lot of words.
Through the tears, he couldn't muster a lot of words.
"I remember that moment vividly," John said. "Mr. Mike just looked at me and said: 'John, we're lucky to still have you. But Brittany ... she didn't make it."
Brittany Huber had died a month earlier -- five days before her wedding.
In that car accident. At the scene. Instantly.
She was 24 years old.
She would've turned 25 today.
Nobody was drinking and driving, texting while driving, speeding or doing any of the things that often lead to horrific accidents -- and though the weather was on the verge of getting bad on the night of April 28, it wasn't really bad in Newnan, Ga., around 7:30 p.m., when Brittany's life ended and John's changed forever. The official explanation is that a tire blew out like tires sometimes do, at which point John lost control as the vehicle hydroplaned into the median, where it spun and crashed into a concrete column supporting an overpass. The car was reduced to a mangled mess. Laura Mullins saw the whole thing.
"I was returning from a trip to Florida to my home in Atlanta, so I was northbound and they were southbound," she explained. "It had just started to rain. And I just saw the car fly off of the interstate. It just hydroplaned off and hit that concrete barrier. My instincts were to stop and run over. So I stopped and ran over."
She saw John first.
"He was bleeding profusely from every orifice -- from his eyes, his mouth, his nose and his ears," she said. "He was choking on his own blood. And when I checked on Brittany ... I got no pulse at all. I could tell from the look of her that she was already gone."
Laura gets emotional talking about this. She isn't a relative or family friend. She's just a lady who happened to pass that same overpass, from the other direction, at the exact moment John and Brittany's car flew into the concrete column. She stopped and tried to help because that's what any decent person would do. Then she found herself alone with two strangers.
One was already dead.
The other seemed on his way.
"I really didn't know what to do ... so I just took Brittany's hand and put it in John's hand, and I recited the Lord's Prayer," she said. "It was such a chaotic scene. But, in that moment, it was very peaceful, and I could just feel so much love. I didn't know, at the time, if John and Brittany were brother and sister, friends, a married couple, whatever. But I could just feel so much love between them. So I put their hands together and just waited for the ambulance to arrive."
John Redman had, this past April, just completed his first year as an assistant basketball coach at Dalton State, an NAIA school tucked about 35 miles south of Chattanooga, across the Tennessee-Georgia state line, here in the shadows of Lookout Mountain. He was proud of his job, the one Tony Ingle gave him, and the fact that the Roadrunners went 26-4 in their first season of existence suggested the two were in the process of building something great.
Like most coaches, John often wore his school's gear, and that's how emergency personnel identified him at the scene. They couldn't find his ID. They couldn't find Brittany's ID. But they noticed he was wearing clothes that said Dalton State Basketball. So they called the public safety office at Dalton State and asked if they knew of a young man and young woman with connections to the Dalton State program who might've been traveling south on Interstate 85.
Immediately, they mentioned John and Brittany.
Then public safety told the authorities to call Tony Ingle.
So they did.
"I answered the phone, and you know it's not good when they say, 'This is the Georgia State Patrol,'" Ingle said. "I was like, 'Holy mackerel.' It's one of our kids.'"
Ingle and his wife, Jenny, have five adult children.
"So I was getting braced for the news because I knew it must be bad," Ingle said. "And then the man asked if I knew John Redman. I told him I did. And then he told me that John had been in a horrible accident, and, at the moment, he was still alive, but ... And when he said but, I knew before he said the rest. And that's when he told me Brittany was killed instantly."
Ingle knew before John's parents knew, before Brittany's parents knew. He worked like crazy to provide authorities with the phone numbers necessary to inform next of kin, then jumped in his car and drove to Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, where John was unconscious and fighting for his life. Ask anybody connected to the family, and they'll tell you it's a miracle John survived, and it's beyond a miracle that he can, just six months later, talk clearly and coach basketball, which he's already back to doing.
He runs drills. He handles film sessions. He's back out recruiting. But he's still trying to come to terms with what happened.
One day he was living out his dream, coaching basketball 400 miles from his hometown of Mobile, where he and Brittany, also from Mobile, met while John was coaching her younger brother's AAU team. They started dating, moved in together, moved to Dalton together when John accepted the job at Dalton State, and they were literally on their way home to get married in front of family and friends. Life was perfect. And then, abruptly, life was ripped apart.
"Every morning, I read this," John said while pointing to a picture hanging on the wall in his office that's basically a reproduction of one of Brittany's final Instagram posts. She's standing on one side of some railroad tracks. On the other side, holding a basketball, is John.
The post reads this way:
"I have always loved this picture because it symbolizes our life. When I first met John, he told me his dream was to be a college basketball coach. Within time, I learned that it would be very hard for him to achieve it with me being very close to my family which he knew from the beginning since he knew my family years before he met me. He wanted me to know before we made it official to start dating in case we had to move. I didn't realize he saw the future of us getting married so early on at the time. In the picture, the basketball symbolizes him asking me if I am willing to help him achieve his dream which I of course accepted. Moving away from my family was without a doubt one of the hardest things I had to do, but watching John grow closer towards his dream makes me the happiest soon-to-be wife and our relationship grows stronger daily. Going home to our family is the greatest feeling ever! A feeling I never experienced until I moved away. It is a feeling of appreciation and Gods way of reminding me how important they are. I never learned this until I made the decision to move out of my hometown. I can't wait to ride on his journey with him and see what our amazing God has in store for us."
Brittany died the next day.
The elaborate wedding she had planned for May 3 never happened. Instead, she was buried, in her wedding dress, on May 2, after a funeral in the same church where she was supposed to be married. The same man who was scheduled to handle the wedding handled the funeral. Brittany's closest friends wore their bridesmaids dresses.
"It was sort of like a wedding," Tony Ingle said. "But it was a funeral."
Meantime, John was comatose and completely unaware. Again, it was nearly a month later before he was clear-minded enough to be told about Brittany's death, and it took another month before he was released from the hospital. He didn't return to Dalton State until early August. When he walked into his office the first thing he saw was a note Brittany had left.
It reads, in part, this way:
"I can't wait to see what the future holds for us. You are going to be an amazing head coach soon, and I will be right behind you every time you turn right or left. I can't wait to marry you in just over a month. We have come a long ways, and we have a long way to go. But as long as we know we have each other we can make it through anything."
"I found that note when I came back to the office after the wreck," John said. "It's tough to read that, man. It's really tough. It's really, really, really tough."
John's mother is Susie Redman, a retired professional golfer who won more than a million dollars in her career on the LPGA tour. She's now married to John's stepfather, Kevin Kirk, a reputable golf instructor who works with, among others, PGA tour members Patrick Reed and Jhonattan Vegas. So golf is very much a part of John's life, at least indirectly. And yet John never played much until recently, and he only plays now for one reason.
"I just need something to do," he said.
John and Brittany were so close that they barely made any friends upon moving to Dalton because they just worked and spent time with each other. She went to all of his games; he often visited City Park Elementary, where she taught second-graders, for lunch.
They were almost always together.
Now that's gone.
So John recently joined Dalton Country Club just so he'd have somewhere to go, something to do. He eats there most nights. He typically sits at the bar around others even though he doesn't drink because, well, you just look and feel a lot lonelier at a table-for-one.
"He's progressing every day," said Dalton State point guard Sean Tate. "He's a strong man."
Teammate Anthony Hilliard nodded in agreement.
"I'm just glad Coach has basketball to get his mind off things," he added.
Still, the distractions never last too long. John wears his wedding ring even though he was never technically married, and Brittany's ring, a beautiful diamond that once belonged to John's grandmother, hangs around his neck on a chain. He keeps it tucked in his shirt because that's the best way to avoid awkward conversations. But those awkward conversations remain mostly unavoidable because Dalton is a small southern town where people hear about tragedies like this, and, either way, when anybody meets anybody one of the first questions is always an attempt to find out if you have a family and career.
"It just happened again the other day," John said while picking at a plate of salmon at the country club. "I was here, and a man was talking to me, and he said, 'What do you do?'"
"I coach basketball at Dalton State," John answered.
"And then the man said, 'Are you ... Oh. ... I'm so sorry. I am so sorry,'" John said. "People just don't know what to say. Hell, I don't know what to say. It is what it is, I guess."
Consequently, the days remain hard.
John gets up in the same house every morning he and Brittany shared, makes the bed they shared, organizes all 12 pillows the way she liked and navigates rooms that are still exactly how she left them. Wedding presents are untouched, including a Big Green Egg sitting in the living room. Her bathroom is still her bathroom. Her computer remains on her desk. Her clothes are in her closet, a place John often sits and thinks.
"The smell of her clothes reminds me of her," John said. "So I sit in there sometimes."
Eventually, all of this will change, he's certain, if only because it has to. He'll move on, one way or another, the way folks do. But for now he's left with a lot of sorrow and too many unanswered questions. What happened to that tire? Why did the car crash into the concrete column on Brittany's side? Why wasn't there a rail of some sort preventing such from happening? Why were they even driving Brittany's Lexus? Why did he survive while she didn't? Why can't he remember any aspect of it?
Some, if not all, of those questions will remain unanswered forever, and John will come to terms with that, at some point. He's trying now. He's doing OK. The start of the basketball season helps. But he knows his life will never be what he imagined it being, and that's a difficult thing to process at any age, especially 24.
"I was happy and I knew who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with," John said. "Most people never find that person. But I found her. I had what most people spend their whole lives looking for. I just didn't have it very long. But I'm thankful I had her for as long as I did."
John said all this before traveling back to Mobile.
He's there today.
He flew there Thursday afternoon.
His family and Brittany's family have a ceremony planned at the grave, where they'll remember Brittany on the 25th birthday she never experienced. How John will handle it, he can't say for sure. But it's part of the grieving process, and he envisions something sweet.
"I'm going to put her season tickets for this season on the grave, release a balloon, and then I'll just go from there," John said softly. "It's tough, man. I loved her and I miss her. But I'll just say goodbye again, and then I'll just go from there. ... I'll just go from there."