Eight years ago, Danny O’Keefe nearly died.
That was in May 2011, when he and his older sister were brutally attacked in her Judy Drive home in Fairfield. After they laid in pools of blood for hours, they were taken to the hospital.
“The doctors told me he stabbed me at least eight times in the head and in all their years of practice, they had never seen such a horrible injury resulting from violence,” his sister said during a 2011 sentencing hearing for their attacker.
“Unfortunately, that was until they saw my brother Danny.”
James Terry, 51, the man that nearly killed them both on May 6, 2011, is almost eight years into a 21-year prison sentence on two counts of aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. Terry entered O’Keefe’s sister’s home in the back and attacked her that Friday morning, and when O’Keefe, now 35, went to intervene, he was attacked.
Both were stabbed in the head, his sister eight times and O’Keefe 19 times.
But O’Keefe’s story has become one of inspiration and survival since that day. Highlighted by the community’s support in a fundraiser that happened over the weekend and his recent completion of a fourth Flying Pig half-marathon, O’Keefe’s recovery is costly and difficult, but he has continued to make progress after one of the most notorious crimes in recent Butler County history.
The police investigation was one of the most intensive by Fairfield police in years. It involved hundreds of documents and nearly 100 pieces of evidence, and the work by investigators and prosecutors resulted in Terry’s guilty plea almost four months after the attacks.
O’Keefe, who was staying with his sister, also ended up with a mutilated right arm and was kicked so hard he sustained a lacerated spleen, according to police.
He is still fighting as he recovers.
May 6, 2011
Neighbors heard what one called a “blood-curdling scream” just after 6 a.m. on Friday, May 6, 2011.
O’Keefe’s sister managed after the attack to call her mother to say she was hurt, but she didn’t say how bad.
Her brother, Kyle O’Keefe, and father, James O’Keefe, raced from Loveland to Fairfield. They were in the backyard when police arrived after 911 was called.
O’Keefe and his sister had been laying in pools of blood for hours when police arrived at 2:13 p.m., according to police reports.
Kelly was half-dressed with blood-soaked towels around her, and O’Keefe was wearing a suit as he lay unconscious face down, barely moving and wheezing.
Stab wounds peppered their bodies. Most were to their heads.
Terry and O’Keefe’s sister had dated off and on since meeting in 2003 while they were law clerks in Butler County Common Pleas Court, but they had broken up for the last time six weeks before Terry entered her home through the back. Prosecutors believed that breakup was the motive for the attack, according to Journal-News reporting.
Terry pleaded guilty on Aug. 29, 2011, to two counts of aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. He was sentenced on Oct. 17, 2011, to 21 years in prison. He is housed at the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio.
The sentencing judge called the incident “upsetting to the human race.”
“I have to admit it is really hard for me to look at the defendant because what you did is so upsetting to the human race in general,” the judge said in October 2011. “It’s hard for me as a human to look at you because I just don’t see how someone could do that.”
O’Keefe has “made great strides,” but he has struggles every day, said his mother, Kathy O’Keefe.
“It has been eight long years since my son Danny fought the fight of his life,” she said. “He is still recovering from that brutal attack. He has come such a long way improving his quality of life. Much of it is due to therapies which are not covered by insurance.”
O’Keefe suffers from aphasia, which loss of ability to understand or express speech caused by brain damage, and hemiparalysis, which is paralysis of one side of his body.
“He works hard every day to improve,” she said.
O’Keefe had to re-learn to walk and talk. He continues speech, physical and occupational therapy in order to independently live, including work at the University of Michigan’s Aphasia Program, which costs an average of $28,000 for a month and isn’t covered by insurance. His annual medical expenses not covered by insurance are more than $80,000.
But the strides he has made has allowed O’Keefe to live on his own again, though it’s close to his parents and with his service dog, Zack. He also is driving again, his mother said.
Kathy O’Keefe said she and her husband, James O’Keefe, hoped their son would be able to work again.
“That day came over a year ago,” Kathy O’Keefe said. “He works four hours a day with other brain-injured people and then has enrichment therapy for two more hours. There have been so many kind and generous people who have helped my son. We will always be thankful and grateful.”
Family friend Betsy Shepherd was the inspiration behind the annual Power Ryde cycling fundraiser to offset some of O’Keefe’s medical bills.
“His life is not easy, but he always has a smile on his face, and he really fights hard against the challenges,” she said. “It’s a miracle, really, that he’s alive.”