Seriously injured Fulton Co. couple and their family thank community for support

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(NEWS10) — A Fulton County couple is thanking the community for their support after police said they were the victims of a drunk driver.

Brandon Lehr and Rachel Ortega were just starting a new chapter in life together. Each brought children into their relationship, and they were about to move in to a new home.

But a June 19 crash threatened to wipe it all away. The Fulton County Sheriff said it happened when a drunk driver cut in front of the couple’s motorcycle.

Brandon, a decorated and respected Gloversville firefighter, and Rachel, a hospital worker, were seriously hurt — broken bones, loss of skin from road rash and internal injuries.

Brandon’s fellow co-workers were actually some of the first responders. His mother, Kay, and Brandon’s sons braced themselves for the worst.

“It’s a mother’s worse nightmare,” she said.

Rachel’s daughter Alexia said they raced to get to the hospital and actually beat the med-flight with her mother on board.

“That’s all that was running through my mind was just the worst.”

Kay has stayed with Brandon at Albany Medical Center.

In between what would become several surgeries, she posted updates on both Brandon’s and Rachel’s struggle to survive. She also posted the bright spots, like when Brandon stood for the first time after the crash. There’s also a photo of the couple’s entwined hands when they were briefly reunited during a visit in the hospital.

But the road to a full recovery is expected to be a long one. Brandon still has an open wound on his right leg where he lost skin and suffered damage to ligaments and muscles. His jaw was broken in two places and remains wired shut.

“We are just praying that he will go back to his job as a firefighter. If anyone can do it, he can. But he definitely has a long road ahead of him,” said his mother.

Alexia told NEWS10 ABC that her mother is ready to return home, but she still has a long way to go in her recovery from several broken bones and injuries to her pelvis and bladder.

“She has so many broken bones. Both of her arms, her ankle and part of her leg. And her pelvis, because that’s what is causing her much of the pain.”

Their families said they could not have come this far without the support from their community.

Fellow firefighters have been busy outfitting the couple’s home for wheelchairs as they recover. There was also support from Woodward Strong, the organization started by local firefighter Josh Woodward and his wife after his battle with sepsis.

There’s a GoFundMe page, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars. And even small gestures, like when 10-year-old Sophia McConville held a bake sale as a fundraiser for the couple.

Kay told NEWS10 that if her son could speak, he would want to thank everyone who has been helping them.

“And he just wants everyone to know that he thanks everyone from the bottom of their heart.”

Rachel also sent out a recorded message of thanks from her hospital room which said in part, “Brandon and I are so thankful for our family, friends and our community that have gone above and beyond helping us and our family through these unfortunate times.”

The driver involved in the crash has not been charged. Fulton County Sheriff Rich Giardino said that with the new bail reform laws, investigators want to get the case together in order to take it to the grand jury.

He said he is hoping for charges of two counts of DWI and two counts of Vehicular Assault.

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