OVID — Nurses and doctors called Bob Neil a “miracle man” because he refused to die in the Dimondale Rehabilitation Center following a 2018 mugging in Lansing that left him with a traumatic brain injury and in a coma for two-and-a-half months.
Miracle or not, Neil is now out of the rehab center and out from under a guardianship that saw most of his possessions sold off for pennies on the dollar and — most importantly — back at his home where he belongs.
Last week, Neil walked out of the Dimondale center without having to answer to someone else for the first time since the attack. A judge changed Neil’s guardianship from Mid-Michigan Guardianship Services Inc. to his longtime friend Tim Houser, of Owosso, and Neil is free once more, and doesn’t have to worry about an arrest warrant being issued for leaving the rehab center.
“I was scared,” Neil said of his feelings when leaving the center. “I’m not a religious man, but hallelujah. Thank God. Then it was like, ‘What now?’ But a friend is going to give me a George Foreman grill. So there’s that to look forward to.”
Neil’s troubles began in January 2018 when he was attacked by several men with bats in Lansing. He was left to die in a snowbank.
Doctors initially thought if Neil did somehow survive the attack, he would be in a vegetative state from severe brain trauma.
Since Neil has no family, the Clinton County Probate Court appointed Mid-Michigan Guardianship Services to handle his affairs following the assault. In such cases, the practice is common, and guardianship services typically sell their ward’s possessions to pay for the cost of care.
His court-appointed guardian had been so convinced he would never come out of the coma they signed a “do not resuscitate” order.
Separately, a conservatorship makes determinations on finances for the individual placed under guardianship.
“I came to and found out I had a guardian,” Neil said. “I was like what the hell is a guardian?”
Neil said his cellphone ended up in police custody and without his phone he had no phone numbers or way to contact friends who wondered what happened to him.
Some people thought he had died; others thought he had moved suddenly because his furniture and belongings were gone from his home.
Neil went through hundreds of hours of speech and physical therapy while confined to the Dimondale facility. His medical records from his stay include about 1,500 pages. He lost a significant amount of weight while recovering.
“I went from over 200 pounds to 105,” Neil said. “My arms were broomsticks. I looked like a Holocaust survivor.”
One of the men who attacked Neil was arrested, but was released on a personal recognizance bond. The suspect committed a similar crime while out on bond.
Neil has little faith the court system will provide relief even if the men who attacked him are eventually convicted.
Now that he’s finally out of the rehab center, the hard part is starting, Neil believes: rebuilding his life.
Neil blames Mid-Michigan Guardianship for much of the disarray his life is in now that he is out of the rehab center. The guardian, he says, figured he would die and tried to sell all of his possessions and drain his bank accounts.
Mid-Michigan Guardianship Services sold everything in his house, both his vehicles and nearly all of his professional photography equipment. According to an inventory of items sold at auction by Christy’s of Indiana Inc., the guardian even emptied his photography studio, located on the second floor of the masonic building at the corner of Washington and Mason streets in Owosso.
Looking around inside Neil’s photography studio, it appears to have been ransacked. Neil says, however, that Bippus USA, of Three Rivers — the company that took, packed and moved Neil’s property from his studio — knew exactly what it was looking for: valuable photography equipment.
According to invoices and documents from Mid-Michigan, two cameras taken from the studio, worth about $2,500 each, were sold for $130 each, along with many other items that were sold below market value. Other business records and personal items that likely would not have sold at auction were left on the floor of Neil’s studio, where they remain.
Several photos Neil had displayed on the walls of his studio were also missing, the outlines of where they once hung still faintly visible.
“They cleaned me out. I had a bunch of filing cabinets in there,” Neil explained. “They dumped the files on the floor, then they took the filing cabinets out and sold them. They gave me a list that looked like it had been done by a tenth-grader, and one looked like it was done by a fourth-grader in crayon. That’s what they presented to the court.”
Among the items taken and sold at auction by the guardianship were lighting equipment, camera lenses, shades, backdrop screens, computers, hard drives and USB sticks. One of those USB sticks had three complete books on photography Neil wrote and planned to submit for publication. He asked for them back, but Mid-Michigan Guardianship said they were either sold or cannot be located, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to find them. Several calls to Bippus USA seeking comment were not returned. Neil said the records he was given are incomplete and contain numerous omissions and errors. Some items that apparently were sold do not appear in any records.
Mid-Michigan Guardianship also attempted to sell Neil’s house on Meridian Road, but a last-minute intervention by Neil’s attorney Kristina Martin thwarted the move. Numerous calls seeking comment to Neil’s former guardian Karen Krueger and Mid-Michigan Guardianship Services executive director Bob Shaw were not returned.
According to court files from Clinton County, the real estate agent Mid-Michigan Guardianship hired didn’t even clean Neil’s house after stripping it of all his belongings.
“If they were trying to get fair market value for the house, don’t you think they would at least clean the floors?” Neil asked. “My grandmother’s cedar chest sat right there. You can see the outline of where it was on the floor. They even pulled out all the curtains.”
Neil said the real estate agent still somehow managed to collect $7,000 from the attempted sale of Neil’s home, even though the sale was stopped by a court order. Neil said he still hasn’t gotten an explanation for the $7,000 charge. He estimates the total value of his property and vehicles that were sold by the guardianship company at $40,000 to $50,000. When contacted, the real estate agent who listed Neil’s house denied any knowledge of the $7,000, and stated she was only involved in listing the property for Mid-Michigan Guardianship.
In addition to Neil’s property being sold, Mid-Michigan Guardianship also seized four bank accounts, emptied and closed them. The total taken from the accounts was approximately $1,800. According to documents filed in Clinton County Probate Court on Oct. 3, 2018, by Mid-Michigan Guardianship, they valued the property taken from Neil’s house at $13,628, and $4,463.50 from his business studio.
Also listed are numerous items that were sold below market value, including firearms, jewelry, fishing equipment, a grandfather clock, a wood chipper, rototiller, gas generator, lawn tractor, a duck boat, chainsaw and dozens of other items.
The guardianship also seized $11.83 in cash Neil had with him when he was first taken to the hospital after the attack.
Despite all the financial losses, Neil is concentrating on getting his life back in order, getting healthy and picking up, if possible, where he left off. He’s gained most of the weight back and says he is back up to around 200 pounds.
Neil thanked his neighbor and longtime acquaintance, Brad Behrens, for taking care of his lawn while he was recuperating, and for providing moral support throughout the process, as well as friends Houser and Dave Ward, who were instrumental in securing his release from the Dimondale center.
“I was brought up, if you can help somebody, you do it,” Behrens said. “God dusted me off, and I tell everyone I’m a vessel for his miracle. I never gave up on Bob. I always believed he would come home. And I understand myself how this goes. I had a stroke, and it’s not easy to recover.”
“All I know is I have three two-liters of Diet Pepsi in my fridge,” Neil said. “I don’t know what will happen now, but I’m grateful to be free. I’m thankful to all the people who have helped me out and went to bat for me.”
Neil said the experience has been one of the worst he can imagine. He worked in Nicaragua during the early 1980s as a photographer, cataloguing the atrocities committed by the then-government against its people.
“I was caught by Nicaraguan troops taking pictures of mass graves of the people they killed,” Neil said. “They arrested me, and for three days, they shocked me by connecting wires to parts of my body that, well, hurt to be shocked. Eventually they let me go. Comparing the two, I’d rather go through that again than ever have to deal with a guardianship. They shoved me in there because they thought I was going to die.”
Neil is not happy about his property being sold by the guardianship, and is considering legal action against Mid-Michigan Guardianship Services, and will be turning over all his records to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Neil has some advice for anyone who feels they’re being taken advantage of, and encourages others to never give up: “Don’t try to skin a tiger unless you’re sure it’s dead.”