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Former Duluth athlete, hit-and-run victim in '09, attempts suicide, mom says

Alex Balluff, a former standout St. Francis High School student-athlete who suffered traumatic brain injuries when hit by a drunk driver while walking along Duluth's Rice Lake Road last October, was struck again by a vehicle while walking near his home early Tuesday morning.

Alex's mother, Debbie, said her 19-year-old son was attempting to commit suicide when he jumped in front of a vehicle about 3 a.m. on a county road about a half-mile from their Oak Grove home, 36 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

"Alex told police, 'My life is so screwed up. I just wanted to end my life,' '' Debbie Balluff said. "He's very remorseful. He feels awful that his brain would have him do something like this."

At 3:30 a.m. last Oct. 31, Mike and Debbie Balluff received a phone call at their home from a St. Mary's Duluth Clinic trauma surgeon telling them that their son had been critically injured (when hit by a drunk driver) and they needed to get to Duluth as safely and quickly as possible.

At 3:45 a.m., Tuesday, an Anoka County sheriff's deputy came to the Balluff's door.

"My heart just sank,'' Debbie Balluff said. She didn't know that Alex had quietly left their home minutes earlier while she and her husband, Mike, slept. She said she thought the deputy at the door might be notifying her of the death of another loved one.

Debbie Balluff said that a woman motorist reported that Alex jumped out in front of her vehicle. The woman was traveling the speed limit. She stopped, summoned 911, put a blanket on the young man and waited until help arrived.

"We haven't talked to the woman yet,'' Debbie Balluff said. "We don't know who she is but we're very thankful for her and her quick action.''

The drunk driver who hit Alex last fall didn't stop. She later said that she thought she hit a deer.

Debbie Balluff said her son hit the windshield and roof of the vehicle in Tuesday's accident. She said he reinjured his brain but not to the extent it was in the first accident. His head is sore and he has bruises and scrapes on his body, but no broken bones. He spent two days in the hospital before being released Thursday. The Balluffs said they are weighing their options on what is best thing to do to try to ensure their son's safety.

The public information officer for the Anoka County Sheriff's Office didn't respond to a News Tribune recorded phone request for the accident report on Friday.

Debbie Balluff speculated that her son was depressed because his friends had returned to college and that's where he wanted to be. Alex is a 2009 honor graduate of St. Francis High School, where he was a standout on the basketball and baseball teams. He had been running on a treadmill with the goal of running the William A. Irvin 5-Kilometer race on Grandma's Marathon weekend this June.

Debbie said Alex and her family want to come back to Duluth because they consider it a special place, but that 5-K race is just a dream for now.

"We will never every forget all of the comfort, the shelter, the prayers and the thoughts we received from the community of Duluth,'' she said. "That is very dear to our hearts and always will be. That will never, ever change."

Alex has issues with mood swings and rage, his mother said. He's angry and bitter that the drunk driver who injured him received only a nine-month sentence, Debbie said, and she has been in the news recently for unsuccessfully attempting to get work-release privileges. At the woman's sentencing, Alex told the court that he wanted the drunk driver to devote her life to helping other victims of drunk drivers.

"It's just unbelievable how life can be so affected by one event,'' Debbie Balluff said. "Every night we go to bed thinking, 'If only somebody had driven this woman home from the bar that night' -- something as simple as that -- we wouldn't be where we're at.'''