Montrose grad Joseph Catanese in ICU following alleged assault in Tempe

Joseph Catanese. 

A month after Joseph Catanese was involved in an incident in Arizona that left him with, his family says, a traumatic brain injury, two skull fractures, swelling and a fractured eye socket, a path to recovery is becoming clear.

The 21-year-old is making considerable progress, parents Mike and Angel Catanese said on Wednesday.

Catanese has left the ICU, his parents confirmed, and started therapy. Depending on how recovery goes, it’s possible Catanese can return to school next spring, something that seemed unlikely during his initial assessment.

“It’s unreal. It’s unbelievable,” Mike said.

“He’s recovering at an astonishing rate right now,” Angel said.

Initial assessment of Catanese’s condition made the road to recovery seem lengthy, due to the severity of his injuries. Catanese medically withdrew from his classes at Arizona State University due to injury, but there’s a chance he can return for spring classes if the next few months go well.

“He’s talking fine, he’s walking fine,” Angel said. “... he’ll be working on therapy for the next few weeks at the very least, then see about whether he’s ready for school or not.”

According to a police report, obtained by the Montrose Daily Press, at 11:57 a.m. on Oct. 23, officers were dispatched to Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital in response to a delayed assault report.

However, after speaking with several sources, including roommates of Catanese and hospital officials, officer Richard Couillard was not able to establish an assault actually occurred, the report states.

Couillard’s report doesn’t explain when and how the injury occurred, despite family initially believing it was an assault. According to the report, Catanese was out with friends Viraj Nimmagadda and Quincy Lyons, all at a house party around 8:30 p.m. After leaving the house party, the three went to Mill Avenue — an area with bars and restaurants — to have more alcoholic beverages.

Near the end of the evening, Lyons was separated from Catanese and Nimmagadda, who went to look for Lyons, leaving Catanese on Mill Avenue at around 2:30 a.m. When Nimmagadda returned to 6th Street and Mill Avenue, Catanese was gone.

Nimmagadda contacted Catanese’s roommate, Mason Hanson, to ask if Catanese had returned home.

Hanson said Catanese hadn’t returned home, but a few minutes later he reported receiving a call from Catanese’s Apple Watch. A still-unidentified male was on the other end of the call, asking if Hanson knew Catanese. The caller said Catanese was passed out in his cab and asked for an address to drop him off.

Catanese was unconscious and unable to wake up upon arrival at his house. He was brought into the house by Hanson, the report states. Catanese’s roommates were unaware of his injuries but later contacted the Tempe Fire Department after he was unresponsive for several hours. Catanese was eventually transported by the Tempe Fire Department at 10 a.m. to Tempe Saint Luke’s Hospital.

A written report from officer Daniel Johnson corroborated Couillard’s report, and found the stories from the individuals to be accurate with no crime of assault established.

A spokesperson for the Tempe Police Department confirmed the case is active and no further information is available at this time.

Angel said Catanese, after awakening from the incident, said he remembers getting separated from his friends and “being hit from behind with something,” though it is unknown whether an object was thrown or used against his person.

A GoFundMe fundraiser, started by Catanese’s cousin Stella Hayner, had raised $15,653 as of Thursday. Hayner also provided an update on Catanese’s condition in a post on the page:

“I am so wonderfully amazed at how miracles happen every day right in front of us. I’ve watched Mike’s amazing ability to heal over the years and thank goodness Joe has those amazing Catanese genes. He’s so strong and healthy, even this (a traumatic brain injury) wasn’t going to keep him down; his brain and body had other plans. He’s doing absolutely amazing,” she wrote.

Catanese will undergo speech therapy next week, Hayner added, which is a focus so Catanese can make a return to school.

Mike and Angel were blown away at the rate of Catanese’s recovery. The support, too, has been overwhelming.

“It’s an absolute miracle,” Mike said of the recovery and support. “I’ve been so blown away by the outpour of love, from the community to relatives around the world.”

Donations to help Catanese and his family can be sent to the GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/f/medical-help-for-joseph-catanese). At publishing of this story, the fundraiser had raised a little over $15,000.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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