Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Freeway Shooting written by Paul Nussbaum MSW

Why did I write this story? I was contacted by a journalist who works for a very large network. I did the usual background check and everything appeared legitimate. I agreed to share my story. I was asked to send pictures, along with any video that I had in my possession. Looking for pictures from the shooting, along with video tapes, was something that I didn't want to do, because I really had no interest in looking back in time and bringing forth painful memories.  

I would like to share some of the e-mails exchanged between the associate producer, Christina Heidorn, and myself so that the reader can get a better understanding of what really happened. I have decided not to reveal the e-mail address or the telephone number of the associate producer. In doing so it required me to edit some small portions of the e-mails. My correspondence with Christina Heidorn took place between January 30, 2007, and February 15, 2007.

Dear Mr. Nussbaum,

My name is Christina Heidorn and I am an associate producer with a television station. I am writing to you because I am searching for a man named Paul Nussbaum and was hoping you might be the right one. I am trying to find Paul Nussbaum who was paralyzed in a freeway shooting in California in 1987. Is that you?

I work for an investigative current affairs program and I am doing some research for documentary we're doing about road rage, which will feature that shooting incident as one of several illustrative examples. I would very much like to chat with you, if I have in fact found the right person.

Please let me know if I have and if you'd be willing to chat by phone.

Thanks very much for your time!
Christina Heidorn
Associate Producer, CBC

Hello Christina:

I would be more than willing to talk on the phone with you about this issue. We just need to agree on a time and to have a conversation.

Paul Nussbaum

Hi, Paul!

It was great talking to you today by phone. Thanks again for getting back to me and for taking the time to help us put our pieces together.

I'd be very grateful for any photos you could spare of view before and after the shooting, as well as the video. We don't need many photos, so even a couple would do. If you do have some that your home that you could send with the tape tomorrow, that would be great, as this piece is going to air next week, so are under a bit of time pressure.

Please use our FedEx account, so that the courier fee is charged to us.

Please include your mailing address so that I can return the material to you as soon as we're done with it. Also get you a DVD copy of your tape, as we discussed on the phone.

Thanks again for your help and please feel free to e-mail me any time, if you have any questions.

Christina Heidorn
Associate Producer, CBC

Hello Christina,

I am glad that I gave you my Gmail address because I never received the AOL letter. I did find the videotape and I watched about the first 2 min. of it. As far as I can tell no problems or issues with viewing the videotape.The tape looks very good and the high school did a very professional job with regards to the quality and content of the video. You do have my permission to use it in your story even though I haven't watched this video. I don't want to explain why I never watched this tape in an e-mail. I consider my feelings to be private and I hope you understand. If it's not too much trouble, can you also make me a video of tape #36 and, of course, #45, which you will use in your segment on road rage? I will also look for some pictures at my home but this is something that I'm not 100% certain I have in my domain.

I know that all of the pictures reside at my parents home.

Good luck! The tapes are going out tomorrow,
Paul Nussbaum 

Hi, Paul!

That would be great. Unfortunately, the package you sent has been hung up at customs at FedEx in Memphis and I will receive it tomorrow afternoon at the earliest, so any scanned photos you could send me would be very helpful indeed.

Thanks again for your help.

Christina Heidorn
Associate Producer, CBC

Hello Christina!

I am sorry to read that the package got held up in Memphis, Tennessee. I don't think my mom can get to Kinko's tomorrow to scan the pictures and then have them put onto a CD, which she did the other day. I will do the best I can to get the pictures to you ASAP.

Cheers, Paul Nussbaum

Hi, Paul!

I received your e-mails about the tapes, as well as your resume. Thanks very much for sending me all of this and the tapes. I look forward to watching them. As I mentioned before, any photos you would be able to share with us would be of interest to us.

I will let you know, when the package arrives, so that you know they've been received.

Thanks again for your help, it is much appreciated.

Christina Heidorn
Associate Producer, CBC

Hi, Paul!

Just want to let you know that the package just arrived, so no need to send any further photos. Thanks very much for your help, I'll return this to you as soon as we're done with it.

Christina Heidorn
Associate Producer, CBC

Hi Christina, Glad to read that the package arrived.

Paul Nussbaum

Hi, Paul!

I'm sorry that material you sent us didn't make it here in time to be included. Sometimes these delays at the border just can't be avoided. I'll have you tapes back to you as soon as possible. Thanks again for taking the time to pull them together and send them to us.

Christina Heidorn 
Associate Producer, CBC

Hi Christina,

I was disappointed that my segment on your story tonight on "Road Rage" will not be seen.


Hi, Paul!

I will be returning the tapes and photos to you as soon as possible and let you know once I sent them all out. So that you'll know to expect the package. Your story did not make it into the program, however, the photos and tapes that you sent did not arrive in time to be included, because of the delay at customs in Memphis, so we had to use material from other sources. I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that you story didn't make it in at all, that was not my intention. I meant only that your package of tapes didn't make it here in time for us to include that particular material.

I'll let you know, as soon as I've had your tapes copied and sent them out.

Best regards,
Christina Heidorn
Associate Producer, CBC

Hello Christina,

I did receive the package yesterday with my tapes, along with the DVDs. Thank you.

I was informed by one of our moderators on the CareCure website that I did briefly appear on your program about "road rage." Had I known that this convicted felon, who was drunk and carrying a loaded gun, would be extensively interviewed, I would not have wanted to have appeared on the same show, even briefly!

I don't believe we should give criminals a forum and an opportunity to rewrite history.

I appreciate your apology and I am relieved, along with being grateful, to have my tapes back.

Thanks again,
Paul Nussbaum

The network had only a two or 3 second video clip of me in which I never spoke. The video that they did use was not one that I had sent to them. I thought the use of this video clip for their investigative reporting made no sense! 

However, what I really found to be outrageous is that the shooter was able to tell his version of the shooting for five or 10 minutes without any challenges from the interviewer. If they had given me more notice they could have had the one-hour videotape of me that included two CBS news interviews! Also, I was available to be interviewed for this segment on Freeway Shootings. It would have taken the camera crew with the interviewer about ONE HOUR to drive to my home. Was it really that much of an inconvenience to interview the victim? Also, why was I mailing them videotapes and sending pictures of me before and after the shooting? This TV network was already filming some of this documentary in the vicinity of my home. Why not send one of their employees to my home to pick up the tapes and pictures? What happened to their journalistic ethics? I felt betrayed. I felt deceived. It felt like it was all a lie. 

I would like to call the reader's attention to the shooting massacre that took place in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.  CNN Anderson Cooper reporting from Aurora on July 20 stated: "Too often after shooting like this, the killer's name becomes well-known and months, even years later the killer's name is recalled, but the victims, the survivors names are not. I think that's wrong."

CNN Anderson Cooper, March 28, 2013: "We begin tonight, though, with new revelations in the Sandy Hook killings that claimed the lives of 20 young students and six brave educators. We should mention that we do as much as we can on this program to honor the lives of those children and those adults. and as little as possible to give their killer any kind of attention at all." 

On July 22, 2012, on the steps of the municipal center in the Denver suburb on Saturday night, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stated the following regarding the killer: "I refuse to say his name. In my house, we're just going to call him suspect A." Many in Aurora have vowed to deny Holmes the publicity they believe he craves by not uttering his name.

I would like to believe that Anderson Cooper of CNN along with the governor of Colorado has started a trend where media will try not to mention the name of the shooter or give these individuals who commit these wanton acts of violence an exclusive television or newspaper interview. We don't need to hear from them!

It seemed in my case what was most important was garnering the most eyeballs or viewers you can attract and the victims are just collateral damage: victims are victimized all over again. For the record, I have been interviewed by journalists who have been fair and objective. At this point, I decided that I needed to publicly tell my side of the story, including unedited video, along with pictures. Even though I found this to be an exceptionally vexing experience, the end result is the publication of my story. The readers can now judge for themselves.

Paul, Grandpa's friend Margaret, Grandpa, younger brother Scott

I need to state that it has taken me over a decade to recall most of the events on that tragic day. I will probably never be able to recall all of the details but my recollection of what took place afterwards is quite good. There is about one hour of video regarding some aspects of my story including CBS news. You will be able to view these interviews at the bottom of my story.

1987 was the best year and the worst year of my life. A decade of long distance, marathon running and weight training resulted in my physical health being excellent. In May of that year I finished graduate school at USC, earning my MSW, and thus achieved my educational and professional goals. In July of l987 I was the victim of a violent crime: a bullet fired by an irrational, angry, drunk driver as I was driving down the freeway to visit a friend.

The bullet entering my head left me paralyzed and completely dependent on other people for my most basic needs and, in addition, contending with daily neuropathic pain, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and spasticity. I need to state that our veterans who have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD take their own lives at a RATE of 22 per day or more (see CNN). Routine daily tasks (all requiring assistance) as simple as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, eating, and moving from one place to another, are now filled with struggles that only a few can comprehend. My problems now are monumental, clearly harder to deal with than death.

The following may sound like a premonition or a warning that led up to the shooting on the freeway but I am just recalling the facts. I am aware that I may be trying to make sense out of a senseless violent crime. 

In the early 1980s I was home from college on a Christmas break. Every year my grandmother would make the trip from New York to California by train. She was a Ziegfeld Follies Girl. During the twenties she did a lot of traveling by train because, frankly, she was afraid to fly. One night my mom and dad took Grandma to The Velvet Turtle in Redondo Beach for dinner. There were a few dimly lit steps down to the dining room. On the way out of the restaurant Grandma stumbled going up the steps and fractured a bone in her back. She spent about four weeks in a hospital and was then transferred to a rehab hospital: what most people would call a convalescent hospital.

One night I went to visit her and she was lying in bed and I was sitting in a wheelchair that happened to be in the room. Sometime later a nurse walked by the room and saw me sitting in the wheelchair. She was a Caucasian woman, in her late 40s or early 50s, of medium build. She looked into my eyes and I saw fear in her face. She said, "GET OUT OF THAT CHAIR!" loudly and then quickly left the room. I was out of that wheelchair in less than a second. I had at that time an understanding that she probably had a premonition or (another way to put it) a glimpse of the future. After this atypical experience was over, I never really thought about it again until I was in the hospital and recalling the events in my life. Grandma made a complete recovery, left the hospital about a week later and took the train back to New York.

In the mid-1980s I experienced a strange event that happened several times, just before I would set out on an eight to ten mile run. I would be in my running shorts and it usually was in the mid to late afternoon. I was always standing in front of my parents' home, and looking west. All of a sudden I would have this intense pain in the left side of my neck that would just about knock me off my feet. I would say to myself, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?" I have experienced a lot of physical pain in my life, but this was the most excruciating trauma that ever occurred. I would turn my head and look to the left expecting to see someone with some sort of weapon who had inflicted this damage to me. There was never any noise and there was never any person. I couldn't believe that no-one was there. It was like someone with a high-powered sling shot had hit me in the neck with a steel ball-bearing. I remember that my neck in that area would go into a temporary spasm. It usually took me about 5 seconds to recover and then I would be off on my run.

After my 8 to 10 mile run my dog Sheba would be waiting for me outside, wagging her tail. She was very excited to see me and realized that I had finally returned from my trek. I would look her in the eyes and say "Sheba, do you want to go for a walk" (she understood the word walk, along with about 10 or 20 other words) and her tail would start to wag even more along with her way of talking to me and we were off for another mile. One mile with Sheba was always an interesting adventure because she would need to do her usual exploring, and if one of our neighbors who happened to have a pool had left their gate open, she would dive in and swim a lap. Most of our neighbors did not mind if Sheba did a quick swim in their pools. However, a one-mile run with her could take 20 minutes.

Between l984 and l987 I spent the little free time that I had with one of my best friends, Jeff Brown. We sometimes went on 8 to 10 mile runs; most of the time while running we had many discussions about life and death, love and marriage, family, religion, geopolitics, graduate school, work, interpersonal relationships, and even one discussion about being in a wheelchair, all the while moving at a sub 7 minute mile clip. After our run, we sometimes headed off to the gym for a one hour workout with weights. In 1985 to 1987, I worked part-time at a psychiatric hospital while attending graduate school at USC full-time. In those two years, Jeff moved up to Northern California and started an MBA program at Stanford.

July l8, l987, started off as any typical day in my life. I was looking forward to visiting Jeff, and participating in a barbecue at his new home in Costa Mesa. I don't recall everything that occurred before I left to visit Jeff on that day. When I started driving on the freeway, I was feeling normal, content, strong, in control, and I was glad that graduate school was over. I think my sister was out of town because she had asked me if I could water her plants on my way down to see Jeff.

If I did water her plants, nothing unusual at that point had occurred. I had started my journey on the 110 (Harbor Freeway) heading north and then I got off on the 405 (San Diego Freeway) heading south. I remember that I was in the left lane (which is the fast lane) and I started to feel out of sorts. While I was driving, I felt very light-headed. Also I was feeling above my body but not having an out of body experience. Not a good feeling. I recall thinking about freeway shootings for some unknown reason and this was rather disturbing. The thoughts of freeway shootings went on for about five minutes. Then, I had this foreboding feeling or presence telling me that I was going to be shot. So now I had a voice in my head telling me I was going to be shot over and over again and this went on for about 10 minutes. The voice then got louder and said "YOU ARE GOING TO BE SHOT!" While this mantra continued, "YOU ARE GOING TO BE SHOT," I really became concerned or scared because I didn't believe I was in complete control of the car while driving on the freeway. I am not a very religious or spiritual person so I had never felt anything that was as powerful as this before.

Maybe most people would have pulled over and gotten off the freeway right away. I think I kept driving because of my life's experiences. Every marathon I have ever run, I have finished. I also had just completed graduate school at USC. I had programmed myself to finish any event or goal no matter how big or how small. It was just not really in me to quit or pull over and stop.

Eventually, this ordeal that seemed to last for at least 15 or 20 minutes began to somewhat subside but I think I was still feeling a little dazed. I had to exit the 405 Freeway and connect with another freeway heading south. I was not familiar with the freeway and this was the first time I had traveled to Jeff's new home. I remember looking at the directions to Jeff's home and recalling that the traffic seemed rather heavy. I tried to merge from one freeway to another. Between the voice in my head, still feeling out of sorts, and not being too familiar with the area, I had made a decision to pull off to the shoulder of the freeway, look at the map and put the car in Park. About 5 to 6 months later I met with the assistant D.A. and he asked me in my hospital room, how fast did I think I was traveling? I told him that I thought my speed was about 45 miles per hour. He looked at me and didn't say anything. I then asked him how fast I had been driving. He answered "2 to 3 miles an hour."

Before I was able to carry out my plan to pull over and put the car in park, I had been shot. I never heard the sound of a gun. I never felt what hit me. A bullet does that. The small lead projectile moves faster than the speed of sound. It shocks and deadens tissue as it crushes anything in its path. The bullet struck just below my left ear. It shattered the spinous process at cervical 2. The shock wave was so powerful that it started to shut down my central nervous system. The information that had traveled up and down the spinal cord which allowed me to sit, run, go to the bathroom, and breathe had been disrupted. When the spinal cord is damaged, the highway is essentially closed! Nerve impulses can't get through. When the spinal cord is injured, the early trauma causes cell damage, destruction, and triggers a cascade of events that spread around the injury site impacting a number of different cells. Axons are crushed and torn. The nerve cells that make up the insulating myelin sheath around the axons begin to die. Exposed axons degenerate, the connection between neurons is disrupted, the flow of information between the brain and spinal cord is blocked. This results in paralysis.

I never saw the shooter or the vehicle he was driving. All I remember is slowly losing control of the car while I was thinking “DON'T LOSE CONTROL; DON'T BLACKOUT, DON'T LOSE CONSCIOUSNESS.” I remember hitting at least one car with a girl passenger in it. She was probably about 11 years old. She looked scared and, if I could read her lips, she probably was saying, “What are you doing?” She also probably thought that I was out of my mind which, to a certain degree, was correct. My sense of hearing was replaced by a low humming noise in my head. I had lost complete control of my body. Everything went completely black. The next thing I recall is floating out of my body which had fallen over to the passenger seat. I lay motionless. My sunglasses had fallen off my face. My eyes were open. I was not breathing. I was close to death. I watched a civilian come over to my car. He asked me if I was all right. He started to put me back up in my seat. I tried to tell him, while I was watching all of this, not to move me. He did anyway and sat me up. I fell right back over to the passenger seat. He walked away.

I remember briefly regaining consciousness when being driven by the paramedics to the trauma center. The paramedic spoke to me but I do not recall his words. Whatever he said was meant to ease my mind.

The painful situation that I had sometimes had at my parents' house just before I would set out on my run seemed to line up exactly as the shooting had, and it seemed to be about the same time of day. What was different was the direction I was facing. At my parents' house I was always looking west. This time I was looking and facing south and sitting down instead of standing.

When I was in the Trauma Center at Fountain Valley Hospital in California, I was quite clear and lucid in my mind but I still did not know what had happened to me until someone in the ER room said, "He was shot on the freeway and I think it's time to get out of here and move up to Northern California." When I was on the ER table I could not talk and I was in a lot of physical pain. All I wanted was to get off this hard table and into a comfortable bed. I knew that I was seriously injured and I kept thinking to myself "This is 'big time'." I was concerned about my parents and how they would deal with this situation. I was also thinking about the barbecue and how I would get a message to Jeff Brown and tell him I wouldn't be coming.

That evening I became psychotic. (This would happen on more than one occasion.) I was not oriented to person, place, or time. I thought that I was half human and half robot. I also thought that I was in the back of Hughes' Supermarket sucking on lemon popsicles. I had this intense craving for anything lemon; it could have been lemonade or anything else made out of lemons. I couldn't talk because there were tubes down my throat but if I could have talked, I would have told the nurse to bring me a lot of lemonade or a lemon popsicle. I know that I was hooked up to IVs and various life-support systems. Since I could not talk, drink, or eat, the only thing that could go on my lips or in my mouth was a moist sponge on a stick. While the nurse was pacifying me with this sponge on a stick, I could have sworn it was a lemon popsicle. In retrospect I understand that it is not unusual to become somewhat psychotic or schizophrenic while in ICU or the Trauma Center. My mom told me later on that when my grandfather was dying, he had a craving for a perfectly red ripe tomato with salt, Italian lemon ice and the best steak in town. My mom had to drive around to different stores and roadside farms in Florida to fulfill my grandfather's request. My Mom was able to find these items and bring them to my grandfather. About twelve hours later, my grandfather was gone.

In ICU at Fountain Valley Hospital I couldn't talk. I had to use an alphabet chart and make a noise with my mouth when they came to the right letter. Then I would spell out the sentence. After a while we refined the technique somewhat by abbreviating words that I would use often, such as, SOB, which meant Short Of Breath. Some of the nurses were quite good at reading lips and this made my life a little easier. At one time I think I had about eleven doctors who all had different specialties. I was in ICU hooked up to life-support equipment and couldn't talk for almost four months. Dr. Johnson was the psychiatrist for me and my family. He could read lips well and did not want to use the alphabet chart with me. Ninety-five percent of the time, there was no need to use the chart. When I was in ICU it almost felt as though time stood still. One second would seem like an hour. One hour seemed like 24 hours and I did not know the difference between night and day.

The Elizabeth Kubler Ross model on Death and Dying, and the five stages of grief are as follows: First stage is Denial, Second stage is Anger, Third stage is Bargaining, Fourth stage is Depression, and Fifth stage is Acceptance.

My weight had gone from 160 pounds of muscle down to 113 pounds. I was in constant pain and discomfort with no relief. I was starting to have organ failure. I also had pneumonia. My temperature would go up to 105° five times a day. I was near death. I decided I had had enough. I was ready to die. I talked to my primary physician, Dr. Mohanty because I wanted his help to end this suffering. He sat down on my bed. He said in a year from now if I still felt the same way he would help me end my life. He went on to say, if some man had done this to his son, he would kill him by in effect torturing him to death, slowly. Finally, he admitted that he would go home at night and pray that I would die. His words did bring me some measure of comfort. He was being honest, compassionate and sincere.

Before I continue with my story, I will try to incorporate my conversations about death, dreams, tennis and dealing with paralysis with UCLA professor, psychiatrist and author Dr. Arnold Beisser. He told me that he would have a recurring dream where he would show up at the tennis court, ready to play, but something would be missing such as a tennis racquet. Before his paralysis he played tennis for Stanford University. He also asked me about Pete Sampras because I had played against him when he was a junior (see The Two Petes, by Paul Nussbaum). In one conversation I asked him if he ever thought about suicide. He chuckled and said, "Every day." I also got to know Dr. Jack Kevorkian. No topic was off limits with Jack. He let me question him about his personal life. Before his segment aired on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace, I told him that he thought he should move from Michigan to Oregon where physician assisted suicide was legal. Unfortunately, I thought he was wrongly convicted and sentenced to prison. He was a doctor ahead of his time.  

My parents came to visit me every day along with my brother and sister. My professors came from USC as well as some of my classmates including my college friends, Jeff Clark, Jeff Stafford, Laura Karg, Chris Pike, Annette Smith, Charlotte Gilmore, etc. My professor and good friend from Sonoma State University, Stashu Geurtsen, and his wife, Karen, flew down and they stayed by my side for first critical month. Jill Gottlieb, my classmate from USC graduate school, came almost daily for nine months. Dr. David Viscott would talk to my mom over the phone and even helped to find the best neurosurgeon to remove the bullet lodged in my neck. I was surprised when a nurse stated to me that I might not want to watch TV because I was all over the news. Watching TV didn't really help very much but I did like watching golf or baseball primarily due to the green grass and the change of scenery. The support from my family and friends was important for my mental health but some of them did lose it (although not in my presence) after they saw me hooked up to life-support systems and a rotating bed.

I was discharged from the ICU at Fountain Valley Hospital to start rehab at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. However, the transfer may have been just too much for my body to handle. While at Fountain Valley Hospital, I had been off the ventilator for two weeks. I was checked into the Rehab unit at Long Beach Memorial, but that evening I was transferred to the ICU, and I was back on the ventilator. While on the ventilator, Dr. Ken Parsons wanted to do a test to see if my phrenic nerve was paralyzed. If it was paralyzed, he planned to have a phrenic nerve pacemaker surgically implanted. This pacer would never allow me to be completely free of the ventilator. I told him that my phrenic nerve may be paralyzed now but it could recover later. Also, in Fountain Valley Hospital, I had been off the ventilator for two weeks. I refused to take the test. After about two months, I was able to completely wean myself off the ventilator.

On November 2, 1987, I left the ICU and was transferred to the Rehab unit to begin physical and occupational therapy. After about four months at Long Beach Memorial, the doctor (Dr. Ken Parsons) told me it was time to move on (go home)! This doctor really never liked me or my family. I strongly disagreed with this doctor. I told him that I needed much more supervised physical therapy. The doctor insisted. My insurance limit of $150,000 had been exceeded. The state would only pay part of my expenses. When the doctor brought it up again I told him if the hospital persisted my dad and I were ready to start calling the newspapers and the electronic media to tell them about the conflict. Furthermore, I told the doctor we were ready to start making the calls while he was in my room. The doctor immediately backed down. I was able (with help from my County supervisor) to relocate to Los Angeles County's Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, in Downey, a suburb of Los Angeles. This facility specializes in SCI (spinal cord injury).

In 1988, LA County Supervisor Dean Dana offered me a position as an LA County Commissioner for the disabled. With my MSW from USC, I thought I could make a difference. I accepted his offer to be an LA County Commissioner.

When I was at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, I started to think, and ask questions on how I would compete in a marathon. I realized that I would need a recumbent bicycle. No one had an answer for me.

When I was discharged from Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, I moved back in to my parents' home. I purchased a stationary bicycle from Big 5 Sporting Goods. I would position my wheelchair behind the bicycle and start pedaling for hours.

In 1989, I decided to compete in the Los Angeles Marathon. I was given a recumbent bicycle as a racing vehicle. It needed extensive modifications to accommodate my situation, but with help from my mechanically inclined friend, Jim Davey, it was accomplished.

I contacted the Executive Director of the marathon, and applied for inclusion. I was told that the wheelchair division would only accept real wheelchairs and my vehicle didn't qualify. I pointed out that I was unable to propel a wheelchair because my arms lack the sufficient function. The answer was: "Sorry, but the rules are the rules."

I sensed that the director was concerned that I was out to win the race. I assured the director that I would not win the race. I stated to the director that his refusal sounded a lot like discrimination that would arouse negative public opinion if publicized. My argument left the director little leeway, and he relented.

In March, 1989, I participated and finished the 26.2 mile grind. This accomplishment seemed so remarkable, it attracted media attention. The bike had no handlebars and was steered by the shifting of the weight. I also had problems other most marathoners don't encounter.

My lung capacity was diminished by about half after the shooting. I also had to contend with pain in my hands and arms due to nerve damage. Approximately every few miles, I stopped off at an aid station, where Jim Davey, who accompanied me on a bicycle, poured water over my head and legs.

I think I accomplished quite a bit in my first 28 years, but I am disappointed to this day that I will not be able to run in the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, California. Finishing graduate school was part of my 10 year plan. My remaining goals now seemed gone, like tears in the rain.

Ironically, the Los Angeles Department of Social Services called my house the day after I was shot, offering me the position for which I had interviewed the week before, only one of several job offers that came in after the shooting: one from USC working with the graduate students as liaison for their field placement; one from Santa Rosa College in Northern California; and the strong possibility of working with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The drunken driver who shot me was tried and received a sentence of 10 years, but served only five in prison. He lost 5 years: I lost a bright future.

My dear friend Mark Lewis was as devastated as any of my immediate family members, when he heard that I had been shot . When the jury rendered its verdict, Mark was outraged at our judicial system. It was a complete failure. This was the final straw. Mark believed that the only people who should have access to firearms are the police and our military. There was just too much gun violence in the United States, coupled with a broken judicial system! About two years after I was shot, Mark decided to move to Japan. Japan has virtually eliminated shooting deaths because of its strict control of firearm ownership. Twenty-six years later, Mark is still living and working in Japan. I still communicate with him regularly through e-mail or through Skype.

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible. T.E. Lawrence. A.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia.

During the trial, several significant facts emerged about the shooter. When captured, he had ammunition in both pockets, was drinking heavily prior to the incident and had a blood alcohol level of .10 four hours after the shooting. His past history had notable aggressive features, including archery hunting for bears and a prior roadway assault in which he fought with another driver. Sadly, to this day shootings continue on our freeways, in our schools, in our movie theaters, in our malls, in our workplace, in our churches, in our hospitals, in our nightclubs!

If gun ownership is supposed to make us safer then why does the body count keep rising?

The depression that inevitably accompanies such extreme loss and suffering is an example of life’s toughest challenge. Those of us who survived this condition recognize that although our bodies had no choice but to suffer, we humans do have a choice in how to accept our fate. I choose to fight back!

1989 LA Marathon

2 min. and 22 second video

video can also be viewed on  Vimeo 

The Wheels of Justice written by Dirk Eldritch
Several months earlier, on August 20, 1987, while Paul was still in the Fountain Valley hospital, Marine Cpl., Rick Armstrong, clean cut and convincing, was the star witness at the trial’s preliminary hearing, repeating his eyewitness account of the tragedy. When asked by Judge Selim S. Franklin to identify the shooter, he pointed directly at Morgan who quickly hid his face behind a magazine to avoid being photographed. It is a measure of his shame that he continued his aversion to cameras throughout the trial. Armstrong testified that when he reached Nussbaum’s car, police officers arrived almost immediately, and Armstrong told them of the shooting. Minutes later when police were arresting Morgan and his wife at the fairgrounds, they found the empty gun jammed into the crease of the truck’s seat and six unspent .22 caliber rounds in Albert Carroll Morgan’s pocket.

After hearing Armstrong’s firm, focused testimony, the judge ordered Morgan to stand trial on charges of attempted murder,assault with a deadly weapon, and firing at an inhabited vehicle. Judge Franklin evidenced a clear grasp of Morgan’s calamitous behavior:

"Morgan’s gun must be cocked before it can be fired. A jury may interpret that to mean that Morgan exhibited premeditation and deliberation, rather than acting in the heat of emotion. It seems to me impossible for him not to have seen the victim when he pulled the trigger. Morgan was looking at the victim when he pulled the trigger. I think that will be enough for the jury to find that he acted with premeditation and deliberation."

The actual trial took place in nearby Santa Ana. It began on the last day of January, 1988, a little over six months after the shooting and five months after the preliminary hearing in a different courthouse with a different judge.

The prosecuting attorney argued to the jury that Morgan was guilty of attempted murder. Reinforcing the preliminary hearing judge’s convincing comments, the prosecutor pointed out that Morgan’s wife had tried to stay his hand with her emotional outburst over the gun, but he shot Paul Nussbaum anyway. Morgan’s defense attorney, did not dispute that Morgan fired the shot.

He carefully built his case that attempted murder was the wrong charge for the circumstances. He characterized Morgan’s actions as, “Thoughtless and stupid… he did an idiotic thing, tragic really… but it was not attempted murder. No amount of emotion can change the facts of this case.” The attorney claimed his client meant only to fire a warning shot at Nussbaum to scare him. He argued that the pistol was a “small, inaccurate weapon, fired in the heat of anger, not with the intention to kill.”

Incredibly, the jury bought the defense’s story. After a day and a half’s deliberation they returned the verdict that Morgan was innocent of attempted murder, which could carry a sentence of up to life in prison. Instead, in a grotesque twist of logic, they found him guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter, with a maximum sentence of ten years.

Paul, his family and many observers in both the public and the press, felt the sentence was totally inadequate. At the time of the sentence, Paul predicted the 10 year sentence for attempted voluntary manslaughter could, with time off for good behavior, be reduced to five years.

Paul seethed with anger at the unjust verdict. Prior to Morgan’s sentencing, Paul’s mother, Gloria, wrote a passionate plea for justice to the judge. Here, in part, is her compelling argument:

"Paul had worked hard and long to train his body for strength and endurance; he trained his mind for a professional career in the social services to help others. Now he often says that he wishes the bullet that has made him totally dependent on others had killed him… It should be a moral and legal imperative that Albert Morgan contribute every day of his life to the expenses that he alone, consciously and willfully caused with no excuse for alcohol because imbibing is a volitional act and responsibilities exist here too.

If Morgan’s spinal cord could be transplanted in Paul so he could use his legs, arms and hands, and elimination, to care for his own body, that would be close to justice.

If Paul’s past pain, excruciating present and probable future pain and the painful post traumatic memories could be erased from his mind and given to Morgan, that would approach justice. In the absence of this reality, what else would be fair and just but to require penance be shown through a life‐long court ordered restitution to be paid directly to Paul Nussbaum. I pray that the court will impose upon Albert Morgan the maximum sentence allowed by law for the crime of which he has been convicted.
Gloria Nussbaum"
In spite of her impeccable logic, Gloria’s plea for justice fell on deaf ears. Our criminal justice system failed the Nussbaum family. What defies understanding is that Paul’s prediction of a five year sentence came true.

Albert Carroll Morgan spent only five of his ten year sentence in jail, the other five excused for good behavior. At age thirty‐eight he walked out of prison a free man. Paul will live with the results of Morgan’s unthinkable act for the rest of his life. That is a far cry from justice. In my opinion, the judge, the jury and the parole board should hang their heads in shame.

Newspaper article:
Shooting Victim Known As, Reserved, Noncombative [Bob Schwartz] Times Staff Writer:
Paul Nussbaum, the USC School of Social Work graduate who was shot by another motorist on the Costa Mesa Freeway, "is one of the most reserved. non-combative, non-confrontational people you'd want to meet," one of his former professors said Tuesday. "This has just shocked everyone," said Dr. Barbara Kaplan, an assistant clinical professor at the school. "He is a very competent student, very cooperative and helpful, and he has good relations with the other students."


July 22, 1987

(USC Graduation 1987, Scott and Paul)

Newspaper Article: Highway Violence a Reflection on Us. July 30, 1987.

On behalf of the board of directors of Jewish Family Service of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County, we are deeply grieved by the recent violence that has touched us all personally--the freeway shooting of Paul Nussbaum who was a USC graduate intern at our agency during the 1985 – 86 school year. It is particularly poignant that a man who demonstrated a commitment to helping others and recently completed his training to become a professional social worker became a victim of such a senseless crime.

This recent rash of freeway violence in Southern California is a reflection of what Jewish Family Service deals with daily in helping people to learn to manage their aggressive feelings and impulsive behavior. Today's statistics reveal an increase in violent behavior within our society, such as domestic violence, child abuse, rape and suicide. These violent behaviors are an unfortunate illustration of the way our society copes with frustration and anger.

One can only conclude in a society such as ours, instruments of violence should not and must not be made so readily available. Handgun control has been a major political football. Lobbyist and special interest groups for the right to bear arms promote the sale and accessibility of handguns as a personal freedom.

As concerned citizens, we believe the right to bear arms is less important to us than the opportunity to live in a safe environment, free from the violence that Paul Nussbaum encountered.


executive director.


president of the board of directors.

Los Angeles Times

56 min. interview

My Website:

Video on Vimeo

Paul & Mom

Scott, Mom, Paul

Paul, Sheba

Scott, Dad, Paul

Mom, Paul, ICU

Paul, Scott, Karen
Chris, Scott, Paul

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown, Florida triathlon

Paul, Oakland marathon

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept my word.

A special thanks to three wonderful volunteers: Sandy Behrens, over two decades and still going strong! Esther Quinn served as my volunteer for 10 years. Betty Paieda, 10 years of volunteerism. 

I also want to express my gratitude to LA County Lifeguards, Nils Nehrenheim and Michael Batemen.

The world has enough saints, we need more volunteers!

Paul Nussbaum  MSW © 2007

"When he shall die, take him and cut him out into little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to garnish the sun." William Shakespeare.

Remembering my younger brother, Scott.

A few words regarding my younger brother, Scott. I still have not come to terms with this sudden loss. He was young and strong. He was not supposed to go. He was an entrepreneur. He was successful. I will never accept what happened.

Shay & Scott

Scott Surfing.

Shay Surfing.

Scott Nussbaum, LA County lifeguard

Scott Paddle out.

LACoFD Lifeguard Division Memorandum:

November 30, 2015



I am saddened to inform you that Ocean Lifeguard Scott Nussbaum passed away last night, Sunday, November 29, 2015 after a short term illness. He leaves behind his seven-year-old daughter, a brother, a sister and parents. 

Scott became a lifeguard 36 years ago in 1979, and it worked on Southern Section Beaches and enjoyed every aspect of his career from rescues and first aids two competitions and education.

We will keep you posted for any future services or other events.

Thank you.

Respectfully submitted

Link to official letter

LA Times link:

Saturday, May 13, 2017 was my Dad's Last Battle.