Shooting victim returns to Tahoe
The gregarious smile first catches your attention. The second thing, at least for a Californian, is Jim McGeehan’s thick Philadelphia accent. After awhile, you notice his left arm lays still, the indentation on his right calf and a scar on his left knee.
The effects of being shot a dozen times more than four years ago in an incident stemming from road rage on Super Bowl Sunday stays with McGeehan every day.
He can’t stand for long periods of time. He wants to kayak but he can’t grip anything with his listless left hand. He has rods in both legs; the one in his left leg became infected and had to be replaced.
In town for the first time since the Feb. 6, 2001 shooting, McGeehan, 34, stopped by the Tahoe Daily Tribune to speak about being back in the basin, the shooting and the road to recovery.
“It feels good to be back,” said McGeehan in one of his first remarks.
He drove to South Lake Tahoe from Boston in a Silverado pickup, driving down to North Carolina to visit some friends before heading west.
Since he’s returned to Tahoe, he stopped by his former residence along South Benjamin Drive. It was where, more than four years ago at 2:50 a.m. on a Tuesday, McGeehan confronted Donald Ray Lawson Jr. when he heard the sound of his tires being slashed. When Lawson saw his target come outside he fired 17 shots from a 9 mm handgun.
McGeehan was bartending at Mott Canyon Tavern & Grill when the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Driving home up Kingsbury Grade, McGeehan passed Lawson, a bartender at Planet Hollywood at the time, but wasn’t aware Lawson followed him home.
“As soon as I got home he was pulling up and he started yelling at me and I was yelling back,” McGeehan said.
McGeehan, a former Division III football player, said during the argument he apologized to Lawson, who pulled out a flashlight in one hand and a pistol in another.
“The last thing he said to me was he knew where I worked and where I lived and I was like ‘Whatever, this is over – this is just a stupid thing that just happened,'” McGeehan said.
The next day he told friends about having a gun pulled on him. He didn’t tell authorities because he thought it was a one-time run-in with Lawson.
Eight days later McGeehan, amped for his first trip to Squaw Valley, was awake at 2:50 a.m. when he heard someone slashing his tires.
Wearing a sweatshirt and shorts without shoes, McGeehan went out to investigate. He doesn’t really remember any words spoken between the two.
“I was scared, I was mad but if he said anything to me I don’t know what it was,” McGeehan said.
When a slug first hit his chest, he believed he was struck by a Taser.
“But then he hit me in the legs and my legs broke and I knew this wasn’t good,” McGeehan said.
In original newspaper reports McGeehan was believed to been struck with seven bullets. McGeehan thought he was hit with 11 bullets. In a meeting with Rick Brown of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department a few weeks ago, McGeehan said Brown told him it was 14 bullets.
Despite the confusion, McGeehan had 18 holes in him from the hollow-point bullets. He wasn’t hit in the head or spine. One bullet grazed his right cheek.
A Care Flight helicopter transported McGeehan to Washoe Medical Center in Reno. Screaming “Don’t let me die,” McGeehan recalled someone counting down the minutes until arriving at Washoe. He was listed in critical but stable condition upon his arrival.
He was intensive care for more than a month. A day after the shooting, Lawson was arraigned at Tahoe Township Justice Court on an attempted murder charge with bail set at $500,000.
Prosecutor Dina Salvucci was quoted saying the charge could change to murder if McGeehan died.
A painful recovery
His left arm contracted compartment syndrome in which nerves and blood vessels are compressed leading to muscle and nerve damage. When bandages were changed, McGeehan, who is grossed out by the television show “Fear Factor,” would see through his arm.
Doctors took muscle from his back and skin from his leg to repair the left arm as best they could. Although McGeehan said he would “seriously consider” a prosthetic left arm if he could get some use out of it, he “didn’t want them to take anything.”
He stayed at Washoe for two months. Fund-raisers at Mott Canyon Tavern & Grill and other establishments helped collect money for an airplane ride to send McGeehan to Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson Hospital for weeks of physical and occupational therapy.
McGeehan said he’s had 55 surgeries. More are coming. A cut on his left hand won’t heal. Unknown to him, he stepped on something that infected his left foot. A toe had to be removed.
Between April 2004 and April 2005 he had three surgeries on his foot. He was bedridden for five of those 12 months.
“I can’t feel my feet. My feet really don’t move,” he said.
Before the shooting he only had one surgery. It was something for his eye when he was 5 years old.
He faced rehab like he was training for football, a sport he was so successful at that Dickinson College inducted the former player into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame two years ago.
“The rehab was hard but I didn’t mind the rehab. I remember when I left here I remember telling my mom I don’t know if I could do this,” McGeehan said.
He suffered through ongoing bouts of depression.
“It still happens like every now and then – I’ll get like in a funk and I won’t want to talk to people,” he said. “I just kind of want to be by myself but I think that’s normal.
“Since I’ve been out here I’ve felt great,” he added.
McGeehan’s father, also named Jim, said his son has put the best face possible on the situation. If Jim McGeehan ever saw his son in a funk he didn’t let on.
As for McGeehan being cognizant and walking after the shooting, the elder Jim McGeehan said: “That’s why we thank God.”
Four years ago, Mark White Jr. thought his friend wasn’t going to live. And seeing McGeehan now in Tahoe amazes White.
“I think that’s the most miraculous things about the situation, it hasn’t changed his base personality,” White said. “It hasn’t changed him fundamentally as a person.
“It’s amazing to me seeing Jimmy hours after he was shot in (the intensive care unit) and seeing Jimmy today.”
McGeehan acknowledged “bad things happen to good people. Stuff happens. You have to live your life.”
But he credited his friends, especially those in Tahoe, for sticking by his side.
“The people in Tahoe were really good to me and that’s all I want to get across,” McGeehan said. “Without their help I don’t think I would be here.”
Lawson, 36, received a maximum prison sentence. He was given 20 years for attempted murder, 20 years for an enhancement of using a deadly weapon and 10 years for mayhem. He is serving his time in Nevada State Prison.
– E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com
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