A gunshot victimís story of survival
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By Nicolas Grizzle  June 23, 2011 09:43 am

On Tuesday, April 12 Mark Anthony Schuler woke up from his 17-day coma with tubes in his body and bright lights overhead. He was confused, but was soon told he had been shot outside of his own apartment by a man he didn’t know. During recovery, two months in the hospital took a financial toll on his family, and now he’s been forced to leave Cotati and move to Vacaville, living in a motel and struggling to get by.

On March 27, Schuler, 38, was shot in the stomach and left to die by Antonio Harless, 39, of Rohnert Park. A candlelight memorial was erected where he was found on the street screaming for help, as some residents assumed he had died. The shooting was a small story in this and other newspapers, and Harless was caught the very next day. But Schuler’s road to recovery is long and especially difficult for his wife and three children.

Right now, Schuler says, "I’m living out of a motel, waiting for restitution, or whatever," from the State. He is referring to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, which can reimburse victims of violent crime for medical bills and lost work, up to a certain amount. But he has yet to receive funds, and is being helped now by a church near his motel.

When reached by phone, he was finishing up some landscaping work, “shoveling some dirt,” as Schuler put it, in partial trade for the room which houses his family. He is still laboring even though doctors won’t give him full clearance to work until a year from now.

"I’m limited on what I can do right now,” said Schuler. “I’ve got a hole in my liver, a hole in my lung, a hole in my kidney, whole right side is really screwed up."

Before the attack, he worked as driver for a Sonoma County produce company. He also made biodiesel out of vegetable grease. His goal was to do long haul trucking.

Now, Schuler has hospital appointments twice a week around the Bay Area, and fights infections, pain and is trying to stay mentally strong.

"Since getting released from hospital, I feel like I’m watching everything I’ve ever worked for just crumble.
“I’m really starting to feel bad because I can’t do what I was able to do, what I’m supposed to do.”

He said it’s also frustrating to see outpouring of support for someone like Bryan Stow, a Giants fan who was attacked at a Dodger fan and remains in a coma in San Francisco. “I feel like if this happened at a Giants game I’d have barbecues and fundraisers for me, too.”

The move is “confusing” for the children, ages 2, 4 and 13. Schuler says he’d move back to Sonoma County “in a heartbeat” if he could find an affordable place.

"I don't feel like we should be punished for me being shot."

Plea deal
While Schuler was in a coma, Harless agreed to a plea deal sentencing him to nine years in prison for attempted murder. Had Schuler not survived, the sentence could have been tougher.

To this day, Schuler says he doesn’t know the man who attacked him, described by police as a 6-foot white male with a bald, shaved head and large earrings. He also doesn’t have a clue as to the motivation for the shooting.

"I don't know the person who did it, never seen him before in my life,” he said. "I got hit in the back of the head, got shot in the stomach, chased him, and started screaming for help once I realized I was leaking everywhere."

Victim’s rights
The prosecutor assigned to the case, Deputy District Attorney Bud McMahon, said the county files paperwork for victims with Sacramento. He wasn’t sure how many were filed annually, but, he suggested, there are about 6,000 felonies and close to 50,000 misdemeanors committed in the county each year, and each can have a victim involved. “Everyone who is a victim starts out being eligible” for support, he said, and criteria whittles out those who aren’t.

Restitution is paid by the responsible party. In this case, that person has been sentenced to nine years in jail. Money sent to him while in prison is partially used for restitution, as is any money earned while working in jail. After he is released, a sort of lien is put on his earnings until the restitution amount is fulfilled.

But in Schuler’s case, the total is a high figure, about $300,000 for medical bills, lost wages and other expenses. That figure may never be reached through restitution.

“The idea is it would come from the responsible party,” said McMahon, but realistically, that could take too long to be effectively helpful, especially immediately after the crime. In cases like Schuler’s, the State has a fund it uses to assist victims. But Schuler’s victim advocate in the District Attorney’s office, Rosie Torres-Murphy, said it takes about three months after the paperwork is submitted to see any money.

And even then, “How much he will get is unknown,” said McMahon.

Even visiting Torres-Murphy at the Sonoma County Administration Building, Schuler gets butterflies. It’s not a rational fear, but more like post-traumatic stress. “I don’t know, this dude might have friends… thinking I’m somebody I’m not,” he said, referring to his attacker.

Therapy is covered, up to a certain extent by victim’s compensation, but it’s tough for Schuler to make it to appointments. His truck was repossessed while he was in the hospital, so his twice-weekly hospital appointments and occasional visits to the courthouse are aided by the help of friends in Vacaville.

It’s tough for Schuler to fully accept the help. He is used to being the caretaker for his children as well as a supportive husband, but now he walks with a cane and has memory lapses, in addition to the financial troubles. Help from his church has been keeping him going, but, “I want so bad to be self-reliant again. I want the church to be able to lean on me.”

Schuler was born in Portland, Ore., and moved to Sonoma County when he was about 9. He is conflicted about feeling uneasy about coming back to the area he has known all his adult life but wants to return when he gets back on his feet.

He’d like to get a job doing what he was good at before, using his Class A license as a truck driver. Of all the physical activities not available to him now because of his injury, Schuler can still drive. “Oh, I can drive,” he said when asked. “I can definitely drive.”

To get involved or donate to the Schuler family, contact The Community Voice at 584-2222 or news@thecommunityvoice.com.

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