A bittersweet homecoming for Laurie Chilcote
The 71-year-old struggles with affects of Nov. 3 MAX attack
When MAX attack victim Laurie Chilcote returned to his Sunset Street home for the first time in two months, the experience brought him to tears.
Stepping into his home Wednesday, Jan. 2, made him realize how much his life had changed since he was nearly beaten to death at the Gresham Transit Center on Nov. 3.
'It just seemed a terrible thing … you want your life to be meaningful, and you watch it almost wind up in the trash,' Chilcote said. 'I was very disoriented, and I knew I was going to have a long, hard haul.'
That long haul began with 10 days at Oregon Health and Science University hospital and continued with more than 50 days of aggressive rehabilitation at The Village nursing home in Gresham.
'He's slowly but surely recovering,' said Chilcote's sister, Caren Topliff. Over the past couple months, he has relearned how to walk and nearly conquered the paralysis that had taken over one side of his face.
'It's almost completely unnoticeable now,' Topliff said.
Despite that progress, life hasn't been the same for the 71-year-old Sandy man since the attack, which police say was carried out by 15-year-old suspected gang member Abel Antonio Chavez-Garcia. Authorities say Chavez-Garcia started beating Chilcote with a baseball bat, unprovoked, as he left the MAX train a little after 9 p.m.
The brutal attack - which nearly killed Chilcote - left the elderly man with injuries 'up and down his body,' Topliff said, including at least two major blows to the head that caused bleeding inside his skull and his brain to swell.
'It's been a horrible ordeal for him,' said Topliff. 'It's very traumatic to have someone try to kill you; that was a horrible blow to absorb. To run into kids so callous and so cold-blooded just stunned him.'
It was stunning for a man who has dedicated his golden years to helping children and at-risk teens like the one accused of beating him.
The injuries have somewhat dulled Chilcote's historically sharp mind, Topliff said. Chilcote finds himself frustrated with the side effects of his brain trauma, unable to remember PIN numbers, addresses, phone numbers, names and so on.
'Last night we went to Safeway and my sister put everything in the car, and then I didn't remember what I was supposed to do next,' Chilcote said. 'Then I started to cry. I know how to do this and that - why can't I remember?'
This wasn't the first time Chilcote was criminally injured. In 1985, a suspect trying to elude Los Angeles police hit him with his car, crushing his legs. Chilcote has walked with a cane ever since.
'Lighting does strike twice, evidently,' Topliff said.
Determined to heal
During his first full day home Thursday, Jan. 3, Chilcote was in good spirits as he watched one of his favorite movies, 'Dr. Zhivago.' He said being back in his familiar surroundings has been 'wonderful,' he said, but also awkward.
'I couldn't remember a lot of things I used to just know,' Chilcote said. 'It's like, 'Here I am; where is this place? Who are these people? What am I supposed to do?''
For the time being, Chilcote says his No. 1 goal is to 'get completely well.' That'll happen with the help of physical therapists, who will now come to his home to help retrain many of the muscles that were damaged in the attack.
He's also going to get some new glasses this week, which Topliff hopes will help with Chilcote's damaged eye.
Perhaps the greatest step toward healing and normalcy will come Monday, Jan. 21, when Chilcote receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from Portland Mayor Tom Potter during the annual 'Keep Alive the Dream' celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life.
On Martin Luther King Day, the city will honor Chilcote's many years as a part of the foster grandparent program through Metropolitan Family Services, his work with the Police Activities League and his volunteer time at Lents Elementary School.
'It will be really good for him,' Topliff said. 'It's a nice thing to be recognized and to hear, 'OK, you still have value to us.' I think he needs to get his life back, and this will really help.'
The ceremony takes place at the Highland Church Center (formerly New Beginnings Church) at Northeast 76th Avenue and Glisan Street in Portland. Chilcote's award will be given around 2:30 p.m.
This isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, Chilcote's first award.
'All I'm doing is just what I enjoy doing,' he said. 'The need was there, and I just kind of went along with it. It's good to know that sometimes people who are described as being heroic are just plain old people trying to do the best they can with what they believe in.'
Although Chilcote admits that he's been 'very upset' since the attack, his outlook on life and his volunteer work hasn't changed at all. Rather, he says the incident was more of a validation of his work and a call for more people like him to step up.
'He says that (the attack) is kind of a demonstration that there are a lot of problems that need to be solved in our society, especially regarding kids,' Topliff said.
'We have too many kids who are out of control,' Chilcote said. 'We have too many loose ends that need to be straightened up now.'
Chilcote is chomping at the bit to get back to his beloved volunteer work, but his doctors say it will be at least a month until he has recovered enough to do that.