Stalker Victim Can Eat, Sit Up, Talk : Has Some Paralysis, but Doctor Is Hopeful

Times Staff Writer

Night Stalker victim William Carns, the Mission Viejo man shot three times in the head on Aug. 25, is able to sit up, eat solid foods, and talk with his parents and fiancee, hospital spokesmen and friends of the family said Tuesday.

Carns, 29, who was erroneously identified as “brain dead” in a Los Angeles Police Department bulletin last Thursday, has improved slowly but steadily since he was rushed to the trauma unit at Mission Community Hospital, Dr. Juan Carlos Cobo said.

“Carns is breathing on his own, he is awake and alert and able to follow commands and, with some assistance, to take nourishment,” Cobo said Tuesday. “We are currently listing him in serious, but stable condition.”

A tube inserted in Carns’ throat to enable him to breath with a respirator was removed Saturday, Cobo said.

Carns remains paralyzed on his entire left side, but “he’s got sensation there--he can feel and that’s encouraging,” Cobo said.


The trauma surgeon declined to predict whether Carns will recover the use of his paralyzed left arm and leg, saying: “That is something that only time will tell.”

Two bullets remain lodged in Carns’ head, one in the back of his neck and another in the lower right side of the skull “within the casement of the brain,” Cobo said. But the small-caliber bullet fragments pose no danger to Carns and need not be removed, the surgeon said.

The Orange County district attorney’s office expects to file charges of attempted murder, rape, robbery and burglary today against serial killer suspect Richard Ramirez in Orange County Municipal Court in connection with the Mission Viejo attack, according to Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. James Enright. Within a week, Orange County authorities hope to have Ramirez transported to the county for formal arraignment, he said.

Meanwhile, Carns’ fiancee, who was raped in the same attack and with whom he recently bought his Mission Viejo tract house, and his parents, Bill and Ann Carns, who traveled to his side from Williston, N.D., issued a statement, thanking the public and authorities.

“We wish to convey our gratitude to everyone for (the) continued prayers and support, especially the hospital staff and physicians . . . for the wonderful care Bill has received,” the statement read.

The family also commended the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for its “sensitivity in handling the case during this trying time.”

Carns’ neighbors on Chrisanta Drive in Mission Viejo were enjoying the news of his improved condition Tuesday. At midday Tuesday, the porchlight burned at Carns’ home and a potted plant was left for him and his family.

“That’s a miracle!” said a jubilant Diane Cox, who lives across the street from the Carns’ home. “I just can’t believe it.”

“I got a call from a gal in Laguna who asked me if anything’s being done about a fund” to help pay medical expenses, she said. “So I’m starting to look into that. I’m sure that everybody, not only on this side of the freeway, but in Laguna (Hills), too, would want to contribute.”

Two doors away, Roger Bradshaw said he had “great expectations” for Carns’ recovery.

“Yesterday, I understand he was sitting in a chair, eating roast beef,” said Bradshaw, who reportedly knows Carns better than most nearby residents. “They (Carns and his fiancee) were planning to get married next year. I still hope they do,” Bradshaw added.

Despite her own traumatic experience, Carns’ fiancee’s “main concern is him,” Bradshaw said.

In Fargo, N.D., where Carns worked for Burroughs Corp. repairing mainframe computers, former co-worker Rex Hartland recalled his friend’s happiness at the prospect of moving to California about a year ago, when his transfer and promotion were approved by the business machine company.

“I think he liked California--the old California Dream-type thing,” said Hartland, adding that Carns had visited the area for pleasure and been sent on one occasion to a Burroughs training facility in the Los Angeles area.

‘Concerned for Them’

“I have friends and relatives in that area,” Hartland said. “I was concerned for them (because of the Night Stalker attacks). Knowing how many people are out there, you never think it’s going to be somebody you know.”

On the day of the attack, Hartland recalled, “one of the local stations called . . . and asked how I felt about it. I said: ‘How do I feel about what?’ ”

Earlier this summer, Carns returned to Williston, about 500 miles from Fargo, for his 10-year high school reunion.

His high school band teacher, Virgil Syverson, remembered Carns as “an average-to-fair student” and a “pretty fair” alto saxophone player. Syverson also remembered learning of Carns’ attack from news reports.

Syverson said he already knew of the Night Stalker killings through earlier news stories, but “when it’s close to home like that, it hits a little harder.”

Back in Mission Viejo, trauma physician Cobo said he believes that Carns still may not know the details of what happened during the early-morning attack in which he was shot while asleep.

‘Very Bad Accident’

“I don’t believe he knows yet or that he needs to know at this point,” Cobo said. Carns has been told only that “you’ve had a very bad accident and you’re doing fine,” Cobo said.

About two days after the shooting, Carns was able to communicate by writing notes to hospital personnel and relatives, Cobo said.

“He’s able to let his wishes be known,” the surgeon said. “Right from the first, when he arrived I asked him: ‘What is your name?’ and he was making an effort to tell me. He had some level of consciousness at that time. But anyone with that severe a head injury will drift.”

Cobo declined to predict how long rehabilitation may take or whether Carns can fully recover.

Except for therapy, Carns should require no further treatment, unless his condition worsens, Cobo said.

“He’s moving in the right direction, and I’m very happy about the progress,” Cobo said but added, “I’m still quite concerned about him developing infections and abscess in the brain.”

Early signs of such infections would tend to show up now, Cobo said, but he added that the last brain scan showed no signs of infections.

“He’s through with the acute phase and that’s why he’s no longer considered critical,” Cobo said. “You can call this the wait-and-see phase.”