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Freeway Shooting Victim Testifies

Times Staff Writer

A 29-year-old man paralyzed in a freeway shooting near the Orange County Fairgrounds last summer testified briefly Wednesday against the man who shot him and later described how the incident robbed him of his independence.

“No one should have to go through what I’ve gone through,” Paul Gary Nussbaum said at a news conference following his court appearance.

The Rollings Hills Estates man, who has been hospitalized since the July 18 incident, was the final prosecution witness Wednesday against Albert Carroll Morgan, who is charged with attempted murder. Morgan is the only freeway shooter in Orange County to face felony charges thus far after the rash of freeway shootings that erupted last summer in the Southland.

Morgan, 33, of Santa Ana, is accused of shooting Nussbaum as he tried to pass Morgan’s pickup truck on the right shoulder in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the end of the Costa Mesa Freeway.

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Former Marathon Runner

Nussbaum, whose testimony was brief since he has little recall of the incident, described his life as a quadriplegic and his feelings toward Morgan at a news conference in Superior Court Judge Jean H. Rheinheimer’s courtroom. A former marathon runner, he sat in a wheelchair wearing a T-shirt with an Oakland Marathon 1981 emblem.

“Right now I am completely dependent on other people,” Nussbaum said. “I need someone to feed me and take me to the bathroom. I can’t brush my teeth or even comb my hair.”

Nussbaum testified that he was heading toward Newport Beach to visit a friend that day and does not remember being shot. He said he does remember a humming sound in his head, and he remembers losing control of his car at that point.

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Morgan, who is free on $100,000 bail, did not appear to look toward Nussbaum a single time, as the victim sat in a wheelchair to the right of the witness box.

Morgan testified later in the day Wednesday that he had only meant to scare Nussbaum with a warning shot.

Witnesses say Morgan got upset with one motorist who tried to pass the stalled traffic on the right side, forcing Morgan to hit his brakes to avoid a collision when he tried to do the same thing. Morgan and that driver exchanged angry words and Morgan made an obscene gesture at him.

Morgan said he had been drinking “rum and Pepsi” and was irritated by the people trying to advance on the right. When Nussbaum started to pass in a station wagon, Morgan said, it upset him enough that he grabbed a small handgun from a pouch on the driver’s door and fired it out the window.

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Morgan insisted that he did not intend to hit the other driver, just to warn him.

Morgan said that the sound of the gun scared him and that his wife screamed. He said he did not know Nussbaum had been hit until he got to the fairgrounds and was arrested by the police.

Morgan’s attorney, Paul Meyer, asked Morgan if he thought about how dangerous his actions were in even firing the gun.

“Not at the time,” Morgan said.

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Meyer asked him what he thinks about the incident now.

“It’s been a nightmare to me, but it’s been an even greater nightmare for him,” Morgan said.

Nussbaum’s family members angrily said outside the courtroom that the victim’s suffering has been tremendous.

“He gets terribly depressed,” said his father, Wilbur Nussbaum.

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Nussbaum, a 1987 USC graduate with a master’s degree in social work, was a tennis player in addition to being a marathon runner. He said he had hoped for a career in social work but doesn’t know now what he will do.

Nussbaum at first said he has no feelings at all toward Morgan. But he quickly added that he is sometimes bitter, even filled with hatred for Morgan and that he sees him as a “pathetic” man. He added he hopes Morgan is given a long jail sentence.

Nussbaum said he has always been in favor of gun control laws and “now more than ever.”

Nussbaum was accompanied by his brother, Scott Nussbaum, who patted his shoulder when the victim talked about all the support he has received from family and friends.

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Nussbaum is in physical therapy more than four hours a day at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, the third hospital he has been in since the shooting. He has kept his spirits up, Nussbaum said, with thoughts about getting well.

“I hope and pray that this is temporary and that I’m going to improve,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”


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