He Can’t Go Home Again : Fruitless Search for Wheelchair Access Presents Dilemma for Victim of Drive-By Shooting, Mother

Times Staff Writer

Only a few months ago, Gloria Cordero was able to keep her life on an even keel, though she struggled to raise her teen-age son, Fernando, while working on the assembly line at Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo.

But last June, the lives of Cordero and Fernando, her only child, took a disastrous turn when Fernando was shot in the face in a drive-by shooting in Lennox.

Just 17, the Lawndale resident and Leuzinger High School junior who liked math and dreamed of having a business and a family was left brain-damaged, partially paralyzed on the left side of his body.


Since the shooting, Fernando has been hospitalized, battling back through arduous physical therapy. On Nov. 4, he will be ready to leave the hospital.

But as Fernando has progressed, his mother has faced an increasingly urgent dilemma.

They have nowhere to go.

14 Steps to Apartment

Cordero cannot maneuver her wheelchair-bound son up the 14 steps to their apartment over a garage. In order to live together, they must live elsewhere.

Cordero, who makes $10.76 an hour at her job at Hughes, said she cannot find a first-floor apartment that rents for about the same as her $600-a-month Lawndale apartment and is convenient to her job.

Even if she were able to find an apartment, she does not have the money for the security deposit and first month’s rent, Cordero said. Her only savings is $500 that her brother in Connecticut sent her last week, she said.

“It’s been real rough the past four months,” Cordero said in an interview from her son’s bedside at a Hollywood hospital. “At first they said he was going to be a vegetable but he’s coming out of it. He’s come a long way since he’s been here. When he first came they had to sit him up in bed. He couldn’t move by himself.”

Fernando was shot June 3 as he stood with a group of friends on the corner of 111th Street and Osage Avenue in Lennox, said Sgt. Gil Juardo of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Lennox station.

Someone from the group threw a bottle, striking a passing car, Juardo said. The driver got out and started shooting, striking Fernando once in the face. No one else was injured.

Michael Chavers, 22, of Los Angeles was arrested June 9 and faces trial in Torrance Superior Court on five counts of attempted murder, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Mary Hanlon.

Still Under Investigation

Deputies are still investigating whether the incident was gang-related, but “have talked with Fernando over the months and, from what we’ve been able to determine, he’s a good kid,” Juardo said.

“My son wasn’t involved with gangs,” said Cordero, adding that her son had taken the bus to Lennox to visit with friends. “He was not allowed to go in that area but you know teen-agers, they don’t listen.”

Both Gloria Cordero and Fernando’s father, Fernando Cordero Sr., who are divorced, visit their son daily.

“The first night (the shooting) happened, they told me to donate his heart and kidneys because he wasn’t going to live till morning,” Fernando’s father said. “It’s been a rough road but he’s progressed, no doubt about it.”

Before the shooting, Fernando was “talkative, always talking, talking, talking,” his father said. “He liked to dance and do what a 17-year-old does--a little football, wrestling, girls.”

After months of therapy, Fernando has made some gains. Slight and bespectacled, he is alert and responsive. On his bedside table are a radio and other objects from home, including a calendar that has Oct. 21, his 18th birthday, circled in bright colors.

Fernando, who can move to a limited degree, is undergoing painful physical therapy that includes “walking, moving, his whole body. They try to make him play volleyball with his hands, and they exercise everything for an hour every day,” said Cordero.

Speech therapists are also tutoring the once-talkative Fernando daily, helping him to re-learn how to talk.

“Sometimes he can concentrate and sometimes not,” his mother said. “I talk to him as much as possible and get him to talk, to exercise his voice. . . . He understands what I’m saying. He tries to spell if I can’t understand him.”

Endless Search

As Fernando works to conquer his physical problems, his mother takes days off from work, looking for an apartment.

Cordero said she has been “up and down the streets, all over, putting applications in. I just can’t find anything. Everything is sky-high and when you do find something, it’s so raggedy.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Cordero, 34, has no family in the area. Her financial problems are compounded because she and her former husband went bankrupt in 1986 after the failure of their car reupholstering business in a Long Beach garage. The Corderos’ debts were about $37,000, including a $25,000 loan that financed the failed business, both said.

Because of the bankruptcy, Gloria Cordero said, she can’t qualify for a loan. She was turned down by the credit union at Hughes.

John Bertrand, public relations manager at Hughes Aircraft Employees Federal Credit Union, said he could not talk specifically about Cordero’s case, but that “a 1986 bankruptcy on an unsecured loan (application) would be a severe negative,” even though Hughes Aircraft makes “unsecured loans on a case-by-case basis in emergency situations.”

Cordero also has sought financial assistance from the state Victims of Violent Crimes Program.

Ted Boughton, deputy executive officer of the State Board of Control for the Victims of Crimes Program in Sacramento, said the agency could not help Cordero because the program only covers medical and wage losses and Fernando’s “medical expenses have up to now been covered by insurance” through Cordero’s job.

The Corderos have been helped by Gloria’s co-workers at Hughes, who collected $160 for her shortly after the shooting.

But their immediate problem is finding housing.

“If a landlord would at least let me in with a lower security deposit, that would help,” Cordero said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.”

Fernando’s father has remarried, and the 1-bedroom apartment in Hawthorne he shares with his present wife and two children is already cramped, the Corderos said. Fernando could move in with his father temporarily, but his parents agree it would be a temporary fix at best.

“But if worse comes to worse,” said Cordero, who is on temporary job disability as a result of a back injury this year. “I’ll take care of Fernando at home till Gloria can find a place, no problem.”

Each Saturday, Fernando leaves the hospital with his mother. They visit overnight at the first-floor apartment of Cordero’s friend, Mary Dones of Lawndale, but the accommodations are crowded, Dones said.

“My kids give up their beds and sleep on the floor,” said Dones, who shares the 2-bedroom apartment with her five children, one grandchild and her mother.

On Sundays, Fernando visits with his father in Hawthorne.

As Fernando’s hospital release date approaches, the Corderos and their friends continue to search the want ads daily for a home for Gloria and Fernando.

“He gets depressed a lot,” Cordero said of her son. “He cries and talks about the accident, that he could’ve died, that he’s scared. I tell him not to worry, to pray when he gets depressed.”

As for Cordero herself, she is “taking it day by day and leaving it in God’s hands.”