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After the Impact, a Life on Hold : Disfiguring Injuries Cloud Gregory Moore’s Future

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gregory Moore knows that people stare at him. He can’t help staring himself.

When he looks in the mirror, the 33-year-old music student, who many said had movie-star looks, now sees a large indent in his face, scars on his throat and an eye horribly sunken into its socket.

Since a head-on auto collision with an alleged drunk driver 10 months ago, the Saugus resident has watched his life become an endless cycle of hospital visits and physical-therapy sessions. The stares, the aspiring composer said, pain him. And physical problems such as double vision limit his ability to move about or play the piano.

But what hurts most of all, he said, is that he does not recognize the person in the mirror.

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“This has nothing to do with how good or how bad I look,” he said, sitting in the living room of the house where he rents a room. “When you look in the mirror you’re used to seeing yourself, and that’s what I’ve lost.”

Ryan Connors, a 20-year-old former Hart High School football star who has been charged with felony drunk driving stemming from the collision of July 24, 1993, is scheduled to go on trial Wednesday in Van Nuys Superior Court, although the proceedings may be delayed a month because of scheduling.

Prosecutors say Connors, who has also been charged with reckless driving, a misdemeanor, was drag racing on San Fernando Road near Circle J Ranch Road in Newhall when the accident occurred just before midnight. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted on the felony charge.

Connors plans to argue that it cannot be proven he was under the influence at the time of the accident, said his attorney, Thomas Kascoutas.

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Still, Kascoutas said, Connors “feels great remorse.”

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Moore, who attends the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, slurs as he talks about his recovery. He is missing several teeth; reconstructed sinuses have altered his vocal control--ruining his singing voice; and his rebuilt jaw opens about half as wide as it did before the accident.

A month ago, Moore underwent a 12-hour operation to reconstruct his skull. Shocking as his appearance may be today, he said it was much worse before the surgery.

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“My right eye had been knocked inward in my skull and down by about three-quarters of an inch or so, and my forehead was caved in and my upper-level jaw had been obliterated and my nose was gone,” he said. “So they took bone from both my ribs and the back of my skull and used it to rebuild the bones in my forehead, nose, eye sockets and jaw.”

He spends three hours a day in physical therapy, lifting weights and doing aerobics to try to regain full use of his limbs--his hip, left arm, both legs and right knee were broken or seriously injured in the crash. Much of his remaining time is consumed by visits to doctors.

His grandmother has come down from the Sea Ranch area in Northern California, where he is from, to help out.

In his spare time, he works on an independent studies course, composing music on a computer because he cannot sing or play the piano. Graduation is two years away, but Moore said he has no idea what his plans will be afterward, because he must still undergo several major surgeries. He has already endured at least half a dozen, and doctors say he will never regain his normal appearance.

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“I really can’t decide until all the work is done,” he said. “Will I have two eyes? Will I be in a wheelchair? It’s difficult to make plans.”

But he is certain of one thing: He will work to make people aware of the hazards of drinking and driving. Moore plans to help Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but he does not wish to speak about the case in great detail until after Connors’ criminal trial and the resolution of a civil suit he has filed against him seeking unspecified compensation.

Moore said that until his accident he never realized the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol.

“I could not have understood before the crash how quickly this can happen from out of the blue,” he said.

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Moore graduated from UC Berkeley in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. He spent five years doing computer work for a private investor in San Francisco before enrolling as a graduate student at CalArts in the fall of 1992. He gave up a well-paying job to study music composition, a longtime dream.

“I took a huge risk leaving a good career because I believed I had the talent and I was getting old. And the risk was paying off,” he said.

So well, in fact, that he was accepted to a prestigious electronic music program in Nice, France, an “unbelievable opportunity,” Moore said. And it was after having coffee with a friend to celebrate that turn in his life that the accident occurred.

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Moore was driving home in his 1981 Toyota northbound on San Fernando Road when Connors, driving southbound at about 70 m.p.h., police said, lost control of a relative’s 1986 Mercedes convertible. He was allegedly drag racing. Moore said he had no chance to avoid the car.

“I remember seeing a car coming at me, but it was going so fast it was just a blip in my memory,” he said.

Moore was hospitalized for nearly two months with life-threatening injuries. He said he didn’t realize how bad the damage was until six weeks after the accident, when doctors asked him to walk.

“I had to take my first step and I didn’t know how to do it,” he said. “I didn’t have the strength or the muscle coordination. I thought I was going to pass out.”

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A week later, Moore got the first look at his face when his family brought him home from the hospital.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I had them push the wheelchair closer and closer, and it kept getting worse.”

Moore can walk now but such activities as running and driving remain beyond his ability. And just about everything else he does is in some way affected by the accident.

Because of his dental problems, he said, “I have two teeth that come together and that’s how I chew, so it takes forever to eat.”

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As for Connors, Moore said the only apology he has received from him was contained in a letter received seven months after the accident. It said he was “sorry the whole thing had happened,” without admitting guilt. Moore said he understands Connors’ caution because of the impending trial and civil suit.

Still, he said, “A long time after the court case is over, I’m going to have a deformed face and a partially crippled body, and I’m still going to be expecting an apology from Ryan Connors.”


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