From skid row to riches to an early grave

Steven Schulman, the man who made his way from skid row to winning a huge cash verdict after being run over by a semi, was found dead Tuesday. The 55-year-old was discovered in his Van Nuys apartment among several empty bottles of malt liquor.

Schulman’s bizarre rags-to-riches tale was recently chronicled in The Times.

Soon after becoming homeless in 2007, the former plumber’s legs were crushed by an 18-wheeler as he slept near the parking lot of an Encino market. The accident hobbled him and left him struggling to recuperate. Despite requiring a walker and an orthopedic boot, he boarded half a dozen buses and two trains from a North Hollywood convalescent home to the Irwindale headquarters of the trucking company responsible for his injuries.

He was hoping to be compensated for the accident, but his request was met with laughs. His subsequent attempts to take legal action on his own foundered, but a chance encounter with a high-profile attorney took Schulman from skid row to a Van Nuys courtroom.

In September, a jury awarded him almost $700,000 in the accident.

In the months that followed, Schulman wasted no time spending his fortune. He took frequent trips to fine sushi restaurants, hollering for sake refills and filets. He adorned his new apartment with flat screen TVs and sports memorabilia.

When a lightly used black Corvette he purchased went missing, he didn’t wait longer than a couple of days to replace it with a brand new red Corvette. The misplaced Corvette was later recovered — and he kept both. He burned through more than $200,000 of his lawsuit money (from a total of $350,000 after lawyer fees, loans and other costs) in less than a year.

“Maybe it is trying to make up a little for lost time. Yeah, so what?” Schulman had said to a Times reporter. “I think I deserve it.”

But chronic headaches plagued him. Doctors warned him to stop drinking, but on a recent afternoon his home was littered with empty cans of mixed drinks.

He was found dead beside several empty bottles of King Cobra malt liquor Tuesday morning, said his attorney, Gary Casselman. Neighbors grew concerned when they heard his dog, Pebbles, whimpering behind the door. Their attention had already been piqued, Casselman said, because they hadn’t seen Schulman walking the massive German shepherd mix outside the apartment complex.

A Los Angeles Police Department officer confirmed Schulman’s death but declined to elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation.

The same day a Times article chronicled his story, June 15, Schulman collapsed in a San Fernando Valley hardware store and was rushed to a hospital. His recovery was quick, but the incident was a reminder of his many health maladies: diabetes, pancreatitis, hobbled feet and alcoholism.

His story drew sharp reactions from readers — with some attacking him as a litigious con man and others worrying that his sudden wealth along with his drinking problem made for a dangerous combination.

After winning his lawsuit, Schulman had expressed hopes of reuniting with his two children from a past marriage, both of whom he believed were living in Las Vegas. Casselman said his client had taken two trips there in recent months but had seemingly been rebuffed.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Casselman could barely be heard over the howls of Schulman’s dog. The attorney had maintained a close relationship with Schulman even after the trial, and he worried that Pebbles might have ended up in an animal shelter if he hadn’t taken her in.

Since Schulman’s legal victory, Casselman said, the dog had grown fat from a steady diet of cheeseburgers.