Family of Burbank shooting victim still in shock as 67-year-old remains in critical condition
During the 27-day search for the gunman in a silver sedan who shot her 67-year-old husband, longtime Burbank resident Cristina Werntz and her family were gripped by anxiety.
She worried when a silver car pulled up next to her at a gas station. She worried that the shooter could identify her car or would come back to hurt her son, who witnessed the Dec. 9 shooting.
As the shooter continued on his monthlong violent crime spree, which allegedly included several robberies and shootings that claimed at least one other man’s life, Bheri Werntz’s loved ones spent every day – and most nights – at a Mission Hills trauma center. They waited while he underwent seven surgeries after two bullets pierced through his body.
They are still waiting.
Each walk to the operating room brought on another set of concerns as to whether it would be the last, as Bheri Werntz remains sedated after six weeks in the hospital, his condition critical.
“Every day is different. We walk in there, we don’t know what we’re going to face,” Cristina Werntz said.
“I told him, ‘No, we didn’t get through all this for it to end like this.’”
— Weston Werntz to his father, Bheri Werntz, who was shot in the driveway of his Burbank home
In the first emotional interview since the Dec. 9 attack, she and other members of her family relayed a candid account of events that they say led up to the shooting.
That morning, Bheri Werntz and his son woke up to loud electronic music coming from outside, where the silver car was parked in their driveway, the windows rolled up.
A man sat in the driver’s seat, wearing a suit and sunglasses, licking what appeared to be a joint.
Bheri Werntz was the first out the door, headed to pick up the newspaper from the driveway of their otherwise quiet neighborhood, where he’s lived for 32 years.
His 27-year-old son stood in the doorway behind him, holding their puppy, a beagle named Dakota.
As the stranger rolled down the window, Bheri Werntz asked him what he was doing and if he could keep the music down.
Without a word, the man reached for a silver handgun sitting on the passenger seat and pointed it at the father, who retreated with both hands up.
Seconds later, the victim’s son said, the gunman opened fire.
Weston Werntz ran to drop Dakota in her crate and rushed back out, shouting at the gunman, who slowly backed out of the driveway with one hand on the wheel, offering a toothless grin.
As the gunman drove off, Weston Werntz heard another shot. He’d later learn that the suspect had yelled a profanity at a gardener working nearby before shooting him in the foot.
Through troubled breaths, Bheri Werntz told his son and wife he loved them and goodbye.
“I told him, ‘No, we didn’t get through all this for it to end like this,’” Weston Werntz tearily recalled.
The 67-year-old was at the tail end of his long and complicated recovery from an April Whipple procedure, a major surgery involving his pancreas. A day after he returned home from that 17-day hospital stay, his 8-year-old beagle, Bella, unexpectedly died. At the time, the family was also mourning the recent loss of a grandmother.
In the weeks before the attack, however, Bheri Werntz had started to eat normally, after months trying to gain weight on a diet almost entirely made up of Ensure. The avid Clippers fan had started going to the gym again and had taken up gardening.
As much of a toll the recovery took on him, it also reinvigorated him, giving him a new outlook on life, his family said.
“For that guy to wind up in his driveway was such a kick in the gut,” said the victim’s 46-year-old son, Jason Werntz.
It’s where the Werntz family watched the shooter’s dramatic Jan. 4 capture unfold on television, ending when police shot him in front of commuters on the Golden State (5) Freeway after a wrong-way crash and foot pursuit.
In a cruel twist, it’s also where the 32-year-old suspect, Artyom Gasparyan, was taken for the treatment of his wounds.
The family was comforted, however, that Gasparyan’s room would be guarded by armed officers, and he wouldn’t be allowed visitors. Police say they are still investigating a motive in the attack.
That night, phone calls and texts flooded into their phones, as others had tuned in too.
“That’s our guy,” one detective called to say.
Alene Tchekmedyian, email@example.com