Las Vegas Sun

October 30, 2014

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REALITY HITS HOME

Kathy Urbanski would spend time checking her husband's body every few hours for lesions, gashes, cuts of any kind that bleed without feeling. When you're paralyzed mid-waist down, a howitzer can blast off a knee and you'll never know.

Tiny cuts, hidden and unfelt, are what Kathy and Tom Urbanski have learned to fear most. Untended, they redden and fester to become blue-and-yellow works of physical breakdown that can take longer than broken bones to heal.

These are things you never realize when life is rocking along. But you learn fast to fear new things when life hangs in the balance, as it has since the waning hours of the debacle of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas four months ago.

About 5 a.m. on Feb. 19, "Tommy," as his wife calls him, showed up for his job at Minxx, a new strip club. Ten minutes later gunfire erupted near a palm tree 10 feet from the front door where Urbanski was standing.

Four bullets hit him, one lodging in his spine as he twisted and fell.

He immediately lost feeling from his belly button down.

A month later, as Urbanski recuperated in Denver's Craig Hospital, fear of death began to fade and a new realization emerged: A body unaccustomed to paralysis must deal with daily collapses. Kidneys shut down. A hand went numb after surgery. His mind couldn't forget how the body used to move but no longer did.

His wife , Kathy, was there beside him every day. Yet not until this week did it finally hit home. While Tom remained in Denver for more treatment, Kathy moved back to Las Vegas this week to return to her job as a teacher.

She walked into their southwest Las Vegas home, where his four electric guitars stood propped against a living room wall. Their two "children," Lil' T and Lil' K, a couple of not-so-little red-eared slider turtles in a 4- feet-long tank, floated and sparred with each other.

In Denver, Kathy had tried remembering the house because she knew it would need modifications for her husband. Now it looked like a different place.

"I was picturing it in my head, and I thought that back wall was longer," she said, looking at the windows to the back yard. "You associate a wheelchair with the hospital. But not in his own home."

Immediately, she knew that the dining room set would have to be replaced because a man in a wheelchair could never fit with a table so low.

Don Urbanski, Tom's dad, came by and sat on the couch - a piece of furniture she considers nearly useless, because it, too, will never be sat on by her husband, tethered as he will always be to his chair.

Kathy soon had other visitors. Stopping by were Mark and Gene Mastretta, retired New York City cops who have lived in Las Vegas for six years. They became friends with Tom Urbanski, a former professional wrestler, after meeting while working out in a gym.

As ex-cops do, the Mastrettas still pay attention to crime. And on occasion, they find themselves watching the TV in disbelief as stories unfold in Las Vegas.

But not until they got a call from Don Urbanski a few hours after the Minxx shooting did the brothers become cops again. They tore off to University Medical Center, where Tom was in surgery.

In the waiting room they found 10, maybe 15 , people from Minxx, Mark Mastretta said, some of them witnesses to the melee that led up to the shooting. Also there, he said, as the brothers shook their heads, was an ambulance-chasing lawyer vying to represent the Urbanskis.

But the Mastrettas said they saw no Las Vegas police. Not one officer.

They also said no one from Metro Police had attempted to get a "dying declaration" from Urbanski, who was conscious until doctors put him under to do emergency surgery.

In New York, where , Mark Mastretta estimates , he responded to "maybe a thousand" shootings, standard procedure was to try for a statement from a near-death shooting victim.

That didn't happen in Las Vegas.

Doctors induced a coma during Urbanski's surgery and he didn't emerge from it for three weeks. Only then could police talk to him.

"It really is the Wild West out here," Mastretta said.

Asked about the Mastrettas' version of events after the shooting, a spokesman for Metro's Robbery/Homicide Bureau said he could not comment on the investigation because it is still under way.

As the Mastrettas talked in the living room, Kathy was in the kitchen on the phone , trying to get information on her husband's case from the Clark County District Attorney's Office. She identifie d the case by giving her husband's name.

At the other end, the computer didn't find him. She was told he hasn't been listed as a victim.

"How many times does someone have to be shot to be considered a victim in Las Vegas?" she replied.

Moments later, she called her husband in Denver to tell him. "If I was upset, I had reason to be," she said.

The conversation was short. It was one of more than a dozen she had already had with Tom that day. She ended by telling him how much she missed and loved him.

By then, in the living room, Don Urbanski was repeating a comment made by a police officer investigating the shooting: "You should see the stack of paperwork" he faces in his job, the officer had said. He was letting the grieving father know that finding time to handle his son's case wasn't going to be easy.

"I was flabbergasted," Don said.

The Mastrettas, too, couldn't let go of the shooting.

"God thank the media," Mark Mastretta said. "Just think how many times something like this happens here and no one does anything. Would they have even investigated it without you guys?"

Sadly, media attention has more to do with the Minxx patrons involved than it does vigilance by journalists. If a man with a video-game nickname and a professional sports pedigree hadn't been involved in a melee at the club before the shooting, Urbanski would likely be just another victim.

National Football League player Adam "Pacman" Jones held court at the Minxx on the night of the shooting, showering dollar bills upon strippers to "make it rain" for the girls and his entourage to see.

Problems began, according to one witness who spoke to The Sun, when the dancers scrambled to pick up the money. Jones allegedly slammed one woman's head against the stage. Minxx employees reacted and it became a shouting and shoving match as they tried to push everyone out of the club.

About 20 minutes later, gunfire.

Last Wednesday, four months after the shooting and a day after Kathy got home, Jones was charged with two counts of felony coercion, one for "threatening to kill (floor host) Aaron Cudworth and/or George Petraski," according to the criminal complaint against Jones. The other was for a "physical attack" on Cudworth to prevent him from doing "that which he had a right to do."

Two other people also were charged, Sadia Morrison and Robert Reid. Jones turned himself in and was booked into the Clark County Detention Center on Friday. He was released on $20,000 bond. Morrison and Reid were also planning to turn themselves in. Jones will plead not guilty to the charges, his attorney said.

No one, however, has been charged with the shooting. Police released clear images of a male "person of interest" captured from a Minxx surveillance video. Police said the person is believed to have information that could help the investigation.

From Denver, Tom spoke through a friend to say he was "very happy" about the arrests.

He may have had more to say, but he was in the middle of physical therapy. And in truth, Urbanski has so much more to think about than who shot him.

He has lost feeling in one hand after carpal tunnel surgery .

After his kidneys shut down, doctors got them functioning again by pumping gallons of saline solution into his body intravenously. The kidneys work, but now, for whatever reason, 30 to 40 pounds of water remains in his legs.

It's being worked on. But if the pattern of Urbanski's life now holds, when that problem goes away, another will replace it.

The Urbanskis already know that another surgery is coming. Since the shooting, Tom has lost about 100 pounds from his 400-pound frame. So when the water's gone, he'll have so much excess skin under his arms, and on his chest, gut and lower back , that it not only will hinder what remaining movement he has left, but will become fertile ground for infections.

Doctors want to remove it. Recovery from that surgery likely means his stay at Craig Hospital will extend into August.

Knowing all of that, as Kathy stood in her home, she beamed a smile. The best time of her day now is when she sits down to write thank-yous to people she has never met, she said.

She writes thank - yous for the cards, letters and gifts of money to the family. Children in her third-grade class have told her they pray for her husband. Their parents have hugged and cried with her.

Her father-in-law nod ded. He looked almost childlike , sunken in the massive plush couch. His look was far away for a second, staring at the guitars. Then he smiled. While others talked in the background, he whispered about a music producer who had called and offered to raise money for Tommy by making recordings.

He shook his head slightly at another stark realization stemming from his son's agony.

"There really are good people out there," Don Urbanski said. "It really surprises you, there are so many of them."

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