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Shooting Victim Known as Reserved, Non-Combative

July 22, 1987|BOB SCHWARTZ | Times Staff Writer

Paul Gary Nussbaum, the USC School of Social Work graduate who was shot by another motorist on the Costa Mesa Freeway, is "one of the most reserved, non-combative, non-confrontational people you'd want to meet," one of his former professors said Tuesday.

"This has just shocked everyone," said Dr. Barbara Kaplan, an assistant clinical professor at the school. "He was a very competent student, very cooperative and helpful, and he had good relations with other students."

Nussbaum, 28, was still in the intensive care unit at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital on Tuesday, paralyzed from the neck to the waist. A bullet is still lodged in his neck, and he is able to breathe only with the assistance of a respirator.

Although he remains in critical condition, he is conscious, fully aware and can "almost talk," a close friend said Tuesday. But doctors are not sure if he will ever regain feeling in his upper body or if they will even be able to remove the bullet, the friend said.

Nussbaum had left his parents' house about 6:30 p.m. Saturday to visit a friend in Newport Beach. He ran into heavy traffic on the Costa Mesa Freeway, however, and, while driving along the shoulder, was shot by another motorist. His 1980 Datsun wagon went out of control and slammed into three other cars before coming to a stop.

Albert Carroll Morgan, 32, a roofer from Santa Ana, was formally charged Tuesday with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and firing at an inhabited vehicle in the shooting.

Nussbaum's family has declined to speak to the media at length about their son. But colleagues from USC and longtime friends from the Palos Verdes Peninsula describe him as a quiet, compassionate man who had to overcome some problems of his own before settling on a career devoted to helping other people straighten out their lives.

A dyslexic, Nussbaum struggled with mathematical and statistical subjects in graduate school but "beat the hell out of it at USC," Campbell Odening, a close friend, said.

'His Biggest' Obstacle

"He's had a lot of little obstacles, but this is his biggest," said Odening, who has been playing tennis with Nussbaum at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club near the Nussbaum home since both were teen-agers. "We'd all had a lot of career Angst-- that's just our part of town--but he'd finally got his MSW (master of social work degree)."

Nussbaum, who once practiced with future tennis pros Tracy and John Austin at the Kramer Club, played tennis at Miraleste High School in Rancho Palos Verdes and later at California State University, Sonoma, from which he was graduated with a degree in management in 1983. He organized a tennis program in Sonoma after graduating from college and before moving back home to his parents' home to attend USC.

The Nussbaum home is on a cul-de-sac of expensive but unpretentious houses in Rolling Hills Estates. The only sound breaking the quiet of the street one recent afternoon was the thunk of tennis balls from the courts of the adjacent Kramer Club. A woman emerged from one house to check her mail. Across the street, three teen-agers discussed strategy for their new auto detailing business.

Some friends speculated that Nussbaum's outstanding physical condition may help him recover more quickly than expected. He ran several miles each day, lifted weights regularly and has completed 26-mile marathons in three hours, Odening said.

"He has the real social work spirit," said Louise Horvitz, a USC classmate. "You don't go into social work for the money."

Worked for Jewish Group

Besides doing field work this year at a Los Angeles bank, where he counseled employees with a variety of problems, Nussbaum also did clinical work on the USC campus, Kaplan said. During his first year, he worked for Jewish Family Service in Long Beach--where he received an excellent evaluation, Kaplan said.

"He is a lovely guy," said Amy Blender, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Long Beach and West Orange County. "We are really so upset about this."

Nussbaum also worked part time at Del Amo Hospital in Torrance to help pay his way through school, according to friends. He had been looking for a job since graduating this spring from USC and had "a number of irons in the fire," one friend said.

"He was interested in helping people through hard times," said Mark Lewis, who has known Nussbaum since the family moved to Rolling Hills Estates from the East Coast 15 years ago. "I wish my friend was back."

The shooting is not the first time the family has faced adversity. Nussbaum's brother, Scott, spent several days in an intensive care ward after he was in a serious automobile accident last year, and his father, Wilbur, suffered for years from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease of uncertain origin that causes temporary paralysis. Both have recovered.

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