SAN DIEGO — Scripps Memorial Hospital for the first time flew the flagat half-staff Tuesday to honor one of its own patients--a 35-year-old man who died of gunshot wounds after attempting to stop a burglar in University City.
Gary Smith, a North Park carpet layer, died Tuesday from wounds suffered last week when he was shot four times with a small-caliber handgun while helping a University City woman who had discovered a burglar in her home.
"We are all devastated," the Smith family said in a prepared statement. "His death is not fair because he was so good, and he was only trying to help."
Since the Wednesday shooting, cards and flowers have poured into Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, some from friends and neighbors, but most from people who had never met Smith. During his six days in the hospital, Smith, described by nurses as a "fighter," underwent five operations.
He is survived by his wife, Sandra, and their three children, Dominique, 7, Kenny, 3, and Danielle, 9 months. Funeral services will be held in Columbus, Ohio, where his mother lives, probably at the end of the week, Scripps spokesman Michael Dabney said. Memorial services have not been planned in San Diego, he said.
Police officers, hospital staff and others close to the family said they were overwhelmed by the support and concern from the community. The family has received more than a thousand letters and cards since Thursday, hospital spokeswoman Edie High said.
A spokeswoman for the San Diego Blood Bank, where 501 people donated a pint of blood each in Smith's name, said the turnout was comparable to the response to calls for blood after last fall's San Francisco earthquake.
"We talk about citizens getting involved. Gary did. That was the type of individual that he was," said Police Sgt. Willie P. Smith, who was one of the officers on the scene after the shooting. "It's unfortunate that he tried to come to someone's aid and wound up dying for it."
Flags at all Scripps institutions were to be at half-staff again today in Smith's memory, Dabney said.
"That's unprecedented, but we felt it was appropriate. He risked his life and ultimately gave his life for what he did," Dabney said.
Smith was installing carpet at a condominium in the 7900 block of Camino Tranquilo when he heard screams coming from the building next door, police said. He chased a gun-wielding man about a block down the residential street before he was shot in the face, abdomen, left arm and right thigh.
Doctors were able to remove two bullets from Smith's body, but Dabney said the bullets in his head and abdomen were not removed because doctors considered it too risky.
Timothy Howard Pemberton, 22, was arrested Friday in connection with the shooting and was booked on suspicion of attempted murder and related charges. At Pemberton's arraignment Tuesday, the charge was changed to murder; he pleaded not guilty on all counts. The district attorney's office said it considering filing for a finding of special circumstances, which would make Pemberton subject to the death penalty if he is convicted. Bail was set at $1 million.