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HEARTS of the CITY

A Search for Answers

Crime: A woman is trying to find the hit-and-run driver who killed her brother and the man who received his heart.

May 21, 1997|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than a year, Karen Morris has hunted for two men--the one who killed her brother, and the one who lived because of it.

She wants to see the hand of justice clamped around the neck of the hit-and-run driver who fatally struck Wayne Sullivan as he dashed across La Cienega Boulevard in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles.

She wants to feel a hand of compassion placed gently upon the chest of the man who received her brother's heart after Sullivan died of head injuries.

"My brother was my hero," said Morris, 44, a nurse who lives in St. Charles, Mo. "He and I were extremely close all our lives.

"He was a sports fanatic and had a crazy Irish sense of humor. He was a fun-loving guy who loved to play practical jokes. Wayne moved out here for the sole purpose of being able to play golf in the winter. He detested shoveling snow--and shoveling ashes from the coal furnace."

Sullivan, 50, of Santa Monica, was a courier making midday pickups and deliveries March 28, 1996, when he tried to dash across the seven-lane thoroughfare. He was hit by a car in the sixth lane.

His heart was transplanted into an unidentified 42-year-old father of three the next day.

"I just want to put my hand on his chest to feel the heart beating," Morris said.

But so far, Morris has failed to find either man.

Los Angeles police say they have no leads to finding the driver of the small black or dark gray car that witnesses say hit Sullivan.

Officials of the organ center that arranged his heart transplant say its rules prohibit them from disclosing the identity of the recipient.

That has forced Morris to resort to posters, fliers, newspaper ads and trips to Los Angeles in her search. On the anniversary of the accident, she placed personal classified ads in The Times that urged both men to step forward.

"This has been a very hard year," she said. "Somebody has to know something."

Morris said she is impressed by the kindness of passersby and merchants along La Cienega, where the accident occurred.

About 25 people stopped or ran out of their stores to assist her brother. "A lot of people extended themselves," she said. "This was the city of angels that day."

Workers at a blueprint shop Sullivan visited moments before the accident rushed to help. They remembered how Sullivan had joked about having to hurry back across the street to his parked car before it got hit.

Seamstresses at a fabric shop tried to stop Sullivan's bleeding with bolts of new cloth. An off-duty firefighter rendered aid, yelling to others to redial 911 and alert emergency operators that Sullivan had suffered a major head injury and that paramedics should be expedited.

Morris arrived in Los Angeles shortly before her brother was taken off life-support at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Afterward, store owners consoled her when she visited the accident scene.

Graphics shop owner Ronda Garza volunteered to print fliers seeking information about the accident without charge. Then she helped Morris post them along a six-block area.

"I'd heard the clunk and turned around in time to see him flying through the air," Garza recalled this week. "Hopefully I'll never see anything like that again."

Witnesses heard a skidding sound before the car struck Sullivan and sent him flying over its hood and into its windshield, which shattered. The car, possibly a Volkswagen Fox, continued northbound in the 1900 block of South La Cienega Boulevard before turning right onto Sawyer Street.

Morris mailed postcards describing the hit-and-run driver's windshield to about 260 local repair shops.

She spent four hours one day "weaving in and out of traffic on La Cienega" handing fliers to motorists in hopes of finding more witnesses. She asked merchants to post them in their stores and she stopped pedestrians--including one group of gang members.

"One of the young guys took off his hat and told me he was so sorry," she said.

Less impressive was the reaction of police, according to Morris.

She contends that authorities to this day have failed to interview witnesses who saw the accident. She said one investigator tried to dissuade her from putting his phone number on fliers and from mailing out the repair shop postcards.

But Los Angeles Police Det. Ed Hayes disputes that, saying: "I wouldn't discourage any family member from getting involved. Obviously there's someone out there who knows who hit him."

Morris' classified newspaper ad asked the hit-and-run driver: "How do you look at yourself in the mirror every day?"

Her message to the heart recipient said: "I hope and pray you are doing well. Would love to meet you, if only to put my hand on your chest."

Morris said, "I just want to meet him once. That's all."

According to Morris, organ transplant officials have suggested that both she and the heart recipient exchange letters for a year or so and "both receive counseling" before any meeting is arranged.

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