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West Hollywood Assault Victim Faces Life Sentence

With brain damage and partial blindness, he finds support in unexpected places.

June 02, 2003|Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writer

In some ways, life was easier for Trev Broudy in September, when he was hooked up to machines in the intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. As he was rushed into surgery, as he lay in a coma, as friends and family held prayer vigils, his pain was obvious.

Now, the handsome 34-year-old looks and sounds as fine as anyone, only he isn't and never will be.

The baseball cap on his head covers a thick, horseshoe-shaped scar. It's the souvenir of recent surgery, when a plate was inserted where the skull used to be. His deep-blue eyes appear clear and sharp, but they see only a narrow slice of what's in front of them.

He speaks with growing ease, but simple words often elude him. The college graduate, who once had a good career as a voice-over artist, now struggles to read a sentence, let alone a script.

When Broudy was at Cedars-Sinai, his story was news. Cards poured in for the young gay man, who had been smashed in the head with a baseball bat on a quiet West Hollywood street after he had hugged a male friend goodnight.

Reports of a suspected gay bashing in a predominately gay neighborhood brought him unasked-for fame.

Now, Broudy is back in his apartment. But he can't return to his old life.

He struggles, sometimes optimistic, sometimes deeply depressed -- one day accepting the present, another dwelling with terror on the future.

"People assume because I look all right and I'm healthy and I'm walking and I'm talking, I'm all better," he said. "But I'm not. And I don't know if they want to hear that."

Friends call Broudy their hero. They speak of his story as inspirational. And in many ways, it has been.

"He is our Matthew Shepard except he lived," West Hollywood Councilman John Duran said of the passion with which his city rallied in support.

People who only casually knew Broudy dropped everything to help him. His divorced parents and stepmother, who arrived in West Hollywood terrified, not even sure what "gay bashing" meant, found themselves warmly embraced by a community and, bit by bit, embraced it back.

*

Attacked With a Bat

On Sept. 1, Broudy was saying goodbye to his friend Teddy Ulett when a man jumped out of a car and began swinging at Broudy's head with a bat.

A witness told sheriff's deputies that another attacker beat Broudy with a pipe. Ulett, who was in his car when the attack began, was hit in the arm, but managed to drive off.

Later this month, three men are scheduled to go on trial in the attack, which prosecutors say was an attempted robbery.

The suspects, who have pleaded not guilty, do not face hate crime charges. The district attorney said there was no evidence that prejudice was a factor.

The night Broudy arrived at Cedars-Sinai, surgeons cleaned away shards of skull from the back of his head and pieced back together other parts of skull that had been crushed.

The next day when his brain swelled, they operated again. For more than a week, Broudy was in an induced coma to guard against more swelling.

It was not until Oct. 10 that Broudy walked out of the hospital -- into a world he no longer could understand. He didn't know how to turn on his computer or how to put words together in a sentence.

At first, he thought his troubles were temporary -- that he soon would be back at work.

But weeks later, when he asked when he would see normally again, a doctor told him that he never would, that the loss of half the vision in both of his eyes was permanent.

"She said, 'Trev, of course you know that a major part of your brain was removed,' "Broudy said. "But I didn't know. I was like, 'No, that can't be true.' And she said, 'No, that's the truth.' And I just started sobbing uncontrollably and she didn't know what to do, and I didn't know what to do and everyone there in the office didn't know what to do."

Broudy belatedly learned that doctors trying to save his life had removed, not just dead, but also healthy brain tissue. A big chunk of his occipital lobe, crucial to sight, was gone. So was a part of his parietal lobe, leaving it hard for him to name objects, do math, read and focus.

"Suddenly, I realize this is the rest of my life -- never being able to see and never being able to read and never being able to drive and then all the other cognitive functions that have been evaporated from my head," Broudy said.

*

Past Is Not Present

In Broudy's small West Hollywood apartment, the gap between his past and present is palpable.

His walls are covered with paintings and travel photographs. His living room bookcase is crammed with books -- Katharine Hepburn's autobiography, a history of the 1929 stock market crash, Stephen Hawking, David Sedaris. In one corner is a small piano. On it sits a deck of cards he now often uses to push himself. It is labeled "Multiplication 0-12."

In a small office area off the kitchen next door, Broudy sat in front of his computer, his cognitive therapist beside him.

"Do you like comic books?" asked Michael Chesebro, the therapist.

"I guess," Broudy said. "I don't know."

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