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Cabbie shot in head in 2003 faring well

SUNDAY, JULY 10, 2011

Taxi driver Jack Gordon demonstrates how a passenger put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger during a 2003 robbery in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)
Taxi driver Jack Gordon demonstrates how a passenger put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger during a 2003 robbery in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)

In recovery, Gordon embraced computers, ‘hole-in-the-head’ diet

Eight years ago, longtime Spokane cab driver Jack Gordon felt the passenger in the back seat press a gun barrel to his right temple.

Gordon agreed to hand over the money in his pocket but extended his hand only a few inches before the gun exploded.

Bright light. Jarring impact. Pressure and blood.

“The first thing that came across my mind was, ‘Did this just really happen?’ ” Gordon said, recalling the shooting on Dec. 1, 2003. “There was blood everywhere, but I was still there. I knew I wasn’t going to be for very long.”

Unable to see because of the blood and unable to hear because of the report from the sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, Gordon fumbled for the microphone of his radio.

“I was able to send a call into dispatch to let them know to send an ambulance and police,” he said.

When authorities arrived, they found the heavyset Gordon kneeling outside of the cab with blood pouring from his face.

Gordon’s world went black.

“I remember someone saying, ‘It’s OK, Jack. We are just going to clean you up a bit.’ I do remember flashes of being moved onto a table and throwing up every time they moved me,” he said. “I don’t remember anything else.”

His wife, Barbara Gordon, got a call that night from Jack’s friend, who told her she needed to get to Deaconess Medical Center.

“Is he dead? He’s not giving me any information at all,” she said of the friend. “I have prepared myself for him being dead and when I walk in he’s sitting up talking to a cop. We were laughing about it, but at the same time it was tragic because we really didn’t know if he would live or die.

“Your whole life changes in a second.”

Computer therapy

For Gordon, the changes weren’t all bad.

Dan Fox, a counselor at Lutheran Community Services Northwest who works with families of violent-crime victims, says Gordon is “a fascinating story. Here is someone who was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong guy. What is fantastic about it is that it has changed his life in many ways for the better.”

Gordon, now 68, credits the support of his wife, who slept on a couch while he reclined in a chair to keep his head elevated; the help of his friends, including those who took the time to liquefy chicken and dumplings in a blender so he could eat it through a straw; and a new interest in technology for giving him his life back.

He and his wife never stopped looking forward.

“There is life after,” Gordon said. “You can move forward no matter what happens to you. If you can’t go to work, you look for an alternative.”

Today, Gordon is a self-taught computer geek who drives a cab part time, just for therapy.

“I’m pretty much back to 100 percent,” he said. “One of the things I have to credit this with is the computer.”

By his own count, Gordon has built some 40 websites that draw income through what’s called affiliate marketing. He essentially works as the middleman between big online retailers and buyers, getting a fee for sending business to them.

Gordon started his online adventure first through eBay and found his business connections through research.

Before he was shot, “We were afraid of technology. We were old school,” he said of himself and his wife. “I literally went from a rotary phone to a smartphone.”

Gordon wants his message to resonate with other senior citizens.

“What it did was make me focus. It made me exercise my mind. I absolutely got hooked,” he said. “I think seniors in particular should learn how to use the new tool. If they use their mind more as they are aging, it will not be as difficult.”

‘Thick-headed Scotsman’

Despite his eventual success, Gordon’s journey to recovery was paved with difficulty.

The bullet disintegrated when it hit Gordon’s facial bones. It broke his jaw, perforated his nasal cavity and thrust bone and lead fragments into his brain.

Surgeons went in through his mouth and worked for 10 hours to repair the damage. They chose to leave the fragments in the brain, believing the pursuit would be too dangerous.

“I’m a thick-headed Scotsman. If the bullet had been any other caliber, I wouldn’t have had a chance,” Gordon said.

The shooting occurred just two weeks after Barbara Gordon’s best friend was shot and killed in front of her children by her estranged husband in Cranbrook, B.C.

“So, emotionally, I was already taking a hit,” she said. “I was going through life, but you are not really there. Then this happens. This is a nightmare.

“After you go through that kind of craziness, you start getting it together.”

Gordon awoke from the surgery with things sticking out of his nose, his jaw wired shut and no teeth. His wife asked surgeons to make him look like Sean Connery.

“As bad as it got, we always tried to keep a sense of humor,” Jack Gordon said.

Gordon was released from the hospital after only a few days. But he had to learn to walk again, find his balance and work to restore his memory. Most of his healing, however, was psychological.

He stayed awake at night fearing that his shooter’s fellow gang members would come finish the job. He questioned why he was able to survive. Despite his appreciation of the medical professionals at Deaconess, he remains too afraid to ever enter a hospital.

Fox, the therapist, said it’s common for victims of violent crime to live in fear of things others don’t understand.

“It changes your worldview. Things that would be considered safe before are unsafe now,” Fox said. “If someone is walking down the street and is mugged, that street becomes a trauma trigger. Sometimes, it’s bad. Sometimes they don’t leave the house.”

The Gordons did not have health insurance, but they qualified for a fund by the state Department of Labor and Industries for victims of violent crimes. It paid for everything.

“I appreciated being alive more than I can possibly tell you. I appreciated my family and friends and the support that this community gave me,” he said.

Gordon, who has struggled with his weight his entire adult life, often said before the shooting that he would need to become sick or die to lose weight. His meals through a straw did the trick.

“I call it my ‘hole-in-the-head diet,’ ” he said.

‘Demon’ with a gun

Based on the descriptions given by Gordon at the hospital, Spokane police quickly tracked Jose C. Reyes, who was 20 at the time. He shot Gordon during a robbery that netted him about $200.

Reyes, a new father without a previous criminal record, was sentenced in June 2004 to 20 years in prison.

“I don’t know if all of you know anything about crystal meth, but I do,” Reyes told the packed courtroom at his sentencing. “It will turn you into a demon – a demon that will take anybody’s life for a hit, and that’s what I did. I just hope for forgiveness.”

Gordon said then and now that he forgives Reyes even though he believes the young man showed no remorse.

Gordon remains in pain. Although his scar is not large, he described the persistent ache as the shape from the mask in “Phantom of the Opera.” Gordon said he would rather take the pain, however, than suffer the side effects from the narcotics necessary to dull it.

“Sometimes the pressure gets so intense it feels like my head is going to blow up,” he said. “I try to take a breath, relax and get it to go away.”

But the worst anguish he endured, he said, was sitting through Reyes’ sentencing and listening to speeches by friends and family.

“It was like going to my own eulogy. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever been through,” he said. “I heard people I’ve known all my life talk about me, and I didn’t know how they felt.

“But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he said through tears. “Let me testify – that’s true.”

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