Immigrant, 24, hangs onto life, his serenity gone

RECOVERING FROM A NEAR-FATAL BEATING

April 05, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Expedito "Pedro" Lugo was eager to get to Patterson Park to break in the new baseball bat his brother had brought him from the Dominican Republic.

The Lugos, a close-knit and religious family, had emigrated from the Dominican Republic in search of a better life. They had found it in East Baltimore.

But what happened May 17 as Mr. Lugo walked to the park to play baseball has destroyed his family's contented life in America. It also has nearly destroyed him.

Mr. Lugo, a slender 24-year-old, was beaten by several teen-agers and smashed in the head with his own bat.

He nearly died, and spent four weeks in a coma at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Three teen-agers were arrested and charged as adults with assault and attempted murder. They have pleaded innocent.

After several postponements, their trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday in city Circuit Court.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, the ordeal for Mr. Lugo and his family will continue. He is now crippled, afraid of strangers and depressed.

Last Thursday he was released from Franklin Square Hospital Center after a month of psychiatric treatment. He was admitted March 5 after threatening to harm himself.

He has become increasingly despondent about his physical and mental limitations.

Once athletic and effervescent, Mr. Lugo inhabits a different body. He is partially paralyzed. His right arm is nearly useless, and his right leg is weak.

His mind is different, too. His ability to speak and comprehend is impaired. He is consumed by fear. Before entering Franklin Square, he spent hours in bed, crying.

"He doesn't see a future for himself," said Dr. Daniel Drubach, director of the brain-injury unit at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital, where Mr. Lugo underwent four months of grueling therapy.

"He's fully able to understand what happened to him," Dr. Drubach said. "He's fully able to understand that his whole life is going to be affected. He's often told me that. That's what makes him very depressed."

Dr. Drubach said Mr. Lugo's physical condition may improve, but only slightly. Brain-injured people usually show little progress after the first year, the doctor said. Mr. Lugo's injury occurred 10 1/2 months ago.

But Mr. Lugo's mental condition will probably improve greatly, said Dr. Drubach, who is also assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Maryland.

"He's going to have to learn that he can live a relatively normal life," Dr. Drubach said.

Mr. Lugo will someday be able to work, once he learns a suitable skill through vocational rehabilitation training, the doctor said. But before Mr. Lugo can begin his battle for a productive life, the doctor said, he must first accept his limitations.

"I think eventually he will," Dr. Drubach said.

Mr. Lugo was released from Montebello in October into a strange and frightening world. He insisted that his relatives keep the doors closed. He was afraid intruders might attack him again.

His family shared his intense fear. The Lugos fled their comfortable rowhouse and moved out of the city. They don't want anyone but friends to know where they live.

Mr. Lugo's 25-year-old sister, Ramona, one of two family members who speaks English, recalled their life in East Baltimore: "We were so happy when we were there."

Then, referring to her brother's beating, she added: "After that, we don't have peace."

During an interview at their new home shortly before Mr. Lugo was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, he sat on the couch, apparently happy to have company.

Asked whether he liked the new house, he nodded. "I think it's more safe," he said in halting English.

Asked whether he minded staying indoors most of the time, he shook his head. "Because I want to be safe," he said.

His father, one of 16 children, was a struggling farmer in the Dominican Republic. He emigrated to the United States in 1978 and settled in Baltimore in 1981. He got a job washing dishes at Tio Pepe restaurant, and works the same job today.

In 1984 he arranged for his oldest son and daughter to join him, and the next year he brought the rest of the family. There are seven children in all.

Pedro is the third-oldest. He also got a job at Tio Pepe, washing dishes and later working as a busboy. He found a new job as a busboy at Dominique's restaurant because he wanted to learn English; workers at Tio Pepe spoke Spanish. Mr. Lugo worked at Dominique's until it closed in December 1990. He was unemployed when he was beaten.

He said he did not know his attackers. Asked whether he knew any reason why anyone would want to hurt him, he shook his head.

He tried to recount the moments before the beating. He said he doesn't remember getting hit. He doesn't remember many things. His sisters said some days he can't remember what he ate for breakfast.

He motioned with his hands and tried to talk, but few words came.

"He knows what he wants to say," said Bernarda, his 17-year-old sister, "but sometimes he can't put it in a sentence."

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