French Quarter bar fight victim suffers lingering repercussions from head injuries

This story was published in The Times-Picayune on December 13, 2011. 

Two months ago in the French Quarter, two strangers got in a 30-second bar fight that will forever affect their lives. One now faces the prospect of permanent brain damage and hundreds of thousands in medical bills — without insurance. The other faces arrest for second-degree battery, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.


Their fateful meeting occurred Oct. 16, at the Jax Brewery Bistro Bar in the 600 block of Decatur Street. New Orleans police said Tuesday that Jason Samuel Lawrence, 23, of New Orleans, allegedly placed the 28-year-old victim in a headlock, choked him unconscious, then threw him down a flight of concrete stairs.

Police do not publicly identify crime victims. The victim spoke with The Times-Picayune on condition of anonymity.

“I was very, very fortunate to not have died,” he said. Due to his injuries, he does not remember what happened that night.

After the attack, the victim spent the next two days in a coma, and the following two weeks in intensive care. As a result of his head injuries — including eight skull fractures, bruises in multiple brain lobes, and neuron damage — he now has trouble with short-term memory, conversation and everyday tasks.

A witness, Jon Greco, 23, said it all happened in about 30 seconds. He and the victim had been drinking Bud Lights and smoking on Jax’s outdoor patio. It was around midnight. The patio was crowded.

At one point, the victim threw his empty beer bottle at a white pickup truck parked about 30 feet away, Greco said. The club’s bouncer grabbed the victim, pulling him toward the exit.

The victim resisted, and in the melee, his arm may have knocked over Lawrence’s drink, Greco said. No words were exchanged, and no punches were thrown, according to Greco.

Lawrence had the victim in a chokehold in seconds, Greco said.

A crowd of about 50 people had gathered around and were egging on the fight “like in high school,” Greco said. Lawrence then allegedly threw the victim, unconscious, down a nearby flight of about eight cement stairs, Greco said.

“It wasn’t like he tumbled down the stairs. He fell almost like if you threw a rag doll, flat on his head,” Greco said. “He was unconscious, so he couldn’t put his arm out to catch himself or anything.”

Seeing the victim motionless on the landing, with blood pooling in his eyes and running down his face, the crowd that had encouraged the violence leapt into action. Someone called 9-1-1. Others helped Greco lift the victim’s throat, to clear his air passages. Greco said soon he and the victim were covered in blood.

The victim was taken by ambulance to LSU Interim Hospital, according to police records.

Life is different for him now. He cannot drive. He had to hire an assistant to help with the appliance repair business he used to run alone. He relies on cell-phone alarms to remind him to do routine daily tasks, like making calls. If he thinks “too hard,” his brain starts to throb and he has to lie down and take some painkillers, he said.

The areas of his brain that bled and bruised — the right temporal lobe and the left frontal lobe — are areas that control planning, emotions and language skills, said Dr. Beth Wee, co-director of Tulane University’s neuroscience program. Wee did not treat the victim.

The degree to which brain injuries are permanent depends on the severity of the trauma, said Wee.

Friends of the victim say his personality has changed.

“Oh God, he’s really different now,” Greco said. “He just doesn’t have that wit or sense of humor that everybody knew him for.”

He often speaks in run-on sentences and uses unnatural vocabulary, Greco said. For example, when asked about why the bouncer had been kicking him out of Jax, he said, “I’m told the argument was about an indiscrepancy that was performed on site regarding a glass bottle on the patio.”

His girlfriend sat down with him on a recent night to review a lesson in talking to people.

“She brought it up to my attention, the problems,” he said.

When asked what kinds of problems, his girlfriend said: “You know, social skills, like that filter that helps you decide what to say and what not to say in a conversation.”

Witnesses identified Lawrence after police released surveillance video to the media, police said. Lawrence was not at his last known address when officers tried to reach him Monday, Police Commander Jeff Walls said.


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