www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-rodricks-0518-20140516,0,7431937.column

baltimoresun.com

A good walk spoiled, a random shooting survived

A Baltimore lawyer recalls 'lightning strike' on city street 15 years ago

Dan Rodricks

11:11 PM EDT, May 16, 2014

Advertisement

A note about Jeff Yeatman: I sought him out; he did not contact me. Until I asked, he'd never given an interview about the random act of madness that occurred 15 years ago near his office in downtown Baltimore.

"I actively avoided it at the time," he says, "because I resented the idea that I had to share something very fresh and awful just because other people found it interesting."

I came across his name while searching Google for articles about walking to work. This headline, from The Baltimore Sun of Feb. 3, 1999, popped up: "Lawyer wounded walking to work."

At the time, Yeatman was a 29-year-old attorney with what was then Piper & Marbury (now DLA Piper) in what was then the firm's main office, at Charles Center South. Yeatman often walked to work from his home in Otterbein.

On Groundhog Day 1999, at 9:45 a.m., near the corner of Charles and Pratt streets, a stranger with a .38-caliber revolver started shooting at him.

The first shot went through Yeatman's shoulder, busted his collar bone and went through his lung. (The bullet missed his heart by 3 inches, a trauma surgeon later told The Sun.)

Yeatman, dressed in a suit and topcoat, started running; one of his loafers came off. The gunman chased him and kept firing, a crazy scene of shattering glass and screaming pedestrians. There were five more shots, none of which hit Yeatman.

He got away from the gunman and pushed through the lobby doors of Charles Center South. He spotted another attorney, George Ritchie.

"George," Yeatman called, "I need you to call me an ambulance, I've been shot." At first Ritchie thought Yeatman was joking. Yeatman pulled back his coat to show the blood that covered his left side. Minutes later, he heard a siren.

"I just need to stay upright," he told himself as he waited for the ambulance. "If I stay upright, I'll make it. I'm just two blocks from the University of Maryland [Medical Center], with one of the greatest trauma centers in the world, and Hopkins is here. One way or the other, I'm going to be OK."

Yeatman recovered with the help of the doctors and nurses of the Shock Trauma Center, a large supporting cast of family and friends, Piper colleagues, and his girlfriend.

Among his hospital visitors were the parents of the man who shot him.

Police identified the shooter as a 23-year-old man with no record of criminality and a legally purchased handgun.

The man's parents told The Sun that they had twice petitioned courts to have him committed for psychiatric treatment, citing threats to family members. Both times the man won legal release from a local hospital.

"They were very apologetic," Yeatman said of the shooter's parents. "They said they had tried to have him committed twice. They said they saw the whole thing coming. ... They said they felt bad for me, but I felt worse for them."

Yeatman says the shooter was found guilty but not criminally responsible, remanded to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for treatment for several years, then eventually placed on some sort of supervised release.

A department spokesman, citing privacy restrictions, would neither confirm nor deny that the man remains in the state's mental health system. A call to a number believed to be that of the man's parents was not returned.

Yeatman recently received a notice from the state alerting him to a review of the man's case and inviting the attorney to offer comments. "Since the notice didn't arrive until after the hearing date, that didn't do me a lot of good," Yeatman says. "But I'd defer to his treating physicians in any event because I am no expert in mental health issues."

Yeatman is still with Piper. The law firm relocated its large staff of attorneys to Mount Washington in 2000, a move it had announced the year before Yeatman was shot.

"I don't get too many questions about [the shooting] in my ordinary day-to-day life," he says. "But when I go to legal conferences I can pretty much count on being asked to tell it four to five times. My professional goal is to someday be known for something other than being the Piper lawyer who got shot."

He married his girlfriend in December 2000. He and his wife, Holly, who is a physician, have four children, ages 11 to 2.

I asked Yeatman if he ever thinks about the timing — 15 minutes early or late for work, and he might not have been shot. "I've thought about that," he says. "And, if not me, it probably would have been someone else. ... It was almost like a lightning strike."

I asked how the experience might have changed him. "Maybe I don't get quite as anxious as I used to about deadlines or maybe [legal] arguments that are coming up. ... So that, and ... I just consider every second a gift."

drodricks@baltsun.com