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RECOVERING FROM A NEAR-FATAL BEATING Immigrant, 24, hangs onto life, his serenity gone

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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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"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.

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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.

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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."

It is not any easier for him to express himself in Spanish, she said.

Family members altered their lives to care for him. When he awoke in the morning, they helped him straighten his right arm and leg. They helped him dress and bathe.

His sisters took him to the mall in his wheelchair every now and then, but they couldn't get him to go to family birthday parties. Often he wouldn't eat and insisted on staying in bed. But he got out of the house three days a week because he had to be taken to Franklin Square for physical, occupational and speech therapy. Now that he is back home, the outpatient treatment is expected to resume.

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His medical bills, which amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are being paid by the government's Medicaid program.

After the highly publicized beating, which shocked the city, Mr. Lugo and his family received donations of money and medical equipment, flowers and food, and hundreds of cards and letters.

The Lugos appreciated the good will, but their damaged life seems irreparable.

Unskilled in English and unassuming, they are ill-equipped to deal with the confusing worlds of the U.S. judicial, medical and social-service systems.

The Lugos say they regret coming to the United States. If they had the money, they would go back to the Dominican Republic, Ramona Lugo said.

"We never have trouble in our country -- no trouble with nobody," Ramona said. "If we know all the problems, we would not want to come here, because we came for a better life."

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Mike Murphy, a deacon at St. Francis of Assisi Church, has helped the family since he met Pedro Lugo while making rounds at Montebello.

Before Mr. Lugo's recent hospitalization, Mr. Murphy said of him: "There's not a vicious or harmful bone in his body. There's no sense of bitterness, no sense of revenge."

Mr. Murphy asked Mr. Lugo to speak at a prayer service honoring the January birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. More than 200 students at St. Francis of Assisi School attended.

Mr. Lugo talked about "how his response has been one of peace and love in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, love for your XTC neighbor no matter what your neighbor does to you," Mr. Murphy said.

But now, Mr. Murphy said, "I think there's something much deeper going on there. Pedro may actually be facing the depth of his anger and frustration."

Mr. Murphy said the apparent change may show that Mr. Lugo has reached "rock bottom" and is ready to begin his long climb toward a fulfilling life.

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Mr. Murphy recently asked Mr. Lugo about his prayers. The deacon said Mr. Lugo replied that when he tries to pray he falls asleep because of medication, or he can't concentrate enough to formulate a prayer. So he merely prays: "Oh God, help me."

Donations

Donations may be sent to the Expedito Lugo Trust Fund, c/o Golden Prague Federal Savings and Loan Association, 2921 McElderry St., Baltimore 21205.



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