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By Lois Henry
Charges were finally filed this week against James Gutcher for allegedly knocking down 79-year-old Daniel Raue after an apparent fit of road rage on Valentine's Day.
But only one misdemeanor battery count, so far.
Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.
After meeting with the Raue family, Supervising District Attorney Melissa Allen said her office is preparing another charge of elder abuse. But it, too, will be a misdemeanor and won't add any punishment.
Gutcher refused to comment. An arraignment is scheduled for April 9.
Matt Raue, Daniel Raue's son, was encouraged with the additional charge but is frustrated by what feels has been an ocean of inertia around this entire incident.
"My dad feels like there's no justice, like he's forgotten in all this," Matt Raue said.
It was Matt Raue's prodding that kept the case open after the Bakersfield Police Department tried to close it a few days after the incident. He's been the one pushing the DA to explain why felony charges weren't merited.
And he's been trying to get answers as to why Mercy Hospital allegedly left his father sitting in a hallway for an hour, alone and with no indication that anyone was coming back to help him.
"It all relates back to the main theme -- no one thought he was relevant enough," Matt Raue said.
Raue, who lives downtown, was walking north on F Street having just bought groceries. He was about to cross 21st Street when Gutcher drove east onto 21st and nearly hit Raue.
The two men loudly cussed each other out.
Then Gutcher flipped a U-turn, got out of his car and approached Raue. All of that was confirmed by Raue, eyewitness Marissa Salinas and Gutcher himself, in a previous interview.
Gutcher declined to say how Raue ended up on the sidewalk, knocked out.
But Salinas said she saw and heard it all happen right in front of her office window.
Gutcher, she said, was in a full rage and swore at Raue as he charged up, shoving the old man, who went flying backward.
Raue was walking with his head down, carrying his bags and had no idea what was coming, she said.
His head hit the concrete with an audible thud and he was knocked unconscious.
A misdemeanor charge seems pretty light for that kind of attack.
But prosecutor Allen said she and three other supervisors studied the case and concluded that given the totality of events, they couldn't justify a felony charge.
I mentioned another local case that recently resulted in a manslaughter conviction. In that case Travis Lamb got into an argument in a parking lot with Richard Gilroy. Lamb punched Gilroy so hard he broke Gilroy's face. Gilroy hit the pavement, went into a coma and later died. Lamb is now facing 18 years in prison.
Aside from the obvious difference in injuries, I wondered what made the Raue case a misdemeanor where the Lamb case was a felony? Allen said that for one thing, Raue wasn't punched or beaten. He was shoved.
OK. But I think we all know that shove could easily have resulted in a far worse outcome. Raue was just lucky.
Treated like a bum
At the scene, Salinas said, police treated Raue "like a bum," demanding to know if he was homeless and barking orders at him. Matt Raue said that treatment continued at Mercy Hospital downtown, where Raue was taken by ambulance (at a cost of more than $1,700 for the eight-block ride, according to Matt Raue).
"It was like they all decided he was just some old homeless guy with no family," he said.
The one report the Raues have so far been able to obtain from Mercy is short on details. It says Daniel Raue had a CT scan that showed no acute injuries but that he left before the doctor could discuss the results with him. (It also notes that despite having suffered a head injury, paramedics did not use C-spine precautions in the ambulance.)
Mercy spokesperson Sandy Doucette couldn't speak about the Raue case specifically. Generally, she said, the hospital can't make a patient stay if he doesn't want to.
"If we believe the patient needs additional medical treatment, we will contact law enforcement," she said. "But we can't detain people."
Daniel Raue says he was wheeled into a hallway and left there, alone, no further communication for about an hour. After a while, he figured they must be done with him. So he took out his IV, asked a lady mopping floors to help him clean off the blood and walked out. He wasn't sure where he was but saw the Padre Hotel in the distance and knew he lived nearby.
"It took me nearly an hour, but I finally made it home," he said. "I was determined." Then he went to sleep.
In the days that followed, Matt Raue contacted Mercy to file a complaint and was told that since his dad had left the hospital without receiving any sort of medical clearance, there wasn't much they could do.
He recently got a call from a woman in Mercy's Risk Management division.
"My original complaint was that they left dad out in the hall and she said that, yes, they did that," he said. "I said they should have given him more information and considered his age and that he had a head injury and done more to make sure he understood.
"She said yeah, when they looked back at how staff handled it, that was a problem."
Risk Management declined to speak with me and routed me back to Doucette.
In my last story, I said Daniel Raue is no saint. And he isn't. But that's not the point here. He could be Idi Amin for all I care. It was Gutcher who chose to make that U-turn.
"In my mind, it was Gutcher who did the act," Matt Raue said. "But it's everyone else who's picking up the pieces."
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org