Blood money

Sep 28, 2005 at 12:00 am

It cost only about 30 cents to pulverize Angela Forton’s teenage jaw, the worst of three wounds inflicted on her with an investment that can be counted in pocket change, and a little finger pressure.

She’ll never regain the life she had before it happened, and her future was irrevocably changed. What could be made right was. But so far, the consequences of that badly spent 30 cents has yielded enormous returns. Negative returns.

The shooting of Angela Forton isn’t unique, but for the fact that she survived when medical science said she couldn’t. Gun violence is so common in metro Detroit and the rest of the country that the civilized world watches from afar, in horrified wonder, at what the most fortunate country on earth routinely does to itself, while vigorously defending the “right” to do so.

Had Angela’s case happened within the bounds of Detroit, and not one of its suburbs — had the victim been black, no matter the age — it likely would never have reached the public consciousness. But this and all shootings affect the public wallet in degrees that can hardly be imagined.

The psychological consequences of gun violence on a victim, her community and the public at large can’t be measured quantitatively. But much of the cost, the dollars-and-cents impact, can.

This is a story of mindless evil-doing, improbable survival, America in the 21st century, and the cost of a single shooting.

The start of it

For most high school students, the senior prom is a coming-of-age ceremony. Attention to detail is important. For the boys, there are tuxedos, likely the first and possibly the last time they’ll wear this symbol of adult male formality. For the girls, revealing dresses are carefully chosen to display their comeliness, the beauty of girls as they transform into women.

Limousines are hired as another symbol of the potential for a successful adult life, and parents approve because liquor is common at after-prom parties. In all, the affair can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

On May 25, 2001, Angela Forton, then 18, took a different approach. She wore a simple, red dress that hugged her petite, slightly muscular frame. She didn’t go with a date. Instead of a limo, she borrowed her sister’s brown 1990 Dodge New Yorker. She danced away the evening at the Sterling Inn and Banquet Center in Sterling Heights with her best friends from Warren’s Fitzgerald High School and, most thrilling, looked forward to the graduation that had always seemed so far away.

It would, in a saccharine sense, be the first day of the rest of her life.

But the night held a different beginning.

Around 3:30 a.m., after a two-hour post-prom party at a friend’s home, Angela drove her friends Jessica Hillock, Aaron Williams and Stephanie Smith to the Marathon gas station on Ryan south of Nine Mile Road in Warren to buy some snacks and smokes. Her friend, Robert Baumgart, followed in his green Hyundai with another friend, Travis Hunter.

Angela asked her friends to get her up a pack of Newports, and waited in the car with Stephanie while they went inside.

A burgundy 2000 Chrysler Sebring convertible pulled alongside facing north. One of three men in the car, wearing a yellow jacket and a cream-colored baseball cap, got out and walked to Angela’s car. “He started hitting on me,” Angela says of the man later identified as Stinare Allen Jones, 22, of Detroit. “I could feel something wasn’t right.”

Angela pointed to Baumgart, who was coming out of the store, and told Jones — also known as “Ace” — that he was her boyfriend. She wasn’t interested. She turned up her radio to make the point. Still sitting in the Sebring were Joseph Lee Jackson, 19, and Omara Dewitt Jackson, 20, no relation to Joseph. All three men were from Detroit. The younger Jackson later told police the Sebring had been “rented” from a crackhead for $90; it had been reported stolen three days before the shooting.

Jones then shouted to Angela and her friends to hand over any valuables. He pulled a large, chrome revolver from his pocket, waved it around, then started pulling the trigger. Two shots hit Angela. The first shattered part of her left jaw, continued through her chin and passed through her right forearm; the second blew through her left hand. Angela is left-handed. “One minute the guy was talking to her,” Jessica now says, “and then he decides to shoot everybody.” Police said Jones fired three to five shots. No one else was hit.

Angela’s friends scattered as Jones and the Jacksons sped off toward Detroit. Angela slumped over the wheel unconsciousness and her car, still in drive, lurched forward 15 feet and crashed into the side of the gas station.

Stephanie fell to the floor and stayed there, momentarily stunned, before getting out and running to ask the gas station attendant for help. When she returned to the car, she saw Angela’s face was covered with blood. It was 3:38 a.m.

Angela’s next memories of that night are hazy. She remembers seeing Jessica’s mother, Debbie, and her husband, Jim, an off-duty Detroit police officer. She also recalls a Warren police officer, Jeffrey Motyka, leaning over her. He held her neck in a position to clear her airway, and radioed for an ambulance.

“The man was screaming at me, ‘You can’t go — not to worry, everything will be OK,’” Angela says. “My words were trying to come out, but I couldn’t say anything.”

Angela passed out again as paramedics raced her to St. John Oakland General Hospital in Madison Heights. As they arrived, her heart stopped and she began to suffer “mini-strokes.” Doctors treated her for the immediate problems, then decided to send her immediately to the trauma center at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Warren police drove Jessica, Stephanie, Travis and Robert to the station, where their statements were taken.

Investigators worked over the crime scene. They tore out a side airbag, which had blown when Angela crashed into the gas station, and the backseat, looking for spent slugs. They photographed the car and scene and did a rough sketch of the area. Then Angela’s car was towed to the Warren police station for a more thorough look.

Officer Kevin Boryce went to the hospital to get Angela’s blood-soaked clothes as more evidence. At the station, investigators shot more photos of the car. Bullet fragments and what may have been a bit of bone were found in the car and tagged as evidence.

Joan Forton, Angela’s mother, remembers she wasn’t particularly alarmed when a Warren police officer showed up on her doorstep in the early-morning hours after Angela’s prom. “I thought they were picked up for drunk driving,” Joan says.

She and Angela’s sister, Cheri, had fallen asleep hours before, after styling Angela’s hair before she left at about 10 p.m. Joan wasn’t even overly alarmed when she learned that Angela had been shot and was in the hospital. “I thought maybe she was just grazed.”

Cost: Two .357 bullets, uninsured front-end auto collision damage, ambulance and crew, initial investigation, $20,405.60

‘She functionally bled to death’

Beaumont surgeon James Robbins knows from experience how to move quickly. On the night of Angela’s shooting, Robbins slept with his pager next to his ear. It went off and flashed the number six, six times — a serious emergency.

Within 15 minutes, Robbins was at the hospital, prepped and ready to go. In that time, nurses, x-ray technicians, blood supply workers, operating room personnel, an anesthesiologist and the chief surgical resident, Randy Janczyk, had also gathered.

Copious bleeding and shock repeatedly shut down Angela’s body. Janczyk was far from optimistic the moment he saw her. “She functionally bled to death,” he says. “Everything that could be bleeding was bleeding. That was a rather difficult injury to deal with because the gunshot blew off part of her jaw.” One surgical notation said that aside from the massive damage done by the gunshot, Angela’s head “does not appear to have any other abnormalities, however, examination is difficult because she does have a lot of bobby pins and rubber bands in her hair.”

For the next eight hours, Robbins and Janczyk fought to keep the teenage girl alive. Angela’s family and friends, joined by the hospital chaplain, waited and prayed through the early morning. “They called him because they didn’t think she was going to make it,” Joan says.

Saving Angela seemed impossible. “Surgical literature says that if a person’s body temperature is less than 34 degrees, they won’t make it,” Robbins says. “She was ice cold when she came in. Statistically, there’s no way she should have survived.”

Hemorrhagic shock from the bullet wounds sent her temperature into free fall, Robbins says, so the OR team started “damage control” — stabilizing Angela to keep her alive rather than trying to repair her devastating wounds.

Robbins and Janczyk inserted a thick needle into her left groin and used a bypass machine to draw cold blood from her body, re-warm it, and inject it back into her circulatory system, hoping to induce clotting and stem the blood loss.

As they worked, they pumped dozens of bags of blood into Angela to replace the persistent loss that continued to pour from her wounds, and keep her heart and other vital organs functioning. “It looked like she was unlikely to make it,” says Robbins, who was to be her attending physician. “There were so many signs of damage to the vital organs, we didn’t know if she was ever going to regain consciousness.”

The soft-spoken Robbins recalls how hard it was to explain the seriousness of the situation to Angela’s parents. “You want to assure people everything’s OK,” he says. “But in this case that would have been completely dishonest.”

His patient’s age and the severity of her wounds etched Angela Forton in Robbins’ memory. “There’s a lot I remember vividly,” he says. Over and over, in the medical reports that were filed after every procedure in her treatment, she was referred to, not in the clinical, dispassionate language normally used in such documents, but as “an unfortunate 18-year-old female.”

After speaking with her family, Robbins returned to the operating room. Finally stabilizing the blood loss, he temporarily patched some of her wounds in preparation for oral surgery and the reconstruction of Angela’s ruined jaw. A feeding tube was inserted through her belly and into her stomach, because she couldn’t stay conscious, much less eat, in her violently altered condition. Eventually, her left earlobe, tattered by the gunshot, was also repaired.

“When I first woke up, they wouldn’t tell me where I had been hit,” Angela says. “They didn’t want me to go into shock. Being shot didn’t even cross my mind. I thought I had pneumonia.”

Cost: Emergency treatment and surgery, $16,557.

The arrests

A few hours after Angela’s shooting, Jones and the Jacksons were spotted by Detroit police in the Sebring, driving on the 13000 block of East Jefferson, after a nearby drive-by shooting in which an 8-year-old boy was hit in the buttocks. Jones had been fingered as the shooter.

Police pulled the car over, and when they approached it on foot, the driver tried to run over one of the officers, police said. His partner shot Joseph Jackson once. The Sebring crashed into a tree; Omara Jackson’s leg was broken in the crash. Jones took off on foot before the Jacksons were arrested and taken to St. John Hospital in Detroit, where they were treated and held under guard.

While in the hospital, the Jacksons were arraigned on a variety of felony charges in Angela Forton’s shooting and, after they recovered, were jailed on $2 million bond to await preliminary examination of the charges.

Two weeks after Angela was shot, members of the Detroit Police Violent Crime Task Force, acting on a tip, arrested “Ace” Jones for the shootings of Angela Forton and the 8-year-old drive-by victim. He was found hiding in a closet in his mother’s East Side home.

Once arraigned, Jones, too, was jailed, but on an $8 million bond.

One sandbag

In the days after the shooting, the Warren community rallied behind Angela, staging benefit concerts and pancake breakfasts to raise money for her treatment and rehabilitation. Management at the Marathon station where Angela was shot pledged 1 cent of every gallon of gasoline sold for three days. The Red Cross organized a six-hour blood drive in which 151 people, 81 of them students, donated 111 pints of blood.

Friends, other Warren residents, civic leaders, and Fitzgerald parents and students established The Angel Foundation to organize and promote these events, and raised $16,769, deposited directly into the Fortons’ checking account.

It was a sincere, labor-intensive effort to help the savagely injured girl. But compared to the private and public costs that continued to mount after the shooting of Angela Forton, it was like trying to hold back a flood with a single sandbag.

Surgery and hardware

Robbins calls Angela “remarkable” for her attitude and the doggedly positive spirit with which she faced her injuries. “She never struck me as being bitter — she never struck me as having that attitude,” he says. “Angela always seemed extremely grateful to be alive.”

So grateful that, every Christmas, she dutifully sends him a card, thanking him for working so hard to keep her from a death that seemed certain.

Running a trauma center is very expensive, a fact not lost on Robbins. “A lot of people complain about the expense of running a trauma center,” he says. “You don’t get paid adequately, and it’s emotionally taxing. There can also be bad outcomes like lawsuits.” Often, Robbins says, people in Oakland County’s medical community wonder aloud about the enterprise.

“People ask me all the time why I don’t give up that part of my practice,” he says. “Whenever I think of that, I think of Angela Forton.”

Altogether, Angela would spend 13 days in Beaumont’s Intensive Care Unit, and another two months in the hospital for follow-up work on her rebuilt jaw.

Mike Heath, an oral surgeon, took on the challenge of repairing her jaw, which had been “pulverized” by Jones’ bullet. (A radiologist’s notes from an exam on Angela’s third day describe many bone and bullet fragments still on the bottom of her mouth.) When Heath first saw Angela in the operating room, he didn’t think he’d get the chance to treat her. “Just the fact that she survived is a miracle,” he says.

Heath inserted pins into her mouth to stabilize the structure of her jawbone. Next, a bone graft was performed on her lower jaw, using bone from an undamaged section. Then a titanium plate was screwed on to stabilize that repair.

At the same time, Beaumont surgeon Richard Hainer took on the repairs of Angela’s left hand. He first flushed the wound on the back of her hand, then cut away dead tissue, laid open the skin and, in a procedure similar to that being done on her jaw at the same time, used a plate and screws to mend what the bullet had done to a metacarpal, one of the long bones between Angela’s wrist and fingers.

Angela was discharged from Beaumont Hospital on July 13, 2001.

But before that, her mother says, with the help of nurses and her principal, Angela Forton graduated from high school in her hospital bed.

She still feels pain in her jaw from time to time. At night, she sleeps best on her right side — even pressure from a pillow still hurts the traumatized left jaw. “When it feels really bad, it feels like all three teeth are being pulled in the back,” she says. “Sometimes I can’t talk.”

Several months after Angela left Beaumont, the plate and pins in her jaw were removed.

Cost: Hospitalization, outpatient jaw surgery and dental care, $256,106.

‘A real trooper’

In August 2001, Angela began the frustrating work of learning to speak again. For three months — three 40-minute sessions a week — she worked with Beaumont speech pathologist Tracy Musatto. “Her speech was disrupted because the bullet scraped part of her tongue,” Musatto says. “And when you have tongue issues, you have speech issues.”

During much of her therapy, Angela continued to be fed a thick fluid of nutrients through a tube to her stomach. Her mouth was still badly disfigured. “She didn’t take anything by mouth for a long time,” Musatto says. “It took her several months to get off the tube.”

Two of her main obstacles, Musatto says, were dysphagia, a swallowing disorder, and dysarthria, an inability to speak intelligibly. Over the course of her therapy, Angela was given exercises to practice different ways to control liquids in her mouth. “We were also working with tongue placement to get her speech out properly,” Musatto says, “to make sure her speech was not slurred.”

Like others who treated Angela, Musatto was impressed by her stamina and will. “It really becomes a job when you get trauma like that — it definitely takes over your life,” she says. “Commitment is key, and that’s what she had.

“Typically they get mad at the world. It affects their attitude and they don’t get anything done. She wanted to get better — she was motivated, and she did a lot on her own.”

Still, Angela says, “It freaked the hell out of me. I’d walk to a couch and was out of breath. I went up to my room and started crying. I couldn’t talk at all.”

Instead, she wrote, “I feel helpless” on a marker board.

“They wouldn’t even let me look in the mirror,” she says. “When my mom told me I wouldn’t make it to commencement I started crying. That was one of the things I wanted to do — to walk with my class.”

And there was the intense, sometimes painful work of restoring the function of her wounded hand and arm.

From July to November, Angela went to 104 physical therapy sessions with Margaret Ochocinski, an occupational therapist at Beaumont who specializes in hand and upper extremity rehab.

“It’s a slow rehabilitation process any time there’s nerve damage,” Ochocinski says. “She lost the motor function to her thumb and index finger.

“She had strength and coordination problems — at first, she couldn’t type or drive. Opening cans was very difficult. She was also having difficulty applying makeup and handling money. But by the end she showed progress in all those areas.

“She was a real trooper.”

Cost: Speech and physical therapy, $11,127.


From the beginning of her stay in the hospital, Angela began a steady regimen of prescription and nonprescription medications, some of which she’s still taking: Epinephrine and Atropine to resuscitate her after the heart attack; the narcotics morphine and Fentanyl, as well as Ibuprofin, Motrin and Vioxx for pain; Nystatin mouthwash for fungal infections; Zoloft for depression; the powerful antibiotics Cipro and Flagyl, as well as Cefepime, Erythromycin and Clindamycin (Angela is allergic to penicillin); Albuterol to ease breathing difficulties; Neurontin for nerve pain; Carafate for ulcers; Peri-Colace to prevent post-surgical constipation; Enoxaparin and Lovenox to prevent blood clots; Reglan to stimulate digestion; and many others.

Already suffering the indignities of disfigurement, constant probing, urinary tract catheterization, a tracheotomy in her throat and feeding tube in her stomach, and so many others specific to hospitalization, some of the drugs had side effects that contributed more. The narcotics and antibiotics caused diarrhea several times a day.

Cost: Medication, $6,682.

‘careless disregard for society’

Jones and the Jacksons spent their first weeks behind bars in the Wayne County Jail, then were moved to Macomb County Jail to face charges for Angela Forton’s shooting. “Ace” Jones spent 68 days there; Joseph Jackson, 71. Charges were dropped against Omara Jackson, who would testify against them.

In February 2002, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery and four counts of assault with intent to rob while armed in Angela’s shooting, Joseph Lee Jackson was sent to prison for three to five years.

Five days later, Stinare Jones was sentenced for two counts of assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm less than murder, and using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

At sentencing, Jones, a high school dropout with a very troubled past, spoke of remorse, though he’d shown none during the trial. “I apologize,” he told the court. “And I ask for God to bless Angela Forton and her family for my actions in endangering her life.”

Macomb Circuit Judge Pat M. D’Onofrio was unimpressed. “Your behaviors, Mr. Jones, showed a careless disregard for our society, for our rules,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that we can’t allow that kind of behavior in a civilized society.

“We are afraid of you because you willingly used a gun, and you willingly used it against these young people and that tells us that we have to protect society first and foremost. All that I can hope for is that, in the time that I’m going to give you, you utilize that time to assess your behaviors, to assess your thinking.”

Cost: Pre-trial incarceration, criminal court proceedings and related expenses, $60,886.

Hard time, high costs

While Jackson’s earliest possible release date is Aug. 27, 2007, and Jones could be out in 2016, it’s unlikely that either will be out so soon, given their behavior behind bars in the state system, says Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Jackson is now in the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility. He entered the prison system at Riverside Correctional Facility, Marlan says, as a “Level 2, “a relatively low security rating. In the time since, Jackson’s earned 19 misconduct citations, raising him to a Level 5, “the highest security level we have,” Marlan says.

His recent violations, according to Marlan, have included fighting and exposing himself to a female corrections officer. He was also caught making a call after losing his phone privileges, and for possessing gambling paraphernalia — a piece of paper with betting information.

“In his case, there is an increased cost based solely on his violations of the rules,” Marlan says. “And it’s almost certain he won’t get his earliest release date based on his conduct in prison.” Even if he does, it will have cost Michigan taxpayers $107,090 to keep him behind bars.

Jones, now in the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, isn’t doing any better. He’s also a Level 5 prisoner. And though he has fewer violations than Jackson — 14 to Jackson’s 19 — they’re for more serious offenses. Last year, for example, Jones stabbed another inmate in the head with a metal shank. For that, he spent 30 days in solitary confinement.

Jones will not go before a parole board for at least 11 years, Marlan says. By his earliest release date, imprisoning “Ace” Jones will have cost Michigan taxpayers $520,000. But the tab may run much higher.

Cost: Combined maximum prison time, $2,545,590.

‘Everybody experiences the cost’

Jens Ludwig is a professor of public policy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and co-author of Gun Violence: The Real Costs (Oxford Press, 2000). “There’s a nondollar cost that doesn’t show up anywhere,” he says. “That’s the social cost.”

But the dollars-and-cents costs are measurable, and everyone pays the bill. “People assume that insurance companies have printing presses in their basements that print out money. That’s not true,” Ludwig says. “Everybody experiences the cost through higher insurance premiums. And a lot is paid out by government programs.”

Ludwig acknowledges the clichéd mantra of the gun lobby, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” But, he says, the presence of a firearm during any altercation does change the entire equation: “It’s not that guns cause people to do crime, but when guns are used in a crime, they create situations that are far more damaging to society.”

This is a fact Angela Forton, now 22, knows painfully, excruciatingly firsthand. These days she spends much of her time caring for her 3-year-old niece, Jalynn. Because of her injuries, she has yet to take on a full-time job, although she hopes one day to open a beauty salon.

The only visible evidence of her ordeal is a slightly puffy jaw, braces on her teeth, a scar on her right arm and a tiny graze on her left hand.

“It was hard to overcome, but you can’t think of yourself as being weak,” she says. “God gives you what you can handle — he chooses your fate, and it all happened for a reason. It’s important to stay strong.”

The bill

Attorneys, penologists, insurance statisticians, law enforcement organizations, politicians, the pro- and anti-gun lobbies and medical organizations sometimes vary widely in their assessments and estimations of costs due to gun violence in the United States.

There is, however, some agreement that the tab is at least $100 billion every year, and possibly much more.

Two bullets forever changed the life of Angela Forton, who has now mostly recovered — physically. She doesn’t know what the future will be.

But the immediate past, and the consequences of the worst years in her life, may ultimately cost her, her family and us all $3 million.

In a time when billions are spent to fund war, more billions are pledged to disaster relief, and Americans easily lose perspective on just how much money that is, $3 million may be thought inconsequential.

It is, after all, just the cost of a single shooting.

Joe Kirschke is a former Metro Times staff writer. Send comments to [email protected]