July 26, 2014

Elyria
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Park attack victim Shawn Stevens in her own words

CLEVELAND — Shawn Stevens doesn’t have much forgiveness for Matthew Plas, the man accused of brutally attacking her and leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

“I think whatever his peers in prison decide is right for him (would be appropriate punishment),” Stevens said Tuesday in an interview with hospital officials at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, where she has been hospitalized since she was attacked while hiking in Carlisle Reservation.

Stevens said she would tell Plas, a 25-year-old homeless man currently being held without bond in the Lorain County Jail, that he would also have to face a justice higher than man.

She said she would tell him, “I don’t know why you did it, but I hope God gives you everything you have coming.”

Plas, who faces a 17-count indictment including attempted murder and attempted rape charges, should spend the rest of his life in prison for what he did to her that May afternoon, Stevens said. If he’s ever released, she said, he should be placed in a mental institution to protect the public.

“The man is not normal,” Stevens said. “You don’t do things like that to other people. That’s just inhumane.”

The attack

Stevens, 43, said she was out looking for mushrooms when she spotted Plas putting what she thought was fishing gear in his car. She said she stopped a few moments later and Plas walked by, saying a few pleasantries as he passed.

The mother of three said she didn’t think much of it, but she heard “what sounded like a cap gun go off.”

“I was gonna turn around, but as soon as I thought to turn around, it hit me in the back and I knew what it was,” she said.

Stevens said her body went numb from the chest down after the bullet cut into her back, narrowly missing her heart.

The bullet had severed her spine, said her trauma surgeon, Charles Yowler.

Dr. Stevens said she asked Plas what he did to her and began screaming for help.

“That must have made him mad because he picked up a tree limb and started beating the living daylights out of me with it,” she said.

Trying to protect her head and remain conscious, Stevens said she looked up after Plas finished hitting her and found him pointing his gun in her face.

“He was going to shoot me, it looked like in the face, and I was begging him, ‘Please, I’ve got a little girl at home. I’ve got grandbabies. Don’t shoot me,’ ” she said.

Plas promised to go get help for her, Stevens said, and left her lying on the trail for 10 to 15 minutes before returning. Plas must have thought she was dead, she said, because he carried her to his car, dropping her several times, and stuffed her in the trunk.

One time when Plas dropped her, Stevens said, she made a sound and he looked at her in surprise and said, “You mean to tell me you’re still alive?”

She said she told him, “Yeah and you’re a so-and-so liar. You told me you were going to go get the paramedics and you didn’t.”

Stevens said Plas had planned to dump her in the river, but only the timely arrival of strangers — whom she still plans to call and thank for saving her life — prevented him from killing her.

Plas stuffed her back in the trunk, she said, but she was hanging out of it, waving her arms and screaming for help.

When she was in there, she said she kept thinking, “I’m going to die. They’re not going to find my body. There’s not going to be any closure for my family.”

Plas eventually dumped her behind a building, Stevens said. Prosecutors said he fled into the woods, where he was found hiding facedown in a swampy area by Lorain County Metro Parks rangers.

Plas has denied involvement in the attack even though Stevens’ purse and keys were found in his car.

Recovery

After she was discovered behind the building, Stevens was flown to MetroHealth, where she underwent heart surgery and now faces daily pain from the injuries to her spine, said Yowler, her trauma surgeon. Yowler said Stevens also suffers from post-traumatic stress from the attack.

Despite the prognosis that she’ll never walk again, Stevens insists she’ll be back on her feet one day and has instructed doctors not to tell her the extent of her injuries.

“I believe you can if you try hard enough,” she said.

While Yowler said he doesn’t believe “significant recovery” is likely, Stevens will be able to be independent despite being in a wheelchair. And if Stevens does better than expected, Yowler said he’s all for it.

“I have nothing against miracles,” he said.         

While Stevens undergoes therapy, her friends and family are retrofitting her Carlisle Township home for her eventual return. Community donations are helping volunteers build an addition and a ramp so she can live on the first floor of the two-story house.

“It’s amazing that there are so many nice people left out there and it’s mind-boggling that I had to run into the only idiot that day in Elyria,” she said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.