A little over four years ago, I created this blog out of frustration in how my life in the coming future did not look very promising. I published my first post February 19, 2013, containing the title, Frustrated, But Not Discouraged. Looking back these past four years a lot has occurred causing my interests to change significantly. Four years ago I had ambitions in trying to make it in the entertainment industry, but those dreams have drifted to the wayside. Where I want to go in the coming years is someplace I never imagined myself wanting to go. But like in the film Finding Forrester Jamal Wallace said, “I figure[d] you were writing about how life never works out.”
Today, being the 23rd anniversary of my accident, I decided it was time for me to write about something different. The past four years, on this day I wrote about the injustice of the judicial system when it comes to law enforcement. Specifically, in how I destroyed the absurdity of California vehicle code 17004.7, and why police should not have qualified immunity during police pursuits.* (If you have some free time, I highly recommend reading those posts, they can be found on my “About” page).
The past four years my posts typically started out the same way with an opening sentence being something like, “Well, another year has gone by, and I am still here…” blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. To me that initial sentence is getting boring and repetitive, that is why this post started out different and is going to focus on a slightly different topic. This blog post is going to be different in how I am not going to talk exclusively about police pursuits and their department corruption. Instead, it will revolve around my accident, but this time about the criminal who was running from the cop.
Twenty-three years ago on Monday, July 11, 1994, an individual by the name of John Eric Phelps did not pull over when a cop tried to issue him a speeding ticket for going 100 mph. Because Phelps did not stop, the cop initiated a police pursuit that came to a dramatic halt, when Phelps ran a red light — broadsiding our car causing me to become a (C1, C2) quadriplegic. Little did the officer know, Phelps was driving a stolen vehicle and had an extensive criminal history.
Upon the impact of the crash Phelps who was not injured, immediately got out of his car and fled the scene making this a felony hit and run situation. Hearing this description may sound pretty bad, but this was not the first time Phelps had a run-in with the law. Following the accident, due to the circumstances in how it involved: a police pursuit, an individual with a significant criminal record, and it caused serious injuries to me. The incident was big news drawing attention from major newspapers and the local news. As a result of this, two (2) days later the Los Angeles Times printed an article that chronicled a good portion of Phelps’ criminal record.
The title of the article read, “Arrestee in Crash That Hurt Boy Has Long Record : Courts: Dana Point parole has been cited six times for driving with a suspended license, has a string of traffic offenses and was imprisoned on a drug conviction.” The following are some brief exerts of Phelps’ criminal history from the article:
Phelps, 31, of Dana Point also has an eight-year court record that includes a drug felony conviction in Hawaii, a vandalism conviction in Laguna Beach, a string of minor traffic convictions and two civil suits resulting from accidents.
Phelps served two years in prison in Hawaii for cocaine possession in 1990-92, after being arrested at an airport, Lucero said. When his prison term was completed, he asked to be paroled to Orange County, where he was reared.
At the time of Monday’s collision, Phelps was wanted by state officials for avoiding parole officials after failing a drug test earlier this spring, according to Art Lucero, a Department of Corrections spokesman.
Before this spring, Lucero said “we had a couple of incidents” regarding Phelps’ parole, but nothing serious. Then, in April, Phelps failed a mandatory drug test.
“We got a dirty test from this guy, and he knew it, and he split on us,” avoiding his parole agent, Lucero said. “So we informed Hawaii officials that we lost track of this guy. We were in the process of requesting a warrant.”
And last, but not least Phelps’ father commented:
“Drugs have totally screwed his life up,…This kid came from a good family….It’s a sad situation,…But don’t you ever think this couldn’t happen to you.”
With this criminal history (which is only half the report), how Phelps was even loose on the streets, to begin with, shows a significant problem not only in our judicial system but how it does not “rehabilitate” hardened crimes. Instead, it is just a vicious cycle of a perpetual money making scheme, which you will see later in this post.
Following my accident, because Phelps fled the scene, a six-hour door-to-door search was conducted before he was found by police. With Phelps in custody, he was booked and charged on multiple felony accounts where he pleaded guilty, sentencing him to seven years in prison. The maximum amount of jail time allowed under California vehicle code 2800.3.
Seven years in prison feels like a relatively light sentence when I suffered a permanent lifelong injury for being a “law-abiding citizen,” when Phelps had the criminal history he did. However, that is the law and it does not look like anything will change in the coming years. In fact, what really stings and adds insult to injury is from what I understand, Phelps was released after serving only three years in prison.
With Phelps only serving three years in prison for causing a permanent lifelong injury to me, I think to myself every now and then — what would have been the circumstance if the nurse had not been at the right place at the right time to save my life? Well, according to California vehicle code 2800.3, Phelps would have served a maximum of 10 years in prison if there were no additional charges, but we know that is not the case. So, with the additional charges Phelps had on his plate, the closest scenario I can find to my accident is the one I briefly mentioned in my post 21 Years And Counting.
Three years ago an individual by the name of Aleksandar Apostolovic led officers of the Westminster police department on a pursuit where he rammed a minivan killing a 12-year-old girl. Apostolovic fled the scene of the accident and was arrested several hours later making the situation very similar to mine. Apostolovic has not been tried yet because he pleaded not-guilty, but he was booked on many of the same charges Phelps was and is looking at a jail sentence of 30 years to life. For the instance of this post, let us assume Apostolovic gets the lesser sentence — 30 years in prison.
Since this incident is remarkably similar to mine (minus me not getting killed), what I am about to say may sound very negative and depressing, but please do not take it that way, I am just stating the facts. So, because a nurse happened to witness my accident and gave me mouth to mouth until the paramedics arrived — literally saving my life — Phelps’ sentence was cut by 27 years. What this ultimately means is me being the “law-abiding citizen” who was an “innocent victim” and suffered a catastrophic injury, I have served a longer sentence than Phelps has and will continue to until the day I die.
Even though I am suffering a harsher punishment than Phelps ever will, the courts did determine he was responsible for all my medical bills. If you have stumbled upon this blog by Googling my name, then many of you probably think I am incredibly wealthy. The reason I say that is Googling my name along with the word “accident” causes the top search result to be a Los Angeles Times article containing the title, “Family of Paralyzed Irvine Boy Awarded $38.8 Million.”
Yes, the title of this article is correct, but this judgment was against Phelps and no one else. If you click the link, the article states, “But an attorney for Trent McGee, 8, said that he and his family probably will never see any of the money because the car thief, John Eric Phelps, is in prison for the July 1994 crash.” Which is exactly true 23 years later.
The reason I have never received a penny is the situation is a lot like fishing — catch and release. To this day I have no idea where Phelps is, and in a sense I prefer it to be that way. However, if I wanted to find Phelps in order to garnish his wages and get some of the judgment issued against him, it would take quite a few steps and a lot of money to do so:
First Step: have my lawyer find him. Lawyer fee. Second Step: Have my lawyer talk to his boss to set up a contract to garnish his wages. Lawyer fee. Third Step: If Phelps was not a productive member of society at age 31, is he today at 54, and would he have a job that pays more than minimum wage?
I do not know the answer to that last question. But, if all these steps are taken, all Phelps has to do is quit his job causing the whole process to start over again. It is precisely a catch and release situation causing the outcome to be a losing one. The only way I possibly might see any compensation would be if Phelps won the lottery and we all know what the odds of that happening are.
Since I did not receive a massive settlement and I have not seen a penny from Phelps; you probably are wondering how my family and I are “okay” and I am able to do the things I have written about in my past blog posts? The answer to that question revolves around my dad. My dad is a world-renowned scientist who worked at the Orange County Sanitation District at the time of my accident — which is a government agency. Upon my dad’s work hearing about our situation, they immediately took me under his wing to make sure I was going to be “okay,” by providing the greatest health insurance possible.
I have been in my wheelchair for 23 years now, and my family and I have had insurance that is beyond priceless. My annual medical bills come to a total of $250,000, and his insurance pays 100 percent of them. If my dad did not have a job at the time of my accident, our lives would be very different, that is why I would very loosely say, “we are okay.” For instance, people who are in the same situation as me, but are not as fortunate, typically end up going to a government run hospital.
I attended one of these hospitals six months after my accident, and it is one of the saddest places you can ever go to. The hospital I visited is called Rancho Los Amigos, located in Downey, California. Rancho is a leading hospital for people with spinal cord injuries as that is what they specialize in. For individuals who have suffered spinal cord injuries and cannot afford insurance coverage or their family cannot take care of them — then Rancho is literally their home.
In today’s market with healthcare being a hot topic, due to Obama trying to bring some form of universal healthcare to the United States, I cannot stress the importance of it enough. People who are against universal healthcare, never think anything will ever happen them, but that type of thinking is delusional because nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow. I, myself, never planned on being in a wheelchair, but that is what life has dealt me, and I have had to deal with the circumstances. The fact that health insurance companies are “for-profit entities” is crazy. To think that if you as an individual are “too much of a liability” and they can drop you or raise their rate, is insane.
When it comes to the simple definition of the word “insurance,” it states: “a practice or arrangement by which a company or government agency provides a guarantee of compensation for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a premium.” Notice, in the definition, there is nothing about dropping you if one becomes too much of a liability.
The United States is the only developed country in the world, that does not have a universal healthcare system, and until just seven years ago insurance companies could exclude people with pre-existing conditions. With the United States current healthcare system not being a “Medicare for All Single-Payer,” we come in last place among other developed nations. In my opinion, Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a good start, but it did not go far enough.
If the Republicans get their way with repealing the ACA and provide insurance companies the ability to: exclude people with pre-existing conditions, or allow insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing conditions any amount they choose that have lifetime maximums. My family and I probably are going to be in serious trouble. Health insurance is a “Right,” not a privilege and it is time for the United States to join the grown-up table and do something about it.
In 2015, Michael Moore released a film Where To Invade Next, in how he documented the flaws within the United States and shows how other countries handle our shortcomings. The following clip shows how the United States taxes work compared to France who provides universal healthcare along with a lot more benefits we call “privileges:”
The clip above does a good job showing the difference in our nation compared to France, but the one thing it does not mention is “why” certain people are against universal healthcare. People, who are against any form of universal healthcare, always argue they do not want such a system because they do not want to “pay” for someone else’s medical bills. What these individuals do not understand is that the United States healthcare system having “for-profit health insurance corporations,” is that they already do.
For instance, in 2010, my dad retired from his job at the Orange County Sanitation District. Upon him retiring we get to keep his health insurance, but instead of his work paying for it, it now costs us $2,400 a month or $28,800 a year. However, keep in mind that the $28,800 a year covers $250,000 of medical bills. So even though we pay an astronomical amount for our health insurance, our insurance company is losing $221,200 a year. Where do you think for-profit health insurance corporations make up the difference? Answer: healthy individuals who pay for insurance, but who have no significant medical expenses.
What this ultimately means is we do not have a Medicare for All Single-Payer system, but in reality, everyone is paying for everyone’s healthcare in a round about way — to satisfy the shareholders of “for-profit health insurance corporations.” Many individuals blame the ACA for their rising healthcare premiums, but in reality, it is not. When the ACA was passed, for the first time, individuals with pre-existing conditions could not be denied coverage, causing insurance companies to “insure” these individuals who need it the most.
So because individuals are actually “using” their health insurance, corporations are determined to find ways to make a profit. That being said, the only way to get health insurance premiums down, is to get rid of the profit motive. My family and I are out of the ordinary, but like Michael Moore showed in the video above, for many individuals they pay far more and get far less in return.
So with everything I have written about so far (minus the issue of healthcare), there ultimately is one (1) underlining theme going on in our society. What I am talking about is the system’s failure to “rehabilitate” hardened criminals.
John Eric Phelps has had an extensive criminal history, causing him to be in and out of prison for a good portion of his life. What this obviously means is the prison system is not “rehabilitating criminals,” which it is supposed to do. This is called the recidivism rate, and the United States has one of the highest in the world.
In 2005, a study by the National Institute of Justice tracked over 400,000 prisoners in 30 different states to see how many criminals ended up back behind bars. Ultimately, their findings were staggering:
- Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
- Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
- Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half (56.7 percent) were arrested by the end of the first year.
- Property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82.1 percent of released property offenders arrested for a new crime compared with 76.9 percent of drug offenders, 73.6 percent of public order offenders and 71.3 percent of violent offenders.
With these statistics showing the failure of our correctional system, the two (2) sets of data that stick out to me are: 1, within five years 76.6 percent of released prisoners were rearrested, and 2, drug offenders 76.9 percent were rearrested. The reason these numbers stick out to me is that they fit John Eric Phelps’ situation to a T, in how his prison history covers a ten-year span, due to drug related offenses. Ultimately, what this shows is for whatever reason the criminal was sentenced, to begin with, they just come out the other side, the same person or even worse.
In comparing the United States correctional department to others around the world, we have 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the prison population. These numbers along with our recidivism rate at 76.6 percent shows we are doing something wrong. But will we change? No. Norway, the country with the lowest recidivism rate, (20 percent), shows they are doing something right. Why and how? The reason is instead of trying to “punish” their criminals, they actually “rehabilitate” them so they can go back into society and function as ordinary citizens.
Once again here is another clip from Michael Moore’s film Where To Invade Next on how Norway’s correctional system works:
If the United States’ correctional institutions functioned like Norway’s and Phelps had gotten the drug treatment he needed upon his first arrest, I think I probably would not be in the situation I am today.
So, with the success of Norway’s prison system, why is the United States not following in their footsteps? The reason is that crime is big business. If crime were non-existent it would cause a dramatic snowball effect in how: law enforcement would be out of a job, courts would be empty, and our prisons would be vacant. This would be devastating for the government as they survive on creating laws that people break in order to generate revenue. A perfect example of this occurring right now is seen in for-profit prisons.
The last couple of years we have seen an uptick in hearing about for-profit prisons as they have garnished new attention from politicians and news media alike. What has caused these prisons to enter the mainstream is major corporations like McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Victoria’s Secret (just to name a few) use the inmates as cheap labor.
Because these prisons are “for-profit corporations” and are interested in making money, recently the advocacy group “In The Public Interest” looked across the country and found that 30 states had, “…prison bed guarantees…[from] 70 percent occupancy in a California prison to 100 percent occupancy requirements at some Arizona prisons. Most of the contracts had language mandating that at least 90 percent of prison beds be filled.”
So, with quotas like these and for-profit prisons demanding occupancy to stay full, what happens if the prisons do not remain at capacity? Well, “[i]n short, many states are effectively obligated to continue to incarcerate people regardless of crime rates and public safety needs, or otherwise hand over taxpayer dollars in order to satisfy private profit-making companies.”
This is one of the scariest assessments I have ever read, in that for-profit prisons are requiring a quota from the local and state government to please their shareholders — it essentially is a “Trickle Down Incarceration” program. Who is going to be that unfortunate victim to make the quota complete is not known and shows why “rehabilitation” is frowned upon. But the state and the for-profit prisons do not care — it is about the bottom line.
Fortunately, not all prisons in the United States are “for-profit entities,” but Donald Trump is advocating adopting more throughout the country. If the United States recidivism rate is currently at 76.6 percent now, what will the future look like if the correctional department has a vested interest in your return?
Before ending this post there is one last thing I want to talk about, and that is my future plans. If you have been following me for some time or read my blog post Back To School…?…?, then you know I want to go back to college and get a Ph.D. in political science, a J.D. or both. However, I have never pulled the trigger in applying to such programs as they require me to take either the LSAT or GRE, which is impossible for someone in my situation.
Taking standardized tests are incredibly difficult for someone in my situation because I physically cannot manipulate the material and I have to take the exam with someone I have never met before. It does not matter if I am given double, triple or even an infinite amount of time, my results are not equal to someone who can take the test on their own. It is a lot like taking an average Joe from the street, putting them in a Major League Baseball game and expecting them to hit a home run on their first at bat. It is just impossible.
That being said, even though I more than likely am going to get a terrible score, I have decided I am going to try and take the LSAT in September and apply to graduate school to get a J.D./Ph.D. in political science. If you have read the blog post above, then you know four colleges offer such a program; Stanford University being the only one on the west coast. With Stanford being the only college on the west coast that offers such a program, I have decided I am going to give it a shot and apply. Why?
I have decided to apply because I have reached a point in my life where what is it going to hurt? I am tired of just sitting around reading books and doing nothing with my life. If I knew what my future held, I would have just stayed in college and collected Major after Major. All Stanford can do is say, “No” and if that is the case, then so be it and I will go back to doing what I am doing now.
Okay, now by no means do I actually expect to get into Stanford’s J.D./Ph.D. program, but if by some “Divine miracle” I actually do, there are four (4) things I want to do post graduation:
1) Finish My Book: If you have been following me for some time or read a couple of my very early blog posts, then you know four years ago I set out to write a book on my life. Back then I should have written a post titled, “Book = Dead,” but I never got around to it.
After writing a couple of chapters, I started looking into finding an editor/ghostwriter to help clean up the story and figure out the organization of the chapters. Upon doing so, I soon learned that books followed the same three act structure films do, which was not good for me. After contacting the editors/ghostwriters, everyone I talked to said, “Unfortunately, you do not have a 3rd act. There needs to be some form of resolution post accident, in how I either made it in Hollywood or got California vehicle code 17004.7 revoked.”
Initially, when I mapped out my book, I thought my ending could be: “Why Am I Still Here?” I thought this would be an appropriate ending as I should have died six times and the only reason I am still here is sheer luck and fortunate timing with doctors, nurses and my parents being at the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, all the editors/ghostwriters I talked to said, “That was not a good enough ending or resolution to cause the book to come full circle. The ‘Why Am I Still Here?’ scenario is like a drop off at the end of a cliff.”
Hearing this caused me to be disappointed in how I needed to put the book on hold because I thought it might be my calling card in Hollywood — which leads me to where I am today. It has taken me several years to figure it out, but my third act in my life is how I no longer want to try and make it in the film industry. Instead, it is how I want to attend Stanford’s J.D./Ph.D. in political science program. It shows how my life has come full circle from wanting to make it in Hollywood, to going back to college to complete the agenda below. I already have a title in mind, “Life Is Something…”
2) Work For The ACLU: The ACLU defines themselves as the “Guardians of Freedom” with a motto of, “To defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
Post graduation I would like to work for them as I have been a loyal ACLU supporter since 2014. What caused me to become an ACLU member is I saw how they were defending Edward Snowden for being the political hero he is, for exposing our government’s corruption. After watching the ACLU defend Snowden, I soon saw what they were really about. For instance, the stereotype surrounding their organization is that they are a “Liberal group” trying to hold down Conservative ideas, but that is not true.
The ACLU has sued every political party that either tries to or has taken away citizens rights. Just to give a quick example, the past eight years the ACLU has been criticizing/suing the Obama administration over their use of drones in foreign countries, and they now are doing the same thing with the Trump administration’s desire to monitor and not allow people of the Muslim religion to enter our country. Ultimately, the ACLU believes in the Constitution and are there to make sure nobody’s civil rights are violated regardless of who you are. You can see their letter to Trump post-election here: “Dear President-elect Trump”
Other than that, one of the main aspects that continues my support of being an ACLU member is their recent push back against law enforcement. For the past several years we have seen countless videos of cops shooting innocent people, violating these individuals’ Constitutional rights without any forms of repercussion. When I was 7 years old my Fourth Amendment was violated by law enforcement, there were no repercussions, and I do not want it to happen again to me or anyone else. After my accident when my family sued the Laguna Beach Police Department, it very much was a David vs. Goliath situation. Goliath ended up winning that battle, but we never know what the future brings.
Even though, I am an ACLU member, by no means do I agree with 100 percent of what they stand for. The one thing the ACLU and I strongly disagree on is the Citizens United Supreme Court case. In 2010 the supreme court opened the floodgates to massive corruption in granting corporations and individuals the ability to donate an unlimited amount of political contributions to any candidate running for office. The ACLU sees this as a First Amendment issue, but to many people (including me), it seems more like “legal bribery.” For that reason, many people (including me), would like to see a 28th Amendment added to the Constitution prohibiting such acts, which the ACLU is, unfortunately, strongly against.
3) Work For The Democratic National Committee (DNC). I currently do not like the way the DNC is being run, and I highly doubt they will exclusively listen to me — but I at least want to try. During the political election cycle of last year, I was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I hated how the chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz along with the rest of the DNC set out to try and sabotage Bernie’s campaign. For this reason, the DNC is the reason Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Hillary Clinton was not an electable candidate, she had the second highest disapproval rating ever for a presidential nominee. The first being Donald Trump.
The current thinking of the DNC is, “We decide who the Democratic Presidential candidate is going to be, and the public just has to deal with.” That is not a winning strategy and not how things are supposed to work, it is not WHO THE COMMITTEE WANTS — it is WHO THE VOTERS WANT!!! Debbie Wasserman Schultz ended up resigning due to the Bernie Sanders fiasco and was replaced by Tom Perez, but I still do not like the way things are going.
If I get the opportunity to work for the DNC, I would like to bring a more Progressive platform to the party. Many people are tired of the “establishment candidate,” and that is why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders did so well without the respective backing from their own political party. My current favorite progressive politician is Elizabeth Warren.
During the 2016 primary season, Warren was faced with incredible pressure to endorse Hillary Clinton, due to her popularity with Democratic voters — despite having conflicting views. Warren ended up doing so at the Democratic National Convention, but I wish she would have stuck to her beliefs and endorsed Bernie Sanders early in the primary season rather than being succumbed to the DNC pressure because a Sanders/Warren ticket would have beaten Donald Trump.
4) Become A Professor: The final and last thing I would like to do after completing everything above, (or not), would be to become a professor at the University of Hawaii. Knowledge is a powerful tool, and I would like to educate the youth like I have educated myself on the issues facing our country today. It may sound cliche, but the kids of today are our future, and I would like to share my unique life perspective.
If you are wondering why I picked the University of Hawaii? I would like to be a professor there because quadriplegics like myself are always cold, due to not being able to regulate our body temperature. My ideal weather would be 85 degrees 24/7/365 and from what I understand Hawaii comes pretty close to that. I know if I get into Stanford, I will be moving to a colder environment, but I am willing to sacrifice a little discomfort to go back to college.
My list has a lot of accomplishments and dreams that are hard to do, but without dreams, life would be boring, and nobody would accomplish anything. I, myself, have accomplished quite a bit in my lifetime despite the significant obstacles placed in front of me, but obstacles are obstacles, and they are meant to be overtaken. I think Ellie Arroway from the film Contact said it best:
You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it’s ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon, or atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I’m asking, is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history… of history.
It has just come to my attention that, ironically, on July 11, 2017, the Los Angeles County, Grand Jury released a scathing response to the unnecessary police pursuits occurring throughout the city; in how they are causing injuries and deaths to innocent bystanders. I, myself, do not live in the Los Angeles County area, but at least the word is getting out about the devastation and corruption around police pursuits, which is exactly what I have been trying to do for the past four (4) years. The following are two (2) links to the report: