Doctors, therapists, mom discuss men’s long-term outlook

Staff Writer

Doctors and therapists gave a Clay County Circuit Court jury a clinical look at the injuries suffered by two men in a restaurant parking lot assault in 2014.

And the mother of one of the victims, Ralph Weems IV, offered the jury insight into the emotions from that assault and the almost five years since then of watching her son struggle to recover when in reality, he likely never will be independent again.
Monday’s testimony marked the start of the second week of a trial that now appears to be headed for a third week.

“He will never be able to live independently,” Dr, Howard Katz, who oversees Weems medical treatment at a brain injury trauma rehabilitation center in Covington, La., told the three-man, nine-woman jury. “He always likely will have to be in some kind of residential facility.”

But on positive notes, Katz said Weems now is “a lot more motivated” than he was when Katz first me him and the 37-year-old West Point native has learned to use a dictaphone and an iPad to record instructions and repeat them and make notes as a way to remind himself to do things and to remember instructions.

The techniques are designed to help him remember such simple tasks as brushing his teeth and showering.

And while he has made very small steps toward progress, even those things likely will never become normal for him, Katz said, noting the injuries from the assault just after 2 a.m. outside the West Point Huddle House has damaged his brain to the point he is suffering signs of dementia as if he were in his 60s.

Likewise, 39-year-old David Knighten already suffered serious post traumatic stress disorder from 13 years in the Air Force, especially his service in the Air Force as a explosives engineer dismantling or blowing up bombs in Afghanistan. He suffered between 12 and 15 “concussive” injuries as a result of his work.

He was discharged in 2013 with a 100 percent disability, 50 percent of which was PTSD. The remainder was for hearing loss and numerous head injuries.

The attack outside the restaurant likely made those injuries worse, Katz said.

“They certainly didn’t make them better,” the doctor noted.

Knighten lost his sense of smell and taste as a result of broken facial bones from the beating.

The doctor called that a “horrible injury” because it dramatically impacted his “quality of life” and made issues with his PTSD “that much worse.”

“You don’t realize what you are losing until you don’t have it,” he explained.

Therapists talked about Weems’ injuries and their severity and the care he’s had at Audie Murphy Veterans Center in San Antonio, Texas, a VA pilot rehab program at Timber Lakes in Arkansas and now in Louisiana and what he’ll need for the future.
His mother, Patricia Green Reynolds ended Monday’s testimony.

Weems and Knighten claim Litco Petroleum, which owned Huddle House at the time, was negligent in the assault for not properly staffing the restaurant and training personnel who failed to call 911 when they say a disturbance escalating.

They also claim Annie Avant, a Clay County Sheriff’s jailer and auxiliary West Point Police officer who was moonlighting as a security guard, didn’t handle the situation properly and missed several opportunities to call police for help and avoid the attack.

Litco contends the two men, especially Weems, sparked the incident by hurling racial slurs, including the ’N’ word, in a drunken dispute with at least three young black men, first at the Waffle House restaurant and then at Huddle House after police broke up the Waffle House incident.

At that time, police told the men they were being belligerent and to go home, but they didn’t, starting up again when they encountered the men at Huddle House.

Three men later were charged with assaulting Weems. They’ve pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison time. No charges ever were filed against anyone for assaulting Knighten.