New Orleans police said Tuesday they were looking for a man accused of attacking a California retiree this month in a road-rage incident in the Marigny neighborhood. The Oct. 15 attack left the 64-year-old victim paralyzed.
The suspect, Christopher S. Smith, 30, was being sought on one count of second-degree battery.
According to police, Smith assaulted the victim, Doug David, at Frenchmen and Decatur streets.
David, a jazz enthusiast who lives in the San Diego area, told investigators he was crossing the street about 11 p.m. when Smith ran a stop sign in a small black car and nearly struck him. David cursed at the driver and threw a can at the vehicle, prompting the driver to get out and attack David.
David said he was unable to feel his arms and legs after regaining consciousness. He remained in the intensive care unit at University Medical Center for several days after the attack.
New Orleans police took 40 minutes to respond to the assault and initially classified it as “unfounded” after an officer arrived at the scene and found neither witnesses nor the victim. Investigators followed up on the case 10 days later, using the license plate number of the assailant’s vehicle provided by a witness.
Stephen Simpson, a friend of David’s since high school, said that when he heard his friend was lying paralyzed in a New Orleans hospital, he joined a chorus of family and friends in San Diego trying to bring attention to the crime. He arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon to be at his friend’s side.
“He’s my good friend from a long time. And he’s hurt. And he’s alone,” Simpson said. “And if I could have come sooner, I would.”
Like others, Simpson said he was frustrated when more than a week passed after the attack and nobody could get the NOPD to respond.
“It’s outrageous. I don’t know that anybody purposely avoided it, but it shouldn’t happen,” Simpson said. “We got on the phone and email and texting. But other people (in the media) jumped on it and were really ready to go. And, fortunately, they lit a fire under police as well.”
It took New Orleans police 10 days to visit David and generate a police report, a persistent problem with response times as a result of a 40-year low in police manpower.
When David’s niece arrived at his hospital a week ago, she repeatedly called the police until a detective finally showed up Sunday. Based on a witness and the license plate number, police announced Tuesday that they were looking for Smith in connection with the attack.
Simpson said he is relieved that police seem to be making progress on the case, but he said that is secondary as he tries to comfort and console the fellow 64-year-old with whom he shares decades of memories from days spent surfing, biking and, in tough times, boosting each other’s spirits.
He said he is now prepared to provide that spiritual support again, only on a scale he never could have imagined.
“I think that’s great (that police named a suspect),” he said. “On the other hand, all I really care about is Doug’s welfare. His life has changed forever. If they never caught anybody, it really wouldn’t matter.”
Advocate staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.