NAPOLEON — Beaten and bloodied, Austin Carr drove away after a March, 2011, assault not knowing the attack would lead to more than two, tortuous years of seizures and pain.
It was death, delayed.
Mr. Carr, 22, of Napoleon died July 20 in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center after he collapsed and tests failed to detect brain activity. Last month, the Lucas County Coroner’s Office shocked his family when they ruled his death a homicide.
The coroner’s determination: Brain damage because of a lack of oxygen, the result of a seizure disorder caused by blunt-force trauma to the head. The assault that took place in Sandusky two years before injured his brain, triggered repeated seizures and migraines that darkened his final years, and led to his death.
The homicide ruling reopened wounds that were just beginning to heal for the Carr family. It also presents a predicament for Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter: How to proceed with a case against a defendant who already pleaded guilty to the years-ago assault.
Jesse Likes, 24, of Sandusky was indicted in January, 2012, on a fourth-degree-felony aggravated assault charge in Erie County Common Pleas Court for attacking Mr. Carr. He pleaded down to first-degree misdemeanor assault.
For the Carrs, whose son suffered seizures ranging from small tremors to full-body convulsions, the possibility of prosecuting Likes again brings mixed emotions.
“You don’t want to see another family lose their child, but we can’t let it go. Kids are impulsive; they make rash decisions, and this was probably just a bad decision on his part. You know, you are angry at someone, and you lash out. But at the same time. ... We can’t let our son die in vain,” Mr. Carr’s mother, Kathy Carr, said.
Days after the assault, Mr. Carr had his first seizure. He spent the next few years in and out of hospitals, unable to keep a job because of his condition.
Once “so full of life,” he went from strong to skinny, his father, Steve Carr, said. His face hardened; furrows developed between his eyes.
Back in 2011, Mr. Carr lived in the Sandusky area with a girlfriend. The 2009 Napoleon High School graduate liked his job at a plant, and he even brought a co-worker to Napoleon and introduced him to his family. His mother had no idea she had just met the man later accused of assaulting her son.
Mr. Carr told police he and Likes didn’t hang out as much after Likes lost his job. He said his former co-worker believed Mr. Carr was involved with Likes’ ex-girlfriend, whom Mr. Carr said invited him over to the Sandusky residence the night he was assaulted. Mr. Carr told police he and the woman were just friends. He said Likes stepped out from behind a tree when they were at the back of the residence.
The conversation was peaceful at first — Mr. Carr said they even shook hands — but then Likes hit him and continued to strike after he fell to the ground. The attack stopped when a police car happened to drive by, giving him time to get to his car, drive away, and call 911.
A police report stated Mr. Carr’s injuries included swelling and redness around the left eye, dried blood around his nose, and swelling near his right temple.
Likes and two witnesses, including Likes’ ex-girlfriend, told police Mr. Carr swung first.
Police did not charge Likes at the scene because of the conflicting statements. They referred Mr. Carr to the prosecutor’s office, and Likes was indicted. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended, and placed on community sanctions for two years.
Likes and his attorney in the case, Christopher Carroll, could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Baxter said prosecutors agreed to a plea deal because they couldn’t find Mr. Carr to participate in the case. His family said he couldn’t afford a cell phone and moved often after the assault.
The prosecutor is researching whether double jeopardy protects Likes from facing a homicide-related charge after being sentenced for assault. Mr. Baxter said the Ohio Supreme Court found in a 1993 case that in such cases, further charges could be issued, “but only if the state were to have reserved the right to do that as part of a negotiated plea.”
Sandusky Police Det. Gary Wichman said police are investigating the assault again.
After their son’s death, the Carrs waited for answers. They were surprised by a call from the coroner’s office asking if he had suffered brain trauma. Mr. Carr’s brain was swollen, and he must have been in considerable pain, they were told.
The coroner’s homicide ruling listed a history of alcohol and drug abuse. The Carrs said their son was prescribed numerous medications for “brutal” headaches that besieged him after the attack. Just before his death, Mr. Carr, who is survived by a 4-year-old son, grew optimistic about trying Botox as a pain-management option.
The homicide ruling changes everything and nothing.
“It’s a relief in a sense because now we have answers, but it’ll never be resolved. It will never be the same for us,” his mother said.
The Carrs remember their son daily, in ways big and small. They recalled his bravery at age 10, when he jumped into a swimming pool and saved his younger brother from drowning.
Zarin, 16, was starting to bond with his older brother, and the two grew “much closer” in the months before his death.
“I still think, ‘I got to tell Austin about this,’ because he had that goofy laugh,” Zarin said.
His parents placed memorials in honor of their son. One is at a favorite spot where he and his friends often gathered and includes a shot of Jägermeister, a cigarette, and some of his ashes. To them, it means the party continues.
Two halves of a rock also rest in the yard of his parents’ home. The stone is inscribed with his name and an epitaph and contains some of his ashes.
And then, there’s the reminder Steve and Kathy Carr hold close at all times.
On the inside of his parents’ wrists are matching tattoos, a number rendered in small, black strokes. The number is too small. It measures the minutes of their son’s life.