THE HIGH PRICE OF HEROISM
The two men walked into the Subway sandwich shop with their weapons hidden. Both carried large, serious knives and they demanded all the money in the drawer. One guy went into the back of the store and grabbed the woman who managed the place. Out front, the second thief held his blade against the throat of 26-year-old Moises Jaramillo.
"The thief kept yelling, 'Quit looking at me! Quit looking at me!'" said Moises. "I started crying, 'Don't hurt me.'" As he felt the sharp metal edge pressing against his windpipe, Moises heard the garbled, agitated voices coming from the rear.
Worried that manager Sherry Yarbrough would be stabbed, Moises attacked the armed robber. "I jumped up, grabbed his arm holding the knife with both of my hands. I drove him into the wall and kept driving him into the wall. All I remember is getting hit in the head."
As the two men slammed violently together and fought for the knife, the second punk rushed from the rear of the Scottsdale shop and pounded Moises in the head again and again with the handle butt of the knife.
Moises Jaramillo was beaten unconscious. Then the two thieves stomped the prone figure on the floor. They finally dragged the limp Moises into the bathroom and left him for dead.
This happened March 31, 1993.
Today, local bureaucrats have picked up where the thugs left off. Before government clerks and lawyers are done with him, Moises will be chased across the state line and run clear back to Texas where he came from.
You see, Moises made the mistake of going on workers' comp, and not getting off fast enough to suit the state's bean counters. Even worse, he's not healing up quick enough, so he's been running up medical bills.
Busted and whipped, Moises doesn't even know he's lost the battle with state officials.
But he has.
Moises' problem is he won't stay down. He keeps getting back up off the deck to absorb more punishment.
The police arrested two suspects shortly after the stickup and charged them with kidnapping and armed robbery. In a six-week period, the pair of hoodlums had knocked off 40 small businesses, and in each heist they used 12-inch butcher knives to terrorize their victims.
Only Moises Jaramillo fought back.
Understand that Moises did not own the Subway sandwich shop. He put cold cuts on bread and earned $5 an hour. He risked his life because he was worried about the safety of his co-worker, Sherry Yarbrough.
Some guys are just built that way.
Moises was hospitalized with a concussion and the grab bag of soft tissue injuries that comes along with having the stuffing kicked out of you.
"My face was swollen like someone stuck tennis balls under my skin when they beat me after I passed out."
Moises emerged from the beating a changed man. Something is wrong with his mind. He's having very bad dreams.
If Moises were a woman who'd been battered by her husband, no one would question his mental anguish. Instead of helping this kid, however, state officials are acting like they think Moises is a shiftless Mexican. You can be sure that the woman prosecuting Moises--oh, yes, he's now the target of a legal proceeding--has never been punched into a coma.
That kind of beating messes with your soul.
It's like being raped.
As if his injuries were not enough, Moises discovered that Scot Gilbreath, the Subway franchise owner, had no workers' comp coverage, a brazen violation of the law. So there was no insurance to pay Moises' hospital bill. Under Arizona statute, the state picked up the tab. That was the good news.
The bad news was that the state now had a real financial stake in making sure that Moises went back to work as soon as possible and stopped running to doctors.
So the state sicced a lawyer on Moises.
Subway's Scot Gilbreath also put his lawyer on Moises because Arizona could come after him, as the owner of the sandwich shop, to recover its losses. And the losses were adding up. On top of the thousands already shelled out to doctors by the state, Moises estimates he has another $20,000 in medical bills.
Once a vigorous jock, Moises now suffers from chronic back pain. Some days he limps, others he's merely sore. But the larger problem is Moises' emotional state. He's been under constant psychiatric care since the robbery, and last Christmas season the police took him, handcuffed, to the county hospital to make sure he wouldn't do harm to himself. He's been locked up in psych wards twice since the beating.
The doctors claim Moises suffers from acute depression and anxiety triggered by the beating, all of which greatly aggravate a pre-existing bipolar condition.
Here's how Arizona officials dealt with the suicidal sandwich maker.
When Moises showed up at the Industrial Commission, the agency that administers workers' comp, state attorney Maria Morlacci had him arrested for an outstanding warrant in Texas.
Moises put a roof on a man's building in Houston, but the man paid him with checks that were no good. Moises returned to the job site and tore the roof off. An ensuing rainstorm damaged the contents of the building and made a felon out of Moises.
Tipped to the Lone Star warrant by Subway's owner, Morlacci figured Moises would be extradited to Texas and that would be the neat, tidy end of his claim for medical benefits.
But Moises did not disappear. His family in Texas cleared up his legal problems in Houston and he continued to see doctors in Phoenix.
Arizona ran Moises in front of its own shrinks who pronounced him as fit as a fiddle and cleared him to go back to work. The state then cut off his weekly workers' comp check, computed at the whopping sum of two-thirds of the $5 an hour he made at Subway.
All of this mess now sits in front of an administrative law judge who will rule on Moises' mental health and work status. The state will put its head doctors on the witness stand and Moises will call his.
But I don't need to listen to a tennis match between mental-health experts. I've heard all I need to hear from Lorraine Terry.
Although Moises is engaged to her, Lorraine told me she no longer recognizes her fianc. The young boy she met on a church mission to Mexico, the gentleman who conducted himself like a big brother, is gone. She says the real Moises never came back from the robbery. In his place is a moody brute who works out his rage by beating her. She doesn't know how much more she can take.
"He was never violent before. He was calm, laid-back. We're both raised in religious homes. His parents did not fight. I saw them talk their problems out. That's how Moises was. He'd tell you, 'I don't like when you did that.'
"Now he's closed off, bottled up. He doesn't talk about his feelings. He really scared me last Christmas. He used to be so outgoing. Now we go to a mall, if someone brushes against him, he's all, 'What's that? Are they following me?'
"The worst part is the violence. It happens every week. Earlier this month, he didn't just hit me; he beat me. Months' worth of anger poured out. I'd almost rather he just slap me and get it over with rather than hold it in to the point that it explodes.
"Even when his mom came out, she was so confused by the change in his personality. He hit me in front of her. She just said, 'I didn't raise him to do that.'
"I don't want my mom to see him, or me. I don't want her to see this.
"I love Moises. But there's a person there now that I don't know and I don't think I love that person."
Earlier this month, I called Moises and Lorraine to see how they were doing. They couldn't talk for very long because they were selling their washer and dryer to have some cash for the holidays, and a buyer was at the door. They weren't sure, but they might even have to move back with their folks in Texas.
Moises was also trying to prepare for the workers' comp hearing scheduled for the next day.
The hearing was a disaster for Moises.
Judge Russell G. Sheley lectured Moises at length, insisting that Moises stop addressing him as "Sir." This hectoring by the judge went on long enough that it moved beyond the eccentric and into the realm of the bizarre. At one point, Moises was even chastised for referring to the judge as "Your honor." The judge warned Moises that he must stop referring to Morlacci as "Ma'am" because "`Ma'am' is an abbreviation for madam and that's not a very nice term."
The judge also found time to wax sarcastic when Moises did not know his zip code.
During one remarkable exchange, the judge as much as called Moises a malingerer. His honor sneered at the young man, who had turned to look at the judge while answering a question, "Don't turn towards me. You'll end up with a neck injury."
Moises made the mistake of representing himself instead of using an attorney. Clearly rattled, his questions made little sense, his own answers were loopy and his case evaporated before it was ever mounted.
Moises' instability boiled over as he was cross-examined by Subway's attorney.
Moises turned to the judge and said two of Subway's witnesses were making faces at him and that he wasn't going to take it anymore.
What are you going to do about it? taunted the judge.
And with that, Moises collapsed on the witness stand and began sobbing in long, powerful gasps. His fiance rushed to his side and the judge walked briskly out of the hearing room for a short recess.
The legal proceedings concluded before medical witnesses could be called, so there will be another hearing. For all the good it will do Moises.
He'd better adjust to the idea that the medical bills are going to be his debt. And he can kiss the tiny stipend he got from workers' comp goodbye.
But I was still curious about one thing.
In fact, the witnesses had been giggling and making faces at the hapless Moises as Subway's lawyer took him apart like a boy pulling the wings off an insect. One of those laughing hardest was Sherry Yarbrough, the very woman whose life Moises Jaramillo was so concerned about saving.
She, it turns out, is the one who informed the sub shop owner that Moises Jaramillo was a wanted man in Texas.
I asked her in the corridor outside the hearing room why she was testifying against her would-be rescuer.
This is what she said.
"Hey, I was robbed that day, too, but I'm not trying to strike it rich like Moises.
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