Paralyzed shooting victim settles for millions

Paralyzed shooting victim settles for millions »Play Video
SEATTLE -- In a moment, Steven Tolenoa's life was forever changed.

A stranger opened fire inside a Denny's restaurant in Kent, hitting Tolenoa. Two gunshot wounds put him in a wheelchair where he will stay for life.

Four years after the shooting, a jury awarded Tolenoa $46 million in damages. However, in an agreement reached just before the verdict was announced, Tolenoa agreed to receive $13 million in exchange for Denny's not appealing the award, regardless of what the jury determined.

"Glad this is over so we can move on," he said. "Thrilled, yeah. Very excited."

Tolenoa can also move out of the North Auburn Rehabilitation Center, which the 31-year-old has left only twice since 2007.

He'll be moved "to a private home where he can be surrounded by family and friends and be taken care of on a one-to-one basis," said attorney Ron Perey.

Perey is exhausted and relieved by the end result of the two-year process and the four-week trial which involved a four-day jury deliberation.

"Historically, this is the largest personal injury verdict ever returned by a jury in the state of Washington, " he said.

Perey says the record verdict sends a message to Denny's, the corporation that owned the restaurant on Jan. 21, 2007 when five people were hurt when a bar fight ended in gunfire at 2 a.m.

Tolenoa was sitting at a table eating when a group that included Frank Lee Evans, 23, entered the restaurant, began yelling and assaulted some customers. Evans left, then returned and began shooting into the crowd, according to police reports.

Evans, who told police he was angry and drunk after losing his job and getting into a fight outside a nearby bar, was sentenced to 63 years in prison.

In the two years before the shooting, Perey said, police were called to the restaurant 1,100 times. Perey argued the staff and customers were not protected.

"They have the duty to protect from harm from foreseeable criminal conduct. That's what this case was all about," he said.

But a Denny's spokesperson says their company continues to believe that the tragedy, "was the result of a random act of violence that could not have been foreseen or prevented by the Company or its local restaurant personnel. We understand that our insurance carrier chose to enter into a settlement for a much lower amount in the interest of bringing closure to this matter. Our sympathies have always been with the victims of this senseless act and we hope the best for them in the future."

All Tolenoa wanted that night four years ago was a Grand Slam Breakfast.

The man who shot him is serving a 62-year sentence, but Tolenoa is the one in confinement.

"I'm in a wheelchair for the rest of my life," he said.