Afghan immigrant recuperating after 'intentional' hit-and-run
Mohammad Fawad Mohammadi looks on as a nurse at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center lifts up his leg and straightens it out. He doesn't wince, or grimace. He watches intently as she checks his pain level and makes sure his leg is elevated at a comfortable angle.
"Is this good?" she asks Mohammadi.
"If it's good for you, it's good for me," he replies.
The two women standing in the corner of the room — Mohammadi's aunt, Farida Hidar, and coworker Tina Halvorsen — chuckle at his response, considering the nurse is here for his comfort, not the other way around. For someone who was involved in a gruesome attack just over a week ago that nearly severed his right leg from the knee down, Mohammadi is in especially high spirits.
The Afghan immigrant, who served four years as a civilian interpreter for the U.S. Army and Air Force, was visiting the Oregon coast with his wife and infant child on the evening of March 6 when they were involved in a minor traffic accident in the parking lot of a Walgreens on Highway 101 in Lincoln City.
He and his wife had exited their vehicle to assess the damage and exchange insurance information, police said, when the other driver involved in the accident put his car in reverse and backed toward the couple, whose infant son was still in the car.
Mohammadi, 27, was able to push his wife to safety, but he was struck by the other driver's vehicle and pinned between the two cars. Police said the assailant then pulled forward and, without warning, drove toward Mohammadi again; this time, he was able to roll out of the way.
"I called to my wife to grab the baby and run," Mohammadi told The Review on Monday. "She acted quickly, but our car was rammed three times with the baby inside. I'm so lucky they're both OK."
According to police, the other driver sped off, heading northbound on Highway 101.
Mohammadi was flown by Life Flight helicopter to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, where he has remained in the Intensive Care Unit since the incident. He suffered a crushed leg, broken hips, fractured spine and numerous facial injuries in the accident, and underwent surgery on Friday afternoon. A follow-up surgery took place Tuesday evening, but doctors couldn't save his leg and were forced to amputate five inches below the knee, according to Laurie Boss, friend and supervisor at Palisades Market.
"They were able to save his knee, which will make it a lot easier for him to use a prosthetic," Boss told The Review Wednesday. "His spirits are great, though. He's just a bubble of positivity."
The suspected assailant, Perry G. Nicolopoulos, 68, of Puyallup, Wash., was arrested on Highway 101 north of Lincoln City a short time after the crash. He was initially taken into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence and transported to Lincoln County Jail, but he was later charged with attempted murder; assault in the first, second and third degree; reckless endangering; and failure to perform the duties of a driver.
Nicolopolous has an extensive history with the Washington state court system, including a 2001 assault charge in Pierce County to which he pleaded guilty. He was indicted Thursday on 12 felony counts and four misdemeanors, and was being held on $1 million bail.
"I saw the guy very relaxed. The airbag was in his face, but he was very relaxed. At that time, I thought, this is an attack. It's not an accident," Mohammadi said. "I kept thinking, am I awake. Am I dreaming? I was conscious the whole time, even when the police came and got information. The whole time I was thinking, maybe I'm still asleep."
The Lincoln City Police Department, Oregon State Police, Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, Newport Police Department and Toledo Police Department worked through the night to investigate the crash, and Lincoln City Police Lt. Jerry Palmer told the Lincoln City Newsguard that his department now believes Nicolopoulos intentionally rammed Mohammadi.
"We believe he intentionally rammed this vehicle," Palmer said. "Whether it was rage or being under the influence, we are still waiting for results of toxicology tests. But we believe something in this guy's life background or personality caused him to randomly strike the vehicle."
After learning of the incident, employees at the Palisades Market grocery store on McVey Avenue sprang into action, setting up a GoFundMe account to help pay for Mohammadi's medical expenses.
Mohammadi came to the U.S. in November of 2014 from his native Afghanistan, where he served as an interpreter for the U.S. military for four years, often in the thick of battle.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., he began working at Palisades Market's sister store on Farmington Road in Aloha before transferring to the deli/catering department in Lake Oswego at the request of Laurie Boss. Mohammadi quickly grew close to Boss, and the two now view each other as brothers.
Customers and co-workers alike know Mohammadi as the "soup king," a title earned through hours spent in the kitchen dreaming up new ideas for soups he tests on co-workers before tweaking the recipes to perfection. He said some people will come back days on end waiting to get a taste of a certain soup they've fallen in love with. His interactions within the community both at the store and out on catering jobs have earned him quite the reputation.
"I love Lake Oswego," Mohammadi said. "They're very kind people."
Mohammadi currently resides with his wife, Nelab, and their 18-month-old son in Beaverton. His co-workers say he is an extremely diligent and capable worker who is loved by all.
Stephanie Ballard Agramonte, the coworker who started the GoFundMe account for Mohammadi, told The Review that the initial reaction from Palisades Market staff was anger.
"The evening we got the details on what happened, so many people had the same reaction: 'People are horrible. Can you believe what people will do?'" she said.
But after seeing so many people — those who know Mohammadi as well as complete strangers — offer support both financially and spiritually, she says, the Palisades Market staff has regained its faith in humanity.
For coworker Tina Halvorsen, Mohammadi's attitude and strength is an example to anyone who has ever had to overcome adversity. She's glad to see he's remained his old self.
"Fawad is always just there to help you, in any way he can. He just makes you feel comfortable and always has a smile regardless of the situation," she said.
Mohammadi said he will likely be in the hospital for another month, but a full recovery will last as long as six months. For now, he's just happy to be alive, and to have the love and support of his friends and family.
"I feel so great when I saw all my friends coming in, people coming to say hi and to relax with me," Mohammadi said. "Even people I don't know, seeing them say nice things about me on Facebook. They wrote things wishing me health. I can't tell you how much it means to me."
Mohammadi's GoFundMe page can be found at bit.ly/FawadsFund. As of Friday evening, the effort had raised more than $56,300 of its $100,000 goal, with donations from more than 900 individuals. A seperate fundraiser being held at the checkstands of Palisades Market in Lake Oswego had raised more than $1,000.