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Good Gesture Leads to Bad Night

paul mueller
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Paul Mueller lifts up his shirt to show the 24 stab wounds stitched up and scarring his right arm, his back, his hands.

“Get ready,” he says beforehand, “because it’s not pretty.”

It’s not. But it’s an easier sight to take now than on the night he was attacked and left for dead on Albuquerque’s West Side, the blood shooting from the wounds – including a life-threatening slash to an artery – and soaking his jacket, shirt, jeans and everything nearby.

A lot of things were not pretty that Nov. 14 night after Mueller, 40, made a fateful choice to give two juveniles a ride home.

Ugly things, like how he says one of the boys wordlessly lunged at him with something sharp – a knife, a box cutter, he couldn’t tell – over and over from the back seat until Mueller could yank off his seat belt and tumble out of his black Jeep Wrangler.

Ugly things, he says, like how neighbors on Darlington Place NW, where he escaped, ignored his cries for help; how he says the residents whose home he crashed into through a living room window finally helped him, but reluctantly, coldly.

“I was treated like a piece of trash,” he said. “I was treated like a pure criminal.”

And there are the ugly things those residents say Mueller did, too – how he berated them, broke things, bled all over their living room carpet.

“According to him, we’re heartless, horrible people,” said Tammi Richey, on whose carpet Mueller bled. “He doesn’t mention how we helped stop the bleeding, how scary it was when he came through the window and bolted up the stairs to where our children were. He doesn’t mention how we had to tear out the rug and throw out furniture because he bled so much everywhere.”

It was around midnight when a teenager with glasses, braces and curly hair – Mueller nicknamed him Harry Potter – asked for a ride after the boy and his friend became stranded when his mother’s car broke down.

The other boy, Mueller said, was standing off to the side. He had no coat.

“He looked in pain,” Mueller said. “He looked like a wannabe gangster, like someone I used to box with.”

Reluctantly, Mueller agreed and drove them a short way. “Harry Potter” was already out of the Jeep when the boy in the back attacked.

“It was like he knew he almost had the knockout and he’s just going hard-core for the finish,” Mueller said.

The boys drove off with Mueller’s Jeep, his backpack and cellphone. Albuquerque police later tracked down Rikki Maestas, 16, who they believe stabbed Mueller.

Maestas was indicted last week on eight counts, including attempted murder, kidnapping and armed robbery. Prosecutors said they intend to seek adult sanctions.

“Harry Potter,” identified only as James, remains at large.

Dazed and bleeding, Mueller said he started screaming, staggering, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors for help.

“I’m yelling, ‘Please help me, I’m going to die, I’ll never see my 11-year-old daughter again,’ and nobody is turning on lights, peeking out windows, nothing,” the divorced father said. “Something inside me tells me I have to do whatever it takes for my daughter.”

What it took was picking up a rock and throwing it through a window of one of the homes.

Inside that home, Richey was already on the phone with 911. She was not, as Mueller contends, ignoring his cries.

“It’s 1 in the morning and this guy is yelling and breaking our window,” she said. “What are we supposed to do? Say ‘Oh, good, you made it in. Have some cookies and milk’?”

Richey and her husband, Ron, say Mueller tore through curtains and wooden blinds, broke family photos and bled profusely as he made his way inside.

“I was prepared for the worst,” Ron Richey wrote in a Facebook entry describing that night. “For all we knew this could have been a home invasion, a drug deal gone bad or any number of things.”

Once they realized Mueller was the victim and not the victimizer, Ron Richey carried Mueller to the kitchen and applied a towel and a belt to Mueller’s arm to stem the bleeding until paramedics arrived.

Five other neighbors also arrived to see if they could help, he said.

But it’s been nearly a month since that night, and it’s clear the ugly things remain for both Mueller and the Richeys, who have yet to speak to each other.

“We were actually going to contact him to see how he was doing, but then we heard on TV how he’s bad-mouthing us and, well, what was the point?” Tammi Richey said. “We don’t blame him for his desperation that night. But I don’t think he appreciates the mess he left us, the hell we’ve lived in, the trauma he caused our children, who still have nightmares.”

This week, the Richeys tiled their living room floor. They re-stuccoed and repainted. They also replaced a couch, love seat, buffet table and, oh, yes, the broken window, all at a cost of about $5,000.

“Blood,” she said, “is not covered under homeowner’s insurance.”

Mueller has nightmares, too. He is wary, bitter and in no mood for thanks. He wears an arm brace as torn tendons and ligaments heal, but whether he will regain the use of his right hand is unknown.

His Jeep was recovered parked at the Ventana Ranch Apartments, where Maestas lives with his parents. The Jeep’s black interior is still spattered with blood.

“I’d like to tell Albuquerque citizens to try to help people in need a little more,” he said. “I want to tell everybody I’m glad I survived, in spite of everything.”

That, even though helping people nearly killed him.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline Gutierrez Krueger at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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