Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Athletic club clerk on mend from attack

Police continue to search for leads in Ketchum assault

Express Staff Writer

Ned Burns eases though his recovery with his fiancÚ Sara Lovell, Tuesday, prior to being released from the hospital a week after being admitted for emergency surgery to sew up an explosive blow to his abdomen delivered by an unknown attacker last week. Burns is a desk clerk at the Zenergy athletic club at the Thunder Spring residential complex in Ketchum where the attack occurred Feb. 15. Express photo by Dana DuGan

Volunteering time with the press Tuesday morning, Zenergy athletic club front desk clerk Ned Burns spoke about the attack that sent him to the emergency room a week ago. Police have reported no progress in the search for an assailant whose attack Feb. 15 resulted in Burns having his entire abdomen sutured.

Burns was released Tuesday from St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center after doctors made sure his digestive system was working properly again. Telephone notes, get well cards and a tall orchid decorated Burns' recovery room at the hospital as he and his fiancé Sara Lovell, who has sat with him throughout his weeklong recovery, spoke with the Mountain Express.

"The skin around (the scar) feels really weird," Burns said, showing the clean line of his stitched wound that's covered with 15 strips of medical tape arranged like a zipper from his pelvis to his chest. More stitches hold his innards together, which doctors predict will take about six weeks to heal completely.

"It is so good to know I have so many friends in the community. It has been important. I think it really has helped me to heal up faster," Burns said.

Lovell said a switchboard operator told her that Burns had received so many calls that she felt like she should have known Burns too.

Police are calling the attack aggravated battery. A sign posted on the entrance to the club last week referred to the incident as something stemming from a "personal situation."

"I think (the club) wanted to reassure (club members) that they were safe," Lovell said. "I'm sure they were in a rush, but I think there was a better way to say that. The truth is no one knows (the motive)."

Lovell said police also questioned the couple about possible motives, including jealousy and revenge.

"(Cheating) is a really common theory. Police say usually it is the motive," Lovell said. "I think anybody who knows us knows it's not a possibility."

Lowell and Burns said police even consider a possible vendetta because Burns recently testified in a civil lawsuit against a former manager of Solavie Spa in Ketchum who's been accused of embezzlement.

Burns said, however, that he didn't see the connection because his testimony was not much different than that of 40 other employees who also testified, and that he had a cordial conversation with the accused after a hearing Jan. 5.

"I was no smoking gun," Burns said. Lovell added that she didn't think police were ruling anything out, however.

"I've wracked my brain. I can't think of anybody in my entire life who would do this," Burns said. "I hope there's not some sicko in this town who'd want to see what it would be like to do that to someone."

The physical description of the attacker is of a white male about 5 feet 10 inches tall with a wiry frame, said Ketchum Sgt. Nathan Taylor. "We are urging citizens to come forth with any information they have."

Burns added that the attacker was wearing a ski mask or a bandana over his face and a black hood over his head.

"One of the ideas (the police) have had is (that) maybe it was a robbery, but then he hit me and freaked out," Burns said, describing his perspective of the scene when he saw the flash of a weapon he took to be a golf club due to the shininess of the handle. "I was sitting at the desk by the cash registers and computers they use to check people in. All I could see were his eyes, nose and forehead. With the way he came in, I thought it might have been a joke. He paused for half a second ... I think I was in the process of standing up ... it was like a baseball swing. He swung and hit me. It sounded like a gunshot. I screamed a constant scream. I was in pure shock and panic. It all lasted three seconds, maybe five."

Burns said a club member was working out in a corner of the exercise room behind the glass wall facing the front desk. But neither the member nor a janitor, who was busy cleaning exercise machines, noticed anything happening until police arrived at about 8:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15, Burns said.

"I took three steps towards the gym and I realized I would not make it there," Burns said, describing how he tried to round the curved desk area to go for help. "I dug deep ... sat down and called 911. I hurt really, really bad, but I had this weird calmness and fight to live. I thought a lot about (Sara)."

Burns said police and emergency responders arrived in about four minutes and his operation was under way about 50 minutes later. Monday, nearly a week into his recovery Lovell treated Burns to a bratwurst from Grumpy's, his other employer, for dinner.

"Grumpy's is a very comforting smell. It makes me feel like everything's all right," Burns said, hopeful that whoever hit him will be caught and run through the judicial system.

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