Pain Reigns for Manager Paralyzed in Pacman-Incited Vegas Melee
"It's painful to sit in one position more than a couple minutes," Urbanski says as he pauses a moment during a recent breakfast. "I took a pain pill a couple hours ago. I'd say right now my pain is at a four. Getting down to a two is usually the best I can do and even with the pills it can get up to a 10."
If Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas' suspension was the result of a joke gone wrong, Urbanski is permanently seated in the end of the athletes and guns spectrum. Urbanski, 46, was a manager at a now-defunct strip club when he was paralyzed from the waist down in the wake of a melee incited by former NFL defensive back Adam "Pacman" Jones here nearly three years ago.
Jones pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct stemming from the pre-dawn fight in the strip club during the 2007 NBA All-Star weekend, which included Jones "making it rain" as he tossed a bag full of money on stage. Even though witnesses told police that they heard Jones say he wanted to get a gun after he was ejected from the club, authorities never connected Jones to the shooting.
Phone and e-mail messages left for Jones' Las Vegas-based attorney, Lisa Rasmussen were not returned.
Urbanski was a hulking 6-foot-6 and nearly 400 pounds at the time of the incident. The former pro wrestler from Long Island once traveled the world wrestling as the Polish Prince and one of the Mad Russians. He's now down to 320 pounds.
He had taken a break from being a floor manager/bouncer at area strip clubs to work as a real estate agent before the housing market crashed in the desert. When his wife, Kathy, decided she wanted to go back to school to earn a law degree, Urbanski caught on at a new strip club called Minxx.
"I didn't want to take any loans out because we still had one to pay off after her master's loan," Urbanski says. "I said, 'Give me two years so I can earn some money.'"
Two weeks later, Urbanski arrived at Minxx and noticed something wasn't quite right.
"I showed up for my shift at 5 a.m. and the lights were on and everybody was leaving," Urbanski says. "All I know is that I picked up the radio and somebody told me (a co-worker) had been hit over the head with a bottle of champagne. Nobody told me Pacman was there. Worse, nobody told me that somebody had threatened to shoot up the place."
Urbanski walked outside the club and a moment later he heard the shots and felt a searing pain.
"I knew something was wrong," he says. "I couldn't move my arms or my legs. I thought I was a quadriplegic."
Urbanski had actually fractured an arm and broke the elbow of the other in the fall.
"We didn't know if he was going to live," Kathy Urbanski says. "The bullet introduced bacteria that had to be dealt with."
After he was stabilized at a Las Vegas hospital, Tommy Urbanski was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver to undergo months of rehab.
Kathy commuted from Las Vegas to Denver to visit Tommy after her family medical leave ran out.
She has since become accustomed to the outbursts that accompany her husband's condition.
"So many nerves got damaged in addition to his spinal cord injury. Those nerves need time to repair themselves," she says. "We don't know how long the process will be, but it's still going on. The pain may
never totally go away."
Worker's compensation insurance is the one thing that's saved the couple from total financial ruin. The insurance has paid out about $2 million since the shooting for everything from Tommy's initial care to daily nurse visits to retrofitting his house, which took nearly two years to complete. Tommy now drives thanks to a custom built-van he proudly shows off.
Urbanski filed suit against Jones and the NFL in the months after the shooting. NFL lawyers successfully got the lawsuit dismissed from a Nevada district court after a judge ruled the league didn't have significant ties to the state.
Urbanski's lawyer, Matthew Dushoff, said he's contemplating refiling the case.
"We are not letting the NFL off the hook," Kathy says. "We feel strongly the NFL enabled Pacman to run out of control. I feel they were aware of his behavioral problems prior to even joining the NFL. He continued to be out of control during his tenure. We are not backing down."
Urbanski's lawsuit against Jones has moved at a snail's pace. Jones was scheduled to be deposed Tuesday before it was delayed. Whenever it takes place, Urbanski has the option of being in attendance.
"I don't know if I really want to look him in the face," he says. "I don't really want to rehash that again."
Dushoff says "the evidence is going to show that Jones had culpability" in the shooting.
Urbanski is not sure what all Jones --- who last played in the NFL in 2008 with the Dallas Cowboys --- has left, but Urbanski thinks Jones would like to have the money he brought with him to the strip club that fateful February night.
"This guy right now probably doesn't have $40,000 to his name," Urbanski says. "I bet he wished he had the 40 grand he let fly that night."