“Peaceful here, isn’t it?” a passing stranger asked Shawn Stevens as she walked along a path in the Carlisle Reservation.
She nodded, acknowledging his remark as she kept walking.
Moments later, her legs went out from under her.
She had been shot in the back.
The man who has been charged with firing that bullet is Matthew Plas, a 25-year-old homeless man whom the 43-year-old Stevens had never met.
That exchange in the park May 6 — recounted by Lorain County Prosecutor Peter Gauthier on Tuesday as he successfully lobbied to keep Plas in the county jail without bond — was the start of a horrific ordeal that would leave Stevens paralyzed from the waist down and fighting for her life.
As she lay on the ground with a bullet in her back, Stevens began yelling for help, Gauthier said. Her screams prompted Plas to pick up a tree branch and beat her with it as he shouted for her to shut up, Gauthier said.
Stevens begged for her life, telling Plas, “Please don’t kill me,” Gauthier said.
When her attacker became angry because she had no money in her purse, Stevens offered her ATM card and pin number so he could go to the bank, Gauthier said.
Eventually, Stevens played dead, hoping that Plas would leave, Gauthier said.
Instead, he lifted her shirt, pulled down her pants and began to sexually assault her, Gauthier said.
“She has no idea whether she was raped because she had lost all feeling,” Gauthier said.
After that, Gauthier said, her attacker picked up what he thought was her dead body. He dropped her several times as he made his way through the woods, Gauthier said.
But she wasn’t a corpse. She was still alive and, at one point, she opened her eyes, and her attacker saw her, Gauthier said.
“He looked at her and said in disbelief, ‘You’re still alive?’ ” he said.
Plas, who allegedly had planned to throw Stevens into a nearby river, was trying to put her into the trunk of his car when a passing driver stopped to see if they needed help, Gauthier said. Plas allegedly told the motorist and another driver who had also stopped that they were going to have sex in the trunk, but Stevens began yelling for help.
Plas then jumped in the car and sped off, with Stevens hanging out of the trunk, Gauthier said. As the drivers who’d stopped to help chased after him, Plas hit speeds of 100 mph, police said.
Plas dumped Stevens behind a building — after complaining to her that she’d gotten blood in his car — and abandoned the car a short distance away, fleeing into the woods on foot, Gauthier said.
He was arrested a short time later by Lorain County Metro Parks rangers.
Gauthier said Plas was too dangerous to release because Stevens was a random victim, not someone he knew. There was no guarantee that he wouldn’t attack someone else, Gauthier said.
“He just picked this person at random, shot her, tried to sexually assault her and tried to dump her in a river,” he said.
Gauthier also said Plas had purchased the gun from a friend, even though a protection order filed against him as a result of an incident involving his wife prevents him from owning a gun.
Sheriff’s deputies continue to search for the gun they believe Plas tossed as he fled police. So far, they’ve had no luck, said sheriff’s Capt. Richard Resendez.
Plas’ attorney, Kenneth Lieux, said his client should have at least a chance for bond, citing that Plas is a lifetime area resident and has a relatively minor criminal record.
But Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski said Gauthier’s arguments had convinced him, and he ordered Plas held without bond, a rarity for someone not facing the death penalty.
Lieux said later that he didn’t plan to appeal Zaleski’s decision, but he believes Plas is entitled to a bond, even if it is extremely high.
“It seems they forget about the presumption of innocence,” he said. “There’s just a mindset that he’s guilty.”
Dianna Chevchek, Stevens’ sister-in-law, said it was a relief to learn Plas will remain behind bars while he awaits trial on the 17-count indictment, including attempted murder, kidnapping, attempted rape and other charges stemming from the incident.
“This guy needs to be away from everyone,” Chevchek said.
Stevens has been upgraded to fair condition after having surgery last week to remove the bullet that was lodged near her spine, according to a spokeswoman for MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, where Stevens remains hospitalized.
Chevchek said surgeons hadn’t planned to take the bullet out, but it was causing life-threatening complications and they had no choice. It was something that Stevens wanted out, anyway, she said.
“She certainly didn’t want to carry that bullet in her,” Chevchek said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.