A Letter Written by Dan Baghdasarian Regarding his Case
Disclaimer: The client named in this article has given his Attorney, Steven H. Nakano, permission to publish his name and his story. Furthermore, the client gave Mr. Nakano specific permission to publish his written letter to the Judge in his case. It is the hope of these clients to inspire future clients to turn their lives around.
To Adult Probation and to Judge Allison Danner,
Hello, my name is Dan Baghdasarian and I am writing this letter today to help you get a better understanding of why and how I was able to commit the awful crimes that I regretfully committed on December 23, 2015.
I would like to start by apologizing to everyone that I hurt and affected as a result of my actions. Truth is, I am not a bad person and I come from a very good family and upbringing. I have never been in any serious trouble throughout my adult life and know the difference between right and wrong.
On the morning of December 23rd,2015 I was tired, restless and heavily under the influence of several different drugs e.g. opiate, crystal meth, xanax bars, Marijuana and DMT. I hadn’t slept for close to 72 hours. I was under a lot of pressure, stressed out, lethargic and not in a right state of mind. I was living a very dysfunctional lifestyle and was suffering from a very bad drug addiction. I didn’t have a place to stay at the time and was desperately trying to get back to Phoenix, Arizona. Life was very unstable and quite miserable to say the least.
It is hard for me to talk about the things I did on the morning of December 23rd because I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed by my behaviors throughout the course of the eleven months prior to the morning of December 23rd, 2015.
First, I would like to make you a little more familiar with myself so I will get back to the events that took place that morning. I have always been a successful person and considered myself to be a positive member of society. I started my own business fresh out of high school. I opened a car stereo/wheel performance shop with a friend and successfully grew our business into one of the most prestigious car audio shops in the San Jose area. Throughout the course of the first 7 years of being in the business, many of my friends were getting in trouble with the law. I was the one that would always try to be a positive role model in my circle.
I was the “go-to-guy” whenever my buddies would get into trouble, need help, assistance or money on their books, help for their loved ones while they were incarcerated. I never had a drug or alcohol problem and no run-ins with the law prior to this case. I followed the rules and did my best to help those around me and with whomever I crossed paths. Ironically, my next-door neighbor had three sons who were all highway patrolmen. They used to park at my shop daily and hangout during their break times. I was very lucky to be successful at such a young age. I worked very hard for many years. I watched my friends go out to clubs and party like normal young people do in their early and mid-twenties. That was not the path I chose for myself. I stayed dedicated to my business and worked 10-15 hour-days seven days a week. My business was successful and I was well respected in the automotive industry and in the community.
In 2007 the owner of the building that I was leasing decided to sell the property where I was conducting my business and we were forced to close our doors. My partner decided to transfer the retail shop into an online business and work from home and decided to leave the next year. So, I became the sole proprietor. Commercial properties were far too expensive at the time. I decided to rent a condo and found a small warehouse storage space that was cost efficient to store my entire inventory. I began selling my equipment full time online via websites such as E-Bay, local classified and Amazon.com. I was able to work fewer hours and made an adequate income. And, I had more time to spend with my girlfriend and family.
I continued my business online throughout the next few years and lived a normal, happy, positive drug-free lifestyle. I was overall very grateful and content with the life I created. I had a girlfriend. We traveled to many places. We were both into physical fitness and went to the gym seven days a week.
In September of 2010 life was soon to take a turn into a completely different direction. On the evening of Sept. 29, 2010 at around 10pm, my girlfriend and I were walking our dog. I suddenly heard loud music and screeching as a vehicle approached us at a very high speed. I was able to push her and the dog out of the way in time. I was not so lucky and was struck by the SUV. The driver took off leaving me with broken legs and multiple injuries to my lower leg. No one was able to get a description of the vehicle or license plate and the driver was never found. First responders rushed me to the hospital into the intensive care trauma unit and the nightmare began.
I was hospitalized for the next nine days as doctors tried to figure out whether they should amputate or try to save my leg. I was hooked up to constant IV drip of Morphine and Dilantin for pain management. I would undergo nine surgeries over the course of fourteen months. I could not get out of my hospital bed and my life seemed like it was over. I was devastated and had no clue how to deal with the hand that life had dealt me. I couldn’t leave the hospital for several months, and our bills at home were piling up. I was fortunate enough to have saved some money and be able to use that money to keep the bills paid and not end up losing the roof over our heads.
I didn’t want to live at that point and couldn’t grasp the reality of how such a horrible event could be taking place. I had never encountered anything like that before and had no idea how to cope. My mom flew down from Arizona and stayed with me at the hospital for emotional support. It felt like overnight my wonderful life and all of the joy was flushed down the toilet.
For two years, my life would turn into the greatest battle that I have ever had to fight. I had metal bars and rods bolted into my leg and foot and needed complete reconstructive surgery. My life had turned into a complete nightmare and I was emotionally, physically and spiritually dead to the world.
I ended up having my ankle fused along with two of my toes, twenty-five screws inserted into my leg with multiple pins, two metal plates and my Achilles tendon snipped along with a large wound that required skin grafts in order to heal. I was prescribed thousands of narcotic pain medications throughout the course of my surgeries. Everything from 80mg oxycontin, Morphine pills, Norco, Percocet, dilantin, and darvocet along with anxiety and sleeping pills to cope with the stress that I was suffering. I was a full-blown pill-popping addict by the time it was all over, severely addicted to the opiates I had been taking for pain management.
I was constantly tired and had little motivation to do anything. I spend most of my time lying in a hospital bed in the living room. My only means of getting around was in a wheelchair. I seldom left home because I was too embarrassed to be seen in public. I was hopeless and depressed and only dreamed of someday being able to work out again. The doctors started to try and taper me off the narcotics. They encouraged me to get into physical therapy in order to learn how to walk again. I was bedridden for so long that my brain had completely forgotten how to even use my legs. I really didn’t care about myself and had little desire or motivation to put in the effort.
I was constantly in excruciating pain. I wanted pain meds and the doctors refused to provide me the amount my body was used to. I took to the streets desperately trying to get whatever prescription painkillers that I could find. I wasn’t successful with obtaining pain pills on the street. I met a few people who were crystal meth addicts who told me that meth would help with the pain, provide me with the energy I needed in order to get motivated and learn how to walk again. They said it would also help me lose some weight and take some of the pressure off my leg. I decided to give it a try and quickly became hooked.
I did lose weight. Meth did give me more energy to start physical therapy. So, I was all for it. I had no idea of the mistake that I was making. I used for the next year or more. I learned how to walk and use my leg. I had really cut down my usage of opiates so I figured meth was the answer to all my problems. I was a full-blown addict and would stay up with no sleep for days and even weeks on end at times then smoke, drink and take Xanax to come down. Finally, I was able to get some rest.
I began to feel like an insomniac zombie. I was completely out of my own skin and was living a life that revolved around getting high and masking all my pain. I had completely forgotten about my life prior to my accident. I seemed to get further and further away from my morals and beliefs. I was still able to do the minimum amount of work necessary to keep the bills paid but things were slowly becoming out of control and I was turning into a type of person that I had never imagined possible.
I lost a lot of my old friends and associates and surrounded myself with a bunch of drug addicts that taught me a way of life that shames me. I tried my hardest to hide my new lifestyle and kept it a secret from my family. By mid-2013 I was using drugs daily. I thought I had everything under control, but my life was becoming more and more unmanageable. My girlfriend and I were constantly fighting. My behavior and my health were really being affected by my addiction. Over the course of the next year I slowly faded into the darkness. I was paranoid and my emotions were out of control.
I started to let my business/means of income diminish and chose to sit around and get high everyday sulking about all my problems. I had become a total bum and was hanging out with some very shady people.
I began doing things that I could never even imagine being capable of doing just to be able to support my drug habit. I was an awful boyfriend, son, member of society and person in general! I was experimenting with pretty much any drug that crossed my path and had completely let myself go. I knew I had a major problem with drugs but I didn’t’ care. I didn’t know how to get help or how to do anything to try and fix my problems. I never gave myself a chance to try and live a normal life. I lost all hope of being able to be happy ever again. I was ashamed of myself. I wanted to change but I was buried so deep in my miserable drug addiction that I continued to life a dysfunctional and unhealthy lifestyle.
In late 2013, I decided to move out and go stay at my Mom’s place in Arizona for a while. My mom lives alone and was about to undergo a double knee surgery so I figured it would be good to get away from San Jose for a while. I wanted to try and slow down my drug usage. I also wanted to be there for my mom and help her rehabilitate from her surgeries as she had done for me when I had my surgeries.
We got to Arizona. It was nice to have a change of scenery and to be closer to my mom whom I love dearly. She had her surgeries and I helped her recover successfully. Things were going reasonably well compared to living in San Jose. I was still using drugs but not as much. I didn’t really know anybody in Arizona, so I stayed home and helped around the house.
Once my mom was able to get back to work, I decided to take a trip over to Las Vegas, NV for a few days. While we were there we went riding on some ATV’s in the desert and my girlfriend fell of her ATX and broke her ankle. We cut the trip short and headed back to Arizona so she could get her leg fixed. We went to a local county hospital and quickly learned that the healthcare system in Arizona was much different than from California. For non- residents they didn’t have a quick method of being able to obtain Medi-Cal insurance and she needed to have surgery immediately. They told us there was a 12-16 week process that was needed to be followed in order to have her seen by a doctor. Neither of us had private health insurance policies, so we decided the easiest way to get her leg fixed would be to temporarily come back to California.
We were familiar with the Medi-Cal procedure in California and knew that they wouldn’t refuse her medical attention. She would be able to see a doctor and get surgery performed right away. But, deep down inside, I knew that this was not a good idea to come back to San José and be back in my old surroundings.
Here we could at least stay with some friends until her procedures were finished (2-3 months). Then, we could go back to Arizona and figure out what we wanted to do about getting a place to stay. Unfortunately, my old habits quickly came back into play. I started hanging out with the old crowd of people I used to hang with. I didn’t have many responsibilities, e.g., rent, bills, etc. I began using many different drugs again. I was even worse than before, and I became out of control.
I would wake up and get high and party. I drank nonstop for days at a time until my body would just shut down and I would pass out wherever I happened to be sitting. I had no more energy to stay awake. I was worse than before and was taking all of my girlfriend’s pain medication that she got from the doctors for her injured ankle. I was losing myself and continued to get worse and worse to the point that my girlfriend and friends thought I was going to end up overdosing dying.
I would disappear for days at a time and wake up places not knowing how I got there. My mom would call and try to contact me for months and I wouldn’t respond because I was ashamed of myself. I would sleep in my car or in public places when I had nowhere to go. My dally life revolved on getting high. I had never stooped so low in my life and didn’t even care if I was dead or alive anymore. I managed to get some cash together and sold my car and bought an RV so that I temporarily had a place to stay. I had hopes of driving to back to my Mom in Arizona. We had been out here in San Jose for several months from what was only supposed to be a short trip to get my girlfriends’ leg fixed.
The holidays were getting near and my mom was begging us to come back to Arizona. I promised to be back by my birthday, October 2nd of last year and didn’t go. I promised again to be there by Thanksgiving and thought I could make it but I was too screwed up to follow through with anything I said that I would do. My poor mom made a huge turkey and Thanksgiving dinner and set the table. We were going to be there for Thanksgiving. I broke her heart and left her there all by herself worried about what had happened to us. I was so upset with myself and didn’t know how I could do such an awful thing. I began a dangerous binge of drug use that I figured would end my life.
I was physically and mentally crippled. My health was awful; I was throwing up blood from the toxins I was putting in my body daily. I was stuck in a terror and had no clue how to get help. My mother begged me to call but I refused and chose to stay out on the streets getting loaded. My life was a complete mess and I hated myself and felt like a monster. As Christmas approached, I knew I was more than likely not going to make it to Arizona and would end up breaking my Mother’s heart again. I was under a lot of pressure and my mind and body were incapable of meeting the order I was trying to fill.
On the morning of December 23rd, 2015, I borrowed a van from an acquaintance. I did not know him very well. I was simply trying to go and pick up a few tires from a friend’s shop for the RV that I had purchased. I was scared and tired and desperately wanted to get back to Arizona and to spend Christmas with my Mom. I knew deep down that if I didn’t make it this time, something worse was going to happen. The path that I was traveling was pointing to overdose and death.
I was doing much better for the short period of time I was in Arizona. I would beat myself up for coming back to San Jose. As I was driving the van that morning, I saw policeman pass me and became extremely paranoid. I quickly pulled into the first parking lot available and exited the van. I had been awake for three days with no sleep and was exhausted and stressed out. I was not in the right state of mind or thinking clearly.
As the officer approached me, I started to have a meltdown in my mind and was terrified of what was going to happen. He got out of his car and went to the rear of the van and left me alone by his running vehicle. I began crying and having a panic attack. I jumped into his vehicle and sped off. I was crying and screaming the whole time. I was in complete disbelief with what I had just done. I heard dispatch giving my exact location and was petrified and wanted to stop but it was already too late. I almost lost consciousness from the anxiety.
I was sure the police would shoot and kill me if they were to catch up with me and had no idea how I managed to get myself into this type of an insane situation. Everything was happening so fast. I didn’t have time to think through anything I was doing. I pulled in front of the first car I saw on the road at a red traffic light. I remember getting out and desperately begging the driver to get out of the vehicle. I was so terrified that I couldn’t even speak. All I could say repeatedly was, “please, please, please, please” over-and-over again. I had completely disconnected myself from reality and it felt like I was in some sort of movie.
The poor woman driving the Toyota finally began to climb out of her vehicle and I jumped in and noticed her purse sitting on the front passenger seat. I felt badly for the poor woman. I didn’t want her to suffer any more than she already was, so I threw her purse out the window as I drove off in her car. I felt awful and wish that I could somehow comfort her by letting her know that I wasn’t going to damage her car and was only doing this because I was scared for my life. I drove her vehicle for 2 -3 miles before parking it on a residential street and hiding the keys under the driver’s seat.
I was a complete mess and when reality kicked in and I realized what I had done, I knew I was going to be in a lot of trouble. I was arrested the next day and taken into custody. As soon as I got to my barrack in county jail, I was exhausted, ashamed and hopeless. I had given up on life all together. I fell asleep and slept for close to 4 straight days.
When I woke up, I had a moment of clarity for the first time in a very long time. I could NOT believe what I had done. I only wish that I could go back and change my actions. I stayed in county jail for the first time until my Mother put her house for collateral and posted my bail. The plan was for me to get into drug treatment right away.
The original attorney that we hired suggested that I wait until the case was over before getting into a recovery program. My mother and I were confused. I did not want to risk getting into any more trouble while this case was pending. I was sick and tired of living the miserable life that I had been trapped in ever since the accident in 2010. I wanted to change my life. But, I didn’t know how to do it alone.
I went to see Mr. Steven Nakano for a “second opinion” in March of 2015. He suggested that I get into Amicus House and I was all for it. I called Amicus House and spoke with Lori Johnson and discussed arrangements to enter the program. My previous attorney again intervened. He said it would not be a good idea unless I wanted to have my freedom taken from me after spending $15,000 on bail.
I could not understand why he was not supportive of my decision to get into recovery. He said that he would put me into a program and made a bunch of other promises before my mother and I hired him. I had enough of his lies and fired him and hired Mr. Nakano. Then, I saved the money to enter Amicus House on July 6, 2016. I have been clean and sober ever since.
In the 100 days since entering Amicus House, I have attended 100 12-step meetings and have an awesome sponsor, who has been clean and sober for 32 years! Willie Pierson is my Sponsor and has been helping guide me through the early stages of recovery. I am still living at Amicus House and doing well there. I am also enrolled in an outpatient program at the suggestion of Amicus House. I have been working with my therapist, Mr. Ken Deaver.
Ken is an incredible person. He has helped me a great deal with understanding how my life became out of control. We have spent hours talking about experiences that have had major impacts on my life. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a unique individual that truly cares about his patients. He is awesome.
This whole program of recovery and the fellowship of recovery are amazing. I wish that I could have found my way to this program on my own before my arrest. Every single person I have met throughout my short journey has been caring, welcoming and loving. I cannot emphasize how grateful I am to be living the life that I am today.
I never imagined or dreamed of ever being able to feel so good and happy since the day of my accident. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I am literally in tears as I am writing this letter right now. I truly felt that my life was over and that I had nothing to live for anymore. I was miserable and had not hope or desire to live. I had NO positive influences in my life. The only people that I knew were a bunch of drug addicts and all that I cared about was getting high. I was hiding all my true feelings and the pain trapped inside of me.
Amicus House has truly saved my life. I don’t know how I could ever repay them for everything they have taught me. I have been given tools that I need to be able to handle problems and find solutions as “life shows up.” I have gained self-confidence and have created a relationship with my Higher Power.
I am currently employed and am working as a chef through a temp agency. I was introduced to the temp agency by a member in the AA fellowship. I have been given an opportunity to do something I have always loved to do, cooking. I prepare gourmet meals for over 400 kids daily at the San Jose Job Corps Campus. Seeing all of them enjoy their meals and smile and come back thanking me for the good food gives me a feeling of joy that I cannot even express. My leg is still painful. But, I push through it and manage my pain with “over the counter” medications, Ibuprofen and Tylenol.
I learned from the counselors at Amicus that I need to build a strong foundation and support group to be successful in my recovery. I am part of an awesome men’s support group. My sponsor and his “tree of sponsees” have all been clean and sober for years and years! I am grateful to my Fellow house mates, fellowship brothers, my therapist, my outpatient counselor, Kali Gregg (who is an absolute “sweetheart” and goes far and beyond the norm to help her patients) and the AA/NA fellowship as a whole. I don’t know where I would be today had I not been blessed by this opportunity to get my life together.
I have made a 180 degree turn in the way that I live my life when compared to the life that I was living before. I work out daily with my recovery support brothers. I have changed my eating habits and have lost 25 pounds in the last 6 weeks alone. I am trying to get into shape and utilize the tools that I have received in recovery to quit my poor eating habits. I have eliminated drinking soda and eating junk food.
Many years prior to my accident, I used to be “all about fitness.” I was in good health and in good shape. Getting back that part of my life is phenomenal. I cannot emphasize the amount of gratitude that I have for all the wonderful people that are part of my life today and to Amicus House Program, Ms. Lori Johnson, and all her dedicated team members.
Thank you Judge Danner and Deputy District Attorney Gadeberg for being kind and understanding enough to allow me the chance to get into recovery and work on getting my life back together. Without your blessing none of this would be possible.
My Mother has been praying to the Lord for “this day” to come for a very long time. Unfortunately, it took this horrible incident for me to finally fight my disease of addiction and get my life together. I know in my heart that I will be successful from this point forward and I have no desire to go back out into the misery of life and addiction on the streets. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I have faith that I am in the right place today.
There is a famous NA comedian, whose name is Mark Lundholm. He is friends with the director of Amicus House. He does comedy shows across the country and has a show on Comedy Central. He comes to Amicus House once a month and puts on a private show for clients. I was intrigued by his presence and by everything that he had to say the moment that he walked into the door. I wanted what he had. I felt like we had so much in common. He is very talented and has an amazing ability to “read people” after speaking with them for a short time. He told me that I was “a leader” and that people would look up to me someday. He said that I had good qualities and talent to be able to help a lot of newcomers if I were to take my recovery seriously and stay “on track.” I have never felt so encouraged in my life.
I am trying to “stay humble” and not to “get ahead of myself.” I am working toward the day when I can offer as much to newcomers as others have given freely to me. My sponsor, Willie Pierson, says that I have a long way to go before I can even make amends to Officer Brian Thanh and to Jennifer Godfrey (the woman whose car I took). I want so badly to apologize to them. But, I am following my sponsor’s advice and doing the steps, one step at a time for the rest of my life.
Thank you for reading this short novel.