A story of survival

Two months after Kevin Neibauer was shot in the head, he shares his harrowing tale with the Northeast Times.

The aftermath: Former Northeast resident Kevin Neibauer was shot in the head in October after calling police to report a car accident outside his home. Neibauer underwent a five-hour surgery, where he had received approximately 500 stitches. He has partial vision and hearing loss, which doctors aren’t sure will come back fully. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Three women in their early 20s stopped to talk to Kevin Neibauer outside his new apartment in North Philadelphia.

At first they were just curious what he was doing in the street with a tripod and camera set up. But they quickly connected the dots.

“I’m that guy who was on the news,” the 55-year-old said casually. “The one who was shot in the head.”

For someone who had just survived that ordeal, Neibauer has certainly taken it in stride. The former Northeast resident said he was cracking jokes as police lifted him off the sidewalk and blood pooled on the ground beneath him.

He’s a natural at photo shoots, too — the lifelong construction worker hadn’t had much experience in front of the camera, but he posed on the stairs outside his apartment with ease. He even agreed to be the subject of the Times’ first-ever video interview.

The incident, and his subsequent recovery, served somewhat as a wakeup call for the man, but he has emerged from the experience the same kind, neighborly person.

The incident

At 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night near the end of October, Neibauer heard a loud crash outside of his house, at the time near B and Westmoreland streets in Kensington. He went outside to check it out.

Neibauer found a man in a Toyota Camry partially up on the curb collided with a streetlight, which had been knocked over. The man was moving inside the vehicle. Neibauer quickly called 911.

The man got out of his vehicle, and Neibauer and his wife Jackie both said he removed tags from his car before walking over to Neibauer.

“He asked me if I called 911, and I said yes,” Neibauer said. “With one hand, he reached over to shake my hand like he was thanking me. With the other, he pulled out a gun and shot me in the head.”

Neibauer recalls falling over and losing control of his movement, but he never felt pain.

“The only thing I felt was a thud, and it sounded like a metal pipe hitting two pieces of plywood,” he said.

He didn’t know what had happened until police arrived at the scene and loaded him into an ambulance.

“I told them he hit me with a pipe,” he said. “They said, ‘They shot you and hit you with a pipe?’ ”

Police asked Jackie to ride along with them to help identify the suspect, and, despite the stress of the moment, she said yes.

“They told me they had seen people shot before, and they told me my husband was going to survive,” Jackie said.

Jackie got in the police car and rode with them through the neighborhood. She spotted the shooter from a long distance away, but knew it was him instantly.

“They said we had to get closer before I could know for sure, but I knew it was him,” she said.

They wouldn’t know until later, but Neibauer wasn’t the first person the man allegedly shot that night. He wasn’t even the second.

Police identified the man as Joshua Torres-Plaza, who had been accused of shooting two other people, a man and a woman, just moments before. The 24-year-old victim died a short time later.

Torres-Plaza had allegedly been fleeing that scene when he missed a turn, colliding with the streetlight and attracting Neibauer.

“I don’t know what happened to him,” Neibauer said, “and I don’t want to.”

The recovery

Wednesday, Nov. 29, was the first day Neibauer didn’t have to take a daytime nap.

He had taken one every day since his five-hour surgery, where he had received approximately 500 stitches.

“It’s like anything else,” he said of his recovery. “You got some good days and bad days.”

He’s been working toward doing things that “two months ago were standard,” like using both eyes and trying to listen with both ears. He has partial vision and hearing loss, which doctors aren’t sure will come back fully.

There are still surgeries looming in the near future, and he will need checkups at least once a year for the rest of his life. Neibauer skimmed over details, though.

“I’m not a medical person, and I didn’t ask, to be honest,” he said with a bracing laugh. “Overall, I’m healthy, besides that.”

The hero

Three days after coming home from the hospital, Neibauer became a grandfather for the third time.

He had been planning to move out of his Kensington home before the incident to help his daughter with the baby.

“We’re doing everything together,” he said of his family. “We’re home together for dinner, and a lot of people don’t have that. I call that an advantage.”

He has three daughters: Jackie, 28, Nickie, 25, and Katrina, 18. He also has three grandchildren: Zion, 4, Bryson, 1, and Janae, two weeks.

Neibauer is a North Philly native, though he has migrated all over the city. He lived in the Northeast for about six or seven years in the Castor Gardens and Fox Chase areas.

Neibauer has worked in construction since 1985, a career that has sent him across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. He recounted a period in his life where he would travel six hours a day to work in New York and come home to his family. A friend told him that his job had made him miss important milestones when his daughter grew up.

“I said I wanted to be there to see her walking and growing up,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to make that happen.”

Neibauer doesn’t consider himself the biggest sports fan, but does have a particular interest in lacrosse. He helps out Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association, a league in South Philadelphia where he helps out with the scoreboard and clock two nights a week in the summer, which he calls a “labor of love.” Teams play at the Rizzo Rink in South Philly.

Neibauer plans on making a full recovery, though he also wants to slow down, take vacations, and “smell the bacon” while he does it.

And through it all, remain the same person.

“The big question I got from police is, if that was to happen tomorrow, would you do the same thing,” he said. “Absolutely. If I did it 1,000 times, 999 of them I’d make a friend.” ••

Neibauer is trying to raise money to help with medical costs. Visit gofundme.com/brc4wp-medical-costs to donate.