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Blind vet takes down attacker in Oklahoma City

by Juliana Keeping Modified: June 27, 2013 at 5:55 pm •  Published: May 2, 2013

I met a blind vet named Gordan Besaw.

I first met him in a police report, which detailed how a blind veteran was attacked on his way to the bus stop. He was with his seeing-eye dog, Derby, trying to get to the VA Hospital.

The police spelled Besaw’s first name wrong in the report. They also got his address wrong and his city wrong. He lives in Bethany, not Oklahoma City. He is Gordan, not Gordon. etc…

When I met Gordan at his house, he was a little breathless. Two TV stations had just been there, and he’d exerted a great deal of energy trying to correct all this misinformation. Both stations wanted him to walk with Derby, a German shepherd. He and Derby walk fast. He got a kick out of the fact the TV cameramen were out of breath trying to keep up with him. The downside to the demo was that his sister lives down the street, so he had to twice disappoint Derby, who thought they were headed that way, since he just walked in a loop to show how he gets around with his dog.

Derby
Derby

Of course, Derby is more than a dog to Gordan. He relies on him to see. Gordan has a tattoo of his last seeing-eye dog, Gracie, a black lab, on his right arm. Gracie died last summer at 15. She was retired at the time.

She retired early. That’s because as Gracie was walking with Gordan, Gracie stepped in a hole and hurt her knee. The two were walking through tall grass and Gracie didn’t notice the hole. They were walking through tall grass because there are very few sidewalks for Gordan and his dogs to walk on in Oklahoma City. There are no sidewalks on NW 23 where he walks to the bus stop

That’s also why he and Derby, three years ago, were hit by a car.

That experience terrified him. Gordan pointed out that yesterday’s attack was scary, but the car accident was worse by far. No cameramen or newspaper reporters swarmed his front yard then. The lack of sidewalks is a challenge each time he goes out.

Gordan could get rides. But he wants to be independent. He doesn’t want to be a burden to any one, somebody who is toted around.

Derby and Gordan
Derby and Gordan

A man Tuesday attacked Gordan as he went to the bus stop to get to the doctor to see about his allergies.

Derby is highly trained. He is peaceful, not an attack dog, but growled even as Gordan commanded him to stay behind him.

Gordan gave his attacker several opportunities to walk away, but a man who said he’d take Gordan to “see God” just wouldn’t quit hitting him.

That’s why Gordan grabbed the man’s shirt, threw him over his hip and held him in a headlock until police arrived.

Gordan Besaw can only see large objects in opaque shadows. He wears shades because the sun bother his eyes. He has glaucoma.

He said the takedown was instinctual, but he worries for his attacker, who he believes is mentally ill.

Here is a transcript of our interview today, in which Gordan Besaw describes his attack, the challenges he faces as a blind man, the problem of few sidewalks in Oklahoma City.

What happened?

I got not even half way to my bus stop. The gentleman came up to me and asked me if I was blind. I told him, ‘Yes, I’m blind.’ He goes, ‘Well, take your glasses off. I can make you see again before you see God.’

I said, ‘No, that’s OK.’ I wear the dark glasses because my eyes are sensitive to the light.’

He said, ‘Well I can make you see before you see God.’ And he punched me in my forehead. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’

I put dog to the side behind me because I didn’t want there to be an issue with my dog.

I’m like, ‘What’s your problem, guy?’

I tried to walk. And he hit me again in my forehead.

I said, ‘You really don’t want to do this.’

He goes, ‘Yeah, I do,’ and hit me a third time.

I reached forward with my right hand, pulled him towards me, dropped the leash, pulled him toward me and threw him over my hip.

I told my dog to stay and I put him in a choke hold.

People were coming and calling 911.

Nobody came to help me hold the guy – everybody was afraid of Derby.

I had to hold the guy until the cops came.

The guy, the whole time, was saying

‘I’m real strong, you better watch out. We can see god together, we can see God together. I can fix this for you.’

I said, ‘You can’t fix anything, you need to just chill.’

What were his intentions?

I don’t know. There was something wrong with him…I don’t know if he was on drugs or mentally diSabled, or what his issue was. I just tried everything for it to just go away.

Even though I’m a disabled vet and I was in the military, I’m just not into violence. I’m not into that.

I gave him multiple opportunities to leave me alone.

When he hit me the last time, it just kind of snapped. I just went into reflex. I just reached out. Once I knew I had him I just pulled him towards me. It just happened so fast after that.

The story seems longer than it really is until we were on the ground.

Until we were on the ground, that stuff happened very quickly.

They teach you all kinds of different hand-to-hand combat when you’re in the military.

Granted, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the military.

I work out every day, but I’m not practicing marshall arts every day.

I guess I still have that memory in me.

I’m not in as good of shape as I want to be but I’m in better shape than what I thought I was.

It was all instinct that happened.

I have light perception and I can see shadows if they’re close enough, but I can’t really tell you want you look like. I can’t tell you what your skin is your hair, stuff like that. I can see your shadow.

Tell us about Derby

He’s a German shepherd. He’s actually my second dog. My first dog was a black lab. I actually have a picture of her on my arm I can show you if you’d like to see. Her name is Gracie. I had to retire her. She just passed away last summer, but she lived until she was 15.

Derby and Gordan
Derby and Gordan

Derby is focused on his owner.

And, Derby I got him from Leader Dog, and also Grace, my first dog, from Leader Dog in Rochester, Mich.
Two Lions club members are actually founders of Leader Dog.

When I got to the point where I lost my vision, just before point I got to where I am right at this moment, today, I went to a school in Little Rock. Ark, called Lions World Services for the Blind. They taught me how to do all the stuff a normal person would do. When I was done with all that training, I came home, and I got sent to Leader Dog to get Derby…

They start training them at 9 weeks, basic training for the dogs. As they’re getting closer to 1 year old, if they show a lot of aggression, they can’t be a seeing eye dog. The dog has to be calm and laid back and friendly with all animals.

But, as the dog becomes closer and closer to me as the years go on, they become more protective. German shepherds tend become even more protective. It’s just in their nature.

Would he have attacked the guy? I can’t say 100 percent he would, but I can’t say that he wouldn’t either.

He did low growl when I put him behind me. So, you know.

Was this the first time you and Derby had something harrowing happen when you were on your way to the VA Hospital?

Three years ago, coming back from the VA about 4:30 in the afternoon. We stop at every curb. He looks to make sure it is safe. So the person who hit us with the car hit us on his side, they turned into us on (NW) 23 Street. They must have not stopped at their stop sign…He wouldn’t have let me off the curb had that lady been that close to us. So, that tells me she couldn’t have even seen the stop sign or been at the stop sign.

Was there a sidewalk in this area? Were you walking in the street? And do you find that to be safety hazard?

Yeah, it is. My first dog actually got hurt. It’s the reason why I had to retire her. It messed up her knee really bad because the grass was too high. The grass wasn’t kept low so she didn’t see the hole. She walked through it instead of me. And she had several surgeries and couldn’t work any more. Not having sidewalks is a major concern because I have to go over several different kinds of terrain. And I can figure out most of the terrain just by the tactile information, or, you know, the way it feels on my feet, on my shoes, the sound as I’m walking over it. I’ll go from grass to concrete to asphalt, then to some gravel and some dirt, just to get to the bus stop. The only place I’ve had any real sidewalks is either downtown, or, they just put in some sidewalks over here on Rockwell. I think it starts around maybe 19th Street, or somewhere right in there. It’s not a very long sidewalk but I don’t have to go over that area too much.

I do have people that give me rides and stuff like that, but I try to be as independent as I possibly can, because I don’t want to be a burden on other people. So I work very hard, every day, going over everything that I learned, even on days, that the weather is not conducive to travel, I still go over his commands and stuff like that, and go over how to do stuff in my head. If I just sat around, having somebody drag me every where to me that’s not a life. That’s find for some people if that’s what they want to do. I’m not getting down on any blind people that are not active, but I try to be as active as possible, as well as safe.

Why do you speak at schools and churches?

When I had my first dog, and I got home from Michigan, I had several people ask me not to come in their store with a dog. After the third time, I got very frustrated with that. I keep the law book the school gives me in his harness.

It covers all states.

Derby and Gordan
Derby and Gordan

I thought, you know, the dogs have been around since, well, the leader dogs have been around since 1939, but the dogs have been around longer than that. And people not to know by this day and age what the laws are of what I can and can’t do is upsetting to me. I just started going to Lions clubs, to churches, to schools. I have two short videos to show how I learned how to do what I know how to do today from the school in Arkansas, and also, from the school in Michigan, showing how they do the dogs, how they train them. I just educate the kids and adults on how to come up on me. Some people will give me a wide berth because they’re afraid. They were afraid even when I had my lab. But there are ways to approach me, and if I’m not real busy and there’s not a lot of people around me, I don’t mind a quick pat to his head. That’s like an acknowledgement that you’re acknowledging the dog, that you’re aware that he’s there. I don’t mind stuff flike that as long as I’m asked and I’m not in a crowd.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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