How Bad Can It Get? is the gripping true story of tragic events and the ensuing legal battles that occurred in the life of its author, John A. Heavner. The downward turn of events began when John witnessed his four year old son Joshua being run over by a U-Haul rental truck in the driveway of his self storage business. Exactly two weeks later his father was tragically killed in a hunting accident. From there, Joshua's mother hired an attorney to file a lawsuit against John's business for the wrongful death of their son, in an attempt to collect from the business insurance policy. At the same time his father's widow began a vindictive eviction from land that he and his brothers had lived on for the past twenty-two years.
How Bad Can It Get? explains how John took measures to put up a defense on one front, while using the courts to make right what was wrong on another, all while trying to deal with his own personal grief. The story takes you through the timeline of events as John endures death, eviction, and three separate court battles. It is a true story of how a major corporation values profits more than human life and how their corporate greed had created the situation that killed his son, Joshua. On the other side of the story, John is also enduring a battle of personal greed as his father's widow takes measures to collect life insurance proceeds, force an eviction, disinherit John and his brothers, and claim partnership in his business after their father's tragic hunting accident. How Bad Can It Get? is a must read story that had to be told.
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How Bad Can It Get?
By John A. Heavner
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 John A. Heavner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLife: it's truly a gift from God. We all know from our own experiences as we travel through our lives that it does have its ups and downs. Somehow as time passes by, those stormy periods in life always seem to get better, or maybe it's just that the pain within us seems to fade away. Most of us in a casual conversation might say to a friend that we know how they feel when a tragic event occurs in their lives. The truth is you won't really know how that person feels unless you've walked in their shoes. The Bible tells us that God will not put more on us than we can stand. How much can we stand? That's the question. Throughout my life I have always been a very positive person who is always optimistic in every situation. I always think that the best is going to occur and most of the time it does. How does an optimistic person such as me, or any other person for that matter, react to a situation when a truly devastating loss does occur in their lives? For each person and each situation their reaction will be different. This story is about tragic personal losses and several legal battles that I had to endure to either defend myself or to ensure that what was wrong in the world had been made right. It's my reaction to the losses that have occurred in my life and how I dealt with eachsituation.
Throughout my life I have always reached for more. My mother was a person who lacked self esteem herself but she pushed all of her children to achieve a better life. She instilled in us the firm belief that we could achieve anything in life that we could wish for. She required all four of her sons to become Eagle Scouts. My two older brothers Paran and James, as well as I, accomplished that goal. My younger brother Mike had almost reached that goal when our mother passed away. As a Boy Scout you learn how to cook, perform first aid, learn camping techniques, how to survive in the forests, how to identify different types of trees, plants, poisonous snakes, and many other skills that proved to be helpful later in my life. She also made sure that we all learned to swim even though she was deathly afraid of the water herself. All of these skills that she wished for her sons to learn became very useful to us as we became adults. For example, when I was in Marine Corps boot camp we were required to jump off of a tower that was about 25 feet high. We were wearing a full uniform with combat boots, a backpack, and carrying an M-16 rifle. Once in the water, a recruit was required to hold the rifle out of the water above their head and tread water for a period of fifteen minutes with just their feet. Boy Scouts are also required to become proficient in first aid. A Boy Scout had to be so proficient that his response in a crisis would become a matter of instinct. That first aid training was also a bonus for me in Marine Corps boot camp. Most of those skills came naturally, while others required just a slight refresher course.
As children we had very little, but probably more than others. My mother always tried to ensure our happiness and she always provided the feeling of love. When my parents were married, my father was always away on weekends hunting and fishing. Seldom did he wish to take his sons with him. The few times that we did get to go, it was either the hottest day of the year to go fishing or the coldest day of the year to go hunting. Looking back at those occasions, my brothers and I felt that he wanted us to be so miserable that we would not want to go with him anymore. My parents divorced when I was fourteen, and the way that I felt about it then was very strange. My feelings were very mixed up because my mother was always easy on us and my father was always so hard. As teenagers my brothers and I rejoiced over my father being out of the house, but my mother cried all the time. After he moved out we hardly ever saw our father. He was quickly remarried and had a new family. He would drop by for a few moments now and then, but we never went anywhere with him. We didn't have the weekends with our dad like most children of divorced families have. The only thing that I ever wished for or even had a desire for back then was to be grown up and out in the world on my own.
My oldest brother Paran was married and in the Army. My brother James was in the Marine Corps and he was so proud of being a Marine that I desired the same. However, I was only five foot six inches tall and weighed around a hundred pounds, so almost everyone that I knew said that I would never be able to make it through boot camp. All of their negative comments only made me that much more determined to prove that they were wrong. On my seventeenth birthday I persuaded my mother to allow me to drop out of high school and join the Marine Corps. I was wild-eyed and ready to see the world. I spent most of my Marine Corps enlistment at Twentynine Palms in the California desert. I finished high school while I was in the Marine Corps, and two years later I came home to my mother, who was dying a slow death from liver failure that had been brought on by diabetes-related complications.
The late seventies were the Jimmy Carter years and the economy was very bad. I was unable to find work and living got very hard for my mother, my brother Mike, and me, so tough that during one three day period we only had a loaf of bread to eat. There was even one afternoon that I had taken my mother to the bank to take care of an insufficient check, one of many she had in those days, and while waiting in the car I watched as an elderly man came out of the bank stuffing a wad of cash into his wallet. I thought to myself how easy it would be to just knock him in the head and take that money. Thank God that I don't always act on my impulses. I might have spent my entire life in prison, but when you've hit bottom you begin to think crazy thoughts.
After several months had gone by I finally landed a factory job that paid pretty good and had decent benefits. It finally looked like things were going to get better for the three of us. From now on my mother was going to always have the insulin that she desperately needed and she would no longer be forced to use any used needles for her insulin injections. We were also going to have plenty to eat at home. I was going to always make sure of that. I told myself then that I would work every day for the rest of my life if that's what it took. I was determined that I would never allow myself or my mother to hit that low again.
Within weeks of starting my new job, my mother passed away, only four months after I was discharged from the Marine Corps. I could not get the thought out of my head that I would never see her again. My brother Mike was forced to go and live with a father and stepmother that he hardly even knew, and this new living situation was not working out for anyone involved. After several months of attempting this living situation, it was at its breaking point. The only solution to the problem was for him to move in with me. I had purchased a used mobile home and placed it on my father's property. Here I am at the age of nineteen and I am on my own with a fourteen year old brother living with me. I had a pretty good job at the time and everything was finally going well for Mike and me. He went to Junior High School and I worked at my factory job. We had a nice place to live, food to eat, and we had our independence. Mike and I lived and worked very well together.
My brother Mike is an extremely talented musician; from his early childhood that was clear to all of us. He is an excellent guitar player as well as an educated piano player and so to help keep him out of trouble, we started a rock band. He had several friends from school that played different instruments and he also had several friends who already had a band. We started our band and within six months or so the best musicians from each of the two bands had merged into one band. My brother Mike on guitar, my brother James also on guitar, our bassist Tommy Davis, our drummer James Branch, and I chased the dream of wealth and fame for seven years together in that band. By the time this endeavor ended in July of 1986, I was in my late twenties and all I wanted out of life is what we all want in our lives: peace, happiness, and to live out the American dream.
Happiness, now that's a big word with a lot of different meanings. In most areas of my life I had been happy. In other areas I had never obtained what we always dream that our lives would turn out to be. By the mid 1990s I had been married for several years but not happy. In fact, I was extremely miserable. The only good thing about this marriage up to this point was the joy from my son Chad, who was born in 1989. The person that I was married to was one of those who could never be pleased. She would not work because she believed that the man should support the woman, and she complained about everything. One of her biggest complaints was that I didn't make enough money. The best way to describe her would be to say that if the Publisher's Clearing House prize patrol knocked on our door and informed her that we had just won ten million dollars, she would complain about their method of payment. If there was not turmoil in her life then she would create it, and her mother was almost the same way. Her mother was at our home most of the time and those two were always fighting about something. The solution for me was to work as much as I possibly could and if I was at home, I would just stay outside.
On October 25, 1994, I had been feeling really bad for several weeks, like I had a bad cold. It was one of those colds that we sometimes get that just seems to linger on and on. I had made an appointment to see my life-long physician Dr. Bruce Schratz later that day. I had been working outside that morning and as I entered the door going into the house I caught a chill and lost my breath. I laid down on the couch for a while and placed a sack over my nose and mouth, thinking that I was just hyper-ventilating and I just needed to relax. I thought to myself that I would just wait here until time for my doctor's appointment. I was at home alone and after a while I knew that my situation was getting progressively worse, so I got into the car and drove to the doctor's office that was about twenty miles away in North Little Rock. I was sweating heavily and gasping for breath as I walked into the doctor's office. I must have looked horrible because the nurse at the desk just opened the door to the back and escorted me to an examination room. They never even had me sign in. Dr. Schratz quickly came into the room and started examining me. He was asking me questions about what was happening to me. He thought that I might have been taking some illegal drugs such as cocaine. I explained to him that I had a cold that I had been unable to shake and had just lost my breath. He couldn't believe that I had driven myself to his office. He told me that I was going to the hospital and that he had called an ambulance to transport me.
Once at the emergency room there were doctors and nurses everywhere that were working on me. A cardiologist came in and said it wasn't a heart problem. Then the chest x-ray results came back and a pulmonary specialist was brought in. He ordered morphine to be injected into my IV and told me that he needed to intubate me. I woke up around nine o'clock that evening in intensive care with tubes in my mouth and nose. I also had an IV in my arm and wires on my chest and finger. Both of my wrists were tied to the bed and my family was standing all around. On morphine you feel no pain; in fact I remember thinking that I felt great, so what was I doing there? My brother Mike kept saying, "Don't you die on me." Later that night they had to call in Dr. Schratz again because I had gone back into respiratory arrest. He worked on me for awhile and then he went into to the waiting room around 4:00 am and told my family that they could go in to see me one more time. Dr. Schratz told them that he had done all that he could and that it was in God's hands now but that he didn't believe that I would make it through the rest of the night. The next morning the nurses began coming in every few hours and placing saline solution into the tubes that were going into my lungs and then using suction to extract the thick mucus out of my lungs. Two days later I was moved from intensive care into a semi-private room. It turned out that I had pneumonia in both lungs and that one of my lungs had collapsed, causing me to go into respiratory arrest. I recovered within a few weeks but Dr. Schratz explained to me that my lungs would forever be scarred and that I needed to quit smoking. I tried several times in the coming years, without much success.
On July 20, 1995, my son Joshua made his arrival into the world. I was thirty-six at the time and I was a little older and much more mature. I remember that I kept thinking every time that I held him what a huge responsibility it is to become a parent. The person that this child will grow up to become is entirely because of the things all of us involved in his life will teach him. Like all parents, I wanted him to have the life that I didn't have, with opportunities that I never had. Soon after his birth I started attending a Baptist church near our home that my father was a member of. Although I was not close to my father when I was younger, his relationship with me had changed and we had become very close after the death of my mother. He had allowed Jesus to come into his heart in recent years and it had made such a big difference in his life. I wanted my children to grow up in church, as I had in my early childhood years, and to give them the same opportunity to grow up in the knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Every Sunday I would find myself getting up and taking Joshua and his brother Chad to church. Their mother Pam refused to go. Many times I wondered why I was taking these two small children to church and what, if anything, were they learning. It wasn't until one morning while we were driving to church and I asked Chad who his favorite person in the whole world was, expecting him to say that it was me, but to my surprise he responded, "God," then I knew I was doing the right thing in their lives. They may grow up and drift away from church but the foundation of knowing the Lord would always be inside their hearts and someday they would return to that humble beginning. Perhaps because I had learned who the Lord was when I was at a young age was part of why I had become the man that I am today.
Chapter TwoIn December 1995, I set out on the biggest risk a person could ever take. I was determined that I was going to start my own company and become self-employed. I had started many small business ventures in the past but none had really had any success. They only drained my bank accounts or ran up some credit card debt. This time it was going to be different, because either I was going to go bankrupt or I was going to start earning a good living to support my family. I had in my mind that there was no difference in being bankrupt with ten thousand dollars in debt, or a half a million dollars in debt, I would still be bankrupt. Besides, if I kept on living the way that I was already living, I would have been bankrupt soon, anyway. I started creating a business plan to construct a self storage business. I already had twelve years experience in self storage management. My plans called for a starting cost of around three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Within two months I had been able to obtain private financing to build the storage facility and I had also been able to purchase 36 acres of land. The private individuals that had financed the project were requiring me to have fifty thousand dollars of my own capital in this project. I could easily understand this request because at this point I had nothing to lose. To accomplish this requirement I borrowed the fifty thousand dollars from my father. My father was remarried, so I felt that we needed to have our agreement in writing just in case something happened. My father didn't want me to be overloaded with monthly payments during the start-up period of my business. To eliminate this problem we drafted a promissory note through an attorney that stated that this loan would be repaid with fifty percent of the company's profits at a seven percent interest rate. We had also agreed on a small salary for me. His wife Laverne was also involved in this process and signed the promissory note, as well.
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