By Casey Hynes
CHIANG MAI – The night Nic Brown got shot seemed at first a night like any other. The 35-year-old Canadian ex-pat was out with his girlfriend and some friends. The group was having a few drinks at Baan Din, a small bar in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Brown had even played the part of the Good Samaritan, helping break up a fight between a drunk Thai man and the Baan Din bar staff. After seeing the man out of the bar, Brown and his friend Ryan Powell lingered outside the bar, discussing the brawl.
They say no good deed goes unpunished, and that seemed the unfortunate case that night. The drunk man returned to the bar with a gun and opened fire as he drove past.
“I’m in the doorway perfectly framed, wearing a white t-shirt, holding up a beer,” Brown recalled. “And then suddenly five shots ring out, bam bam bam bam bam. And I got hit.”
Looking for trouble
Don Praweenmeth, who has confessed to the shooting, had been making a nuisance of himself at Baan Din that night, according to reports.
“He looked like he wanted negative attention, just in the way he was acting, [putting his] face in people’s faces, hitting on girls,” Brown said.
Powell recalled seeing Praweenmeth and thinking he was quite intoxicated.
“Me and Nic went outside to talk and I saw my girlfriend Daytona with a very drunk Thai man,” Powell said via Facebook message. “She introduced him to me. He didn’t [seem] too terribly grabby but did seem very drunk. We returned to the table and the drunk Thai man followed. A few minutes later we hear raised voices followed by pushing and then punches begin to fly. The drunk Thai man ended up on the ground and was [being] kicked and punched by a few members of the Thai bar staff.”
Tensions reportedly rose when Praweenmeth grabbed a Baan Din waitress, sparking a violent scuffle. Although Brown said he doesn’t recall weapons being used on Praweenmeth , he remembers seeing a small wooden club and a pick axe on the scene.
“I thought, ‘Holy shit, they have a little pick axe.’ That was going to be a serious problem. But the problem was coming in a few minutes.”
‘This is what it feels like to get shot’
Powell and Brown intervened and picked Praweenmeth up off the floor and walked him out of the bar.
Powell, Brown and several others were standing outside the bar debriefing on what had happened when Praweenmeth drove past the bar and began shooting.
“My back was to the street when I hear five loud bangs and smelt something that reminded me of fireworks,” Powell said. “I see Nic on the ground and he says, ‘I can’t feel my legs.’”
Brown said he knew immediately what had happened, though he at first wasn’t aware of the blood and wondered if he had been hit by a rubber bullet. When he asked his girlfriend if he was bleeding and it became apparent that both he and another friend had been shot, his girlfriend started screaming and he yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Brown’s friend Tae and one other man were also shot, though Brown was the most seriously injured.
“[Powell] was giving me the ‘Hang in there, buddy. Don’t go anywhere, man’ talk. And I was like, ‘Ah, I can’t feel my legs,’,” Brown recalled.
A friend who was at a nearby bar drove Brown to the hospital.
“I thought I remembered everything, because I remember being in the car and thinking to myself, ‘Dude, don’t die, don’t die. This is going to be a good story, don’t die.’ Apparently that whole time, my buddy Ryan was screaming at me, but I don’t remember that.”
The bullet had punctured a lung and shattered his ribs, which had in turn hit his spine, rendering him temporarily paralyzed.
Brown said he remembers arriving at the hospital and having his shirt cut off before he was taken into surgery.
“I remember waking up…and being like, Oh. OK, I’m alive. And that was it. That was the night,” Brown said.
A long recovery
Brown has since undergone another surgery on his spine, but he still cannot move his legs and does not feel much below his chest. He said he feels an occasional tingle in his leg, similar to pins and needles, but nothing else. Doctors believe he will walk again, but have estimated the time frame for his recovery at between one and four years.
“They say that my nerves will grow back and everyone is very confident that I’ll walk again,” Brown said.
For now, he has begun physical therapy for his lungs and to help prepare him to use a wheelchair when the time comes to leave the hospital.
And that’s the part that scares him now.
“There’s a whole world of depression, I think, coming towards me once I’m in a wheelchair, and out in the real world. I’m going to be a real disabled person.”
Brown has lived in Chiang Mai for one year, and had been traveling on and off for six years before he was shot. He is a freelance writer, and spent time in Palestine, India, and South Korea, among other places, before living in Thailand.
The shooter’s parents visited Brown in the hospital shortly after he was admitted. The father came the day after Brown was shot, and brought a fruit basket. Praweenmeth’s mother told Brown that her son is now in a mental hospital.
Brown said he plans to return to his native Vancouver, but not until his case goes to trial. His Thai lawyer has told him that the trial should go fairly quickly because he is a tourist, but that all depends on how Praweenmeth pleads. Brown said there are many witnesses who will attest to what happened in Baan Din that night.
In the meantime, Brown has been staying positive and said he is grateful for all the love and support friends have shown him since the shooting.
“That’s helped me so much,” he says. “I have not gotten down, I have not gotten depressed since this happened.” And that support is what he will rely on when the depression inevitably sets in.
While he recuperates, Brown will have plenty of material to keep his professional mind at work.
“I write about everything so this is just a new chapter,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, but that’s what I was thinking when I got shot: ‘Well, I can’t wait to write about this.’”
Brown now faces a mounting financial burden in medical and legal expenses. A fundraiser for Brown will be held August 9 in Chiang Mai at Bar Eve. Those outside Chiang Mai who wish to donate can do so directly through the donation site helpnicbrown.com or by contacting him directly via Facebook.