Every head turned when George "Ricky" Converse's wheelchair was pushed into the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara Tuesday afternoon.
The frail-looking, bearded man was carefully attended to by physical therapists and two attorneys.
When one of the therapists asked him to speak before the jury, he could only let out a feeble groaning noise.
Converse, 33, and his wife, Susan, who is his conservator, are the plaintiffs in a $30 million lawsuit filed against Dunkirk Ice Cream Corp. One of the company's trucks struck Converse on Route 21 in Hornellsville, Steuben County, on Sept. 21, 1986.
The ice cream company, in turn, has filed a lawsuit against the Eagles Club of Hornellsville, where Converse allegedly was drinking that night.
According to his attorney, Theodore H. Friedman of New York City, Converse has been confined to the wheelchair and unable to speak more than a few halting words since the truck hit him.
The daily price tag for Converse's care in a Massachusetts clinic: $467.
"Before this, he was in another facility that charged $723 a day," Friedman said. "He is brain-damaged. He requires constant care. He has very little use of his upper extremities. He can't walk. He can't stand. He can only move his legs a little bit. With his hands, he can do next to nothing."
A major issue in the trial is whether Converse was on the shoulder of the road when he was hit -- a claim attested to by expert witnesses for Friedman -- or in the traffic lane, as the truck driver, Gary Hadley, 46, claimed.
Friedman has brought into the courtroom a giant, 10-foot-tall color photograph of the truck that hit Converse and last week constructed a 30-foot-long model of the accident scene that was used during the expert testimony.
Theodore Burns, attorney for Dunkirk Ice Cream, told Arcara he will he present his own expert witnesses with a different view.
Allegations about Converse's drinking on the night of the crash also are expected to be aired.
In an unusual twist for an accident-injury case, Friedman is seeking no damages to compensate Converse's family for their loss of his companionship. Nor is there any request for reimbursement for future lost wages for Converse. The $30 million is asked for medical expenses.