Posted: June 19, 2007

It's true, says Christopher Pearo. When you think you're about to die, your life really does flash before your eyes.

Pearo, 36, a newspaper-delivery driver for the Daily News and Inquirer, had just been robbed of $15 by two assailants and shot in the neck as he deposited papers yesterday in a locked drop-box at a deli at 64th Street and Buist Avenue, Southwest Philadelphia.

It was 3:40 a.m., the streets were empty, and the movie of his life played in his mind. What Pearo saw, as he ran down Buist Avenue screaming for help, were those he loved and what his death would do to them.

His mother, who'd already lost two sons, would be destroyed if she had to bury another. His dad, a retired cop who'd never been shot in the line of duty, would be devastated that a bullet had felled his son. His deceased brother's little boy, to whom he was close, wouldn't understand why God had taken yet another loving man from him.

He even thought of his 17-year old dog - sick, feeble and at the end of her life. Who would care for her?

So much heartache, for 15 lousy dollars.

Pearo saw his own life, too. How, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998 and confined to a wheelchair, doctors told him he'd never return to work. He told them to go screw themselves and re-learned to walk.

Two months later, when the disease claimed the sight in his left eye, he could've succumbed to despair. Instead, he and his bosses re-worked his job so he could continue to earn a living.

No, he hadn't come this far to die in the middle of Buist Avenue.

The blood from the gunshot was pouring down his neck as he ran, pounding on cars, setting off their alarms, desperate to rouse the neighborhood for help.

Finally, an angel appeared in a doorway, with a phone.

"I've been shot!" he yelled. "Call 911!"

And then he leaned, shaking, against a car, hoping help would arrive before the credits rolled on the movie of his life.

This isn't how violent crime is supposed to be playing out in this city.

We're supposed to be in the midst of a thug-on-thug war, in which the victims at least partially set themselves up for trouble by their own stupid behavior. You know - running with the wrong crowd, cheating the wrong dealer, playing the wrong scumbag for a fool.

The only wrong thing Christopher Pearo did yesterday was to go to work, the way he has for the last 12 years - something I suspect his assailants haven't been doing.

Instead, they interrupted a good man on the job and tried to end his life.

Thank God, their record of failure continued: The bullet that had been fired into the back of Pearo's neck angled cleanly past his spinal cord and artery before exiting the left side.

"The doctor told me, 'If you're going to get shot, this is the way to do it,' " Pearo recalled of his stint in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's ER, where he was treated, and was released within hours of the shooting. "The bullet missed everything."

He was sitting yesterday on the front porch of his mom's East Falls home, surrounded by family. A stack of gauze pads sat on the arm of his chair, ready to replace the two that covered the jagged holes left by the bullet.

"We tell him, 'Only the good die young,' " his cousin Brandi joked affectionately. "So that's why he didn't die this morning."

"Yeah, us bad guys are the lucky ones," Pearo joked back.

The humor only sharpened his anger at what had happened. Instead of imprisonment for his assailants, who are still at large, he had a better idea: Hand them over to his fellow Daily News and Inquirer drivers, whom he'd ask to mete out justice on his behalf.

"It could have been any one of us who got shot," he said, upset. "All we want is to do our job, pay our bills and live our lives."

Now, when he thinks about returning to work, he feels butterflies in his gut.

"It's a weird feeling," he said. "I want to work hard. But I don't want to die for it."

Still, Pearo was trying to focus on the fact that he had lived to muse about it all on a porch.

"If I don't stay positive, I get stressed, and that can make me relapse with the MS," he said. "I'm not gonna let this thing put me back in a wheelchair."

I've got news for Pearo. Even in a wheelchair, he'd be a giant next to the cowards who think a human life can be reduced to a $15 transaction.

Come back to work soon, sir. We're so glad you're OK.

$10,000 reward offered

The Daily News and Inquirer are offering a $10,000 reward through the Citizen's Crime Commission for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who stabbed Christopher Pearo. Call the commission's anonymous Tipline at 215-546-TIPS.


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