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Clues sought after stray bullet leaves man paralyzed

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/06/19/50/1uyy0T.Em.138.jpeg|474
    - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHENDA YAM WILSON
    Brandon Yam was partially paralyzed when he was struck with a stray bullet Friday. He is seen here with his son, Randy Yam.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/06/19/50/13p5Xx.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHENDA YAM WILSON
    Brandon Yam was partially paralyzed when he was struck with a stray bullet Friday. Seen in this photo are Kelli Yam and Christian Yam, front, and Sopheap Kim, Brandon Yam and Randy Yam, back.

A father of four who recently lost his job and was working at a festival to help make ends meet was struck by a stray bullet on the Fourth of July, leaving him partially paralyzed, his family said Sunday.

Brandon Yam, 47, was selling food and drinks with his wife and two of his children at a festival celebrating the opening of the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, at 219 Owen Blvd. in Charlotte.

About 9 p.m., during a fireworks show, Yam started to pack up his supplies to go home, his family said.

“All of a sudden he fell backward,” said Yam’s sister, Chenda Yam Wilson. “His wife saw blood, and she called her son to come see what was going on. They didn’t even know it was a bullet until they called the police, and that’s when they found out.”

The bullet had come down through the top of the tent and hit him in the head, said Wilson, quoting what police told the family. Yam’s family said that fireworks were going off at the time, so they didn’t hear any gunshots.

Sopheap Kim, Yam’s wife, said in her native Cambodian language that she was “scared because he fell down, and I didn’t know what to do to help my husband,” said Wilson, who translated for Kim.

Yam, of Lexington, was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center and was initially unable to move his feet or hands. As of Sunday, Yam remained in the Intensive Care Unit and was moving his right hand and foot but not his left ones, Wilson said. He also appears to know who his wife is and that he has children, although he’s had trouble speaking.

Yam has four children, ranging from 7 months to 17 years old, said Wilson

A spokesman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police declined to provide information on the case Sunday afternoon.

Someone answering the phone at the Buddhist temple on Sunday responded, “I’m busy. I cannot talk to you right now.”

Now Yam’s family is seeking the public’s help in determining where the bullet came from. At the very least, they said, they want to know what type of bullet hit Yam in order to help doctors determine the best way to remove it, if they’re going to remove it at all. It still remains lodged in his head as doctors wait for swelling to go down, Wilson said.

Family members won’t know how much permanent damage there is until after the swelling has gone down, she added. “The police are saying it’s an accident. It came from somewhere outside the temple,” Wilson said. “It’s just unfortunate that it happened. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Wilson described her brother as a “wonderful person” who helps whoever is in need.

Yam had lost his job as a woodworker a couple of months ago, but he didn’t let that discourage him, she added.

“The sad part is he was out there selling, trying to help make ends meet,” said Charlie Wilson, Chenda Yam Wilson’s husband. “They don’t beg you. They’ll help you before they’ll ask for help.”

Charlie Wilson described Yam as a welcoming and kind man.

“When I met my wife, he was one of the first to invite me into the family,” Wilson said. “He wasn’t caught up on the fact that I was an American and I was Christian.”

Chenda Yam Wilson said her brother does not have insurance but was recently accepted for Medicaid. She said the family plans to set up a fund for his medical expenses this week.

“Our brother can use as much help as possible,” she said. “We’re trying to get the word out as much as possible.”

Still, Chenda Yam Wilson said it’s a miracle that Yam is alive at all.

“When my sister-in-law told me it was a bullet that hit him in his head, the first thing that came to mind is that he’s not going to be alive,” she said. “God is good. We’re praying for him, and we ask that the community pray for him, too. It’s going to be a long road for him and for us as a family.”

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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