Meridian attacker says he’s ‘deeply sorry’

Sean Carnell says drug abuse he blames on a life-changing accident fueled a string of assaults in August.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comNovember 17, 2013 

  • JOHN SOWELL

    Public safety reporter John Sowell grew up in Emmett and returned to the Treasure Valley last summer after reporting for 20 years in Roseburg, Ore.

Six years before Sean Carnell ended up in an Ada County Jail cell, he was a promising cornerback for the Capital High School football team.

Coming off a sophomore season in which he recorded 33 tackles, Carnell had been penciled in to start for the Eagles during the 2007 season. He was also approached by his coaches about serving as a role model for the team’s younger players. It was an opportunity he relished — to set a good example for a talented group of young players in the team’s secondary.

The summer before his junior year, Carnell played a pickup game of football with his friends. After the game, the pickup truck he was riding in crashed and rolled and Carnell was dragged 30 feet and pinned underneath. One of his Capital teammates was driving.

He was taken to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, where doctors inserted a titanium plate around his left eye. Carnell also suffered injuries to his arms and legs.

The next season, the Eagles reached the 5A state championship game but lost to Meridian in the finals.

Carnell watched the game from the sidelines. He never played football or any other high school sport again.

“The accident damaged me badly, not only physically but mentally. All of the surgeries were so time-consuming. I had a long healing process (and) missed a lot of school my junior year and eventually dropped out,” Carnell wrote in a two-page letter to the Statesman.

Eight months after the accident, Carnell was charged with being a runaway. After another eight months, in November 2008, Carnell was arrested on charges of breaking into more than a dozen cars with another man in Eagle. Then 18, he was convicted of petit theft and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia and was sentenced to a year in jail, with the sentence suspended.

EXPRESSES REMORSE

Now 23, Carnell stands accused of injuring five people — two seriously — and a dog during a series of nine incidents that took place over a two-hour period Aug. 21 in Meridian. Police say he also set a fire at his apartment and threw a rock through the window of a heavy equipment loader.

“I’m deeply sorry and ashamed for what happened to these victims,” Carnell wrote recently from jail. “I cannot change what happened to them; I wish I could.”

He faces a dozen charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery. He is scheduled to enter a plea Tuesday in 4th District Court.

In his letter, Carnell didn’t say how he plans to plead and his attorney, Eric Rolfsen, did not return a phone call Friday. However, Carnell fully expects to go to prison for a long time when the case concludes.

“For this crime, they are going to put me away for 20 years,” he wrote.

The maximum penalties for Carnell’s alleged crimes range from one year in prison for cruelty to animals to life in prison for robbery.

COACH SAW POTENTIAL

Todd Simis, varsity football coach at Capital High School, said he was numbed when he read his former player was accused of such horrific crimes.

“I was in shock, in disbelief. To realize it was Sean, it makes me sad,” said Simis, who has served as head coach at Capital since 2004 and was head coach at Boise High for six years before that. “That stuff was just appalling.”

Simis called Carnell a “rising star” before his accident.

“We really thought he had the opportunity to be the entire package, that he was going to be an exceptional player on the field and an outstanding person off,” Simis said.

DRUGS FUELED ATTACKS

Carnell wrote he was “high” the day of the attack. He wrote that his drug and alcohol use goes back to after the accident, when he underwent several reconstructive surgeries and was given “tons and tons of pain medication.” He suffered from depression, he wrote, and began getting high “a lot” with marijuana and alcohol.

Three times, he was convicted of underage alcohol consumption.

“People who really know me would tell you I’m one of the most easiest people to like and love. Drugs take you places you don’t want to go, obviously, including the place I’m in,” he wrote.

Simis said Carnell was never the same after the accident.

“I don’t think he ever recovered from it,” he said. “I don’t think he ever healed — physically or inside.”

ONE VICTIM JUST BACK TO WORK

Chris Cade of Meridian was seriously injured when Carnell allegedly struck him in the face with a stolen skateboard and kicked him in a Meridian park. A captain with the Nampa Fire Department, he declined to comment on Carnell’s apology, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize the criminal case against Carnell.

Cade’s injuries included four lost teeth, a shattered upper jaw, a broken palate, a split upper lip, damage to his eye sockets, two broken ribs, a broken collar bone and shoulder, and a punctured lung.

He said he doesn’t remember the attack.

“One minute I was riding my bicycle, the next thing I knew I was in the hospital,” he said. “It was hard to comprehend at first what happened. It was a crazy story they told me.”

Cade spent five days in the hospital, underwent four surgeries and may require more. He only returned to work a week ago.

Mike Rice, a construction worker who was punched and beaten repeatedly with a shovel in the head and back, could not be reached for this story. He also spent five days in the hospital and was off work for a month.

WANTS FAMILY SPARED

Before the Meridian incident, Carnell had never been charged with a violent crime.

“I have not always been doing drugs and definitely not ever causing harm on anybody!” Carnell wrote. “This incident that I’m involved in was a one-time thing that unfortunately had others involved, as well.”

Besides the harm to the victims, Carnell wrote he regrets the heartache suffered by his adoptive parents. He fears that people will look at them differently because of what he did. They were good parents, he wrote, who brought him up “right.”

Carnell’s father, Michael, said he was glad his son wrote to the Statesman to express his remorse.

“This has been very difficult for our family. I think it best that we not involve ourselves in an interview,” Michael Carnell wrote in an email. He declined further comment.

Sean Carnell said he worries his parents might die while he’s incarcerated and that his 3-year-old son will grow up without his father.

“I am not a bad person,” he wrote. “I am a human being that has addiction and (post-traumatic stress disorder) problems.”

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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