Lil Wayne saved by alert off-duty cop by Ramon Antonio Vargas, The Times-Picayune
Thursday April 09, 2009, 8:35 PM
CHRIS GRANGER / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
Robert Hoobler, a former New Orleans Police officer, stands in front of the apartment where Grammy-winning musician Lil' Wayne once lived in the Hollygrove area of New Orleans. It is the same home where Hoobler carried out a bloodied Lil' Wayne after he was shot when he was 12 years old. Hoobler saved Lil' Wayne's life by driving him to a nearby hospital.
Lil Wayne never would have made it had it not been for big Robert Hoobler.
New Orleans native rapper Lil Wayne.The celebrated New Orleans rapper would have bled to death on the floor of his mother's Hollygrove apartment the afternoon of Nov. 11, 1994, at just 12 years old, after accidentally shooting himself in the chest while playing with a 9 mm handgun.
If not for Hoobler, the New Orleans police officer who cradled the bleeding boy in the back of a squad car that day on the way to the hospital, the Grammy-winning superstar would never have made the cover of the current issue of Rolling Stone.
The shooting, part of the Lil Wayne lore, has been chronicled before, but not its details, nor the tale of the man who saved his life: a 6-foot, 7-inch, 330-pound officer who responded to the shooting while off-duty, as was his habit.
That nearly fatal day, according to police records, 12-year-old Dwayne Carter Jr. left school early because it was report card day. He bought a hamburger, fries and soft drink from Burger King on his way home to 3409 Monroe St., Apartment D. He sat on the mattress in the master bedroom and began eating. But he stopped when he noticed a blue-steel Taurus 9 mm handgun.
The pistol had been left there the previous day, by a man who came over to watch a football game.
Little Dwayne picked up the gun and began horsing around with it in front of a stereo blaring music. At about 1:15 p.m., the boy accidentally fired a bullet through his chest. The slug then shot out the lower left corner of a window.
Somehow, it missed every vital organ. But the boy was dying.
Dwayne dialed 911, wheezing as he spoke. As blood poured out of the wound and formed a puddle near the stereo, the operator pressed for details. "You will find out when you get here, " the boy said, according to the police report.
He crawled toward the front door, smearing a trail of blood behind him. He lay on the floor face down, pressing his right cheek to the ground, and waited.
Faint cry for help
Officer Robert Hoobler was on his way to an off-duty detail when dispatchers broadcast the emergency call.
Hoobler, who joined the New Orleans Police Department in 1988, regularly showed up at emergency scenes when he wasn't working. Police work has been his passion since he joined the Air Force Military Police after graduating from high school in 1974.
Hearing the call, Hoobler, then 41, drove his squad car to the two-story four-plex, arriving at the same time as fellow officer Arthur Thompson.
The officers entered the complex and went upstairs. They knocked on the door of Apartment D.
They could hear music. They knocked again.
Still, no answer. They tried the door, but it was locked.
As they stood in the hallway, Pamela Taylor, a woman living in Apartment C, walked up. The officers asked her who her neighbors were.
They just moved in, and she hardly knew them, she said. Taylor told them the maintenance man, who lived five blocks away, might help.
Thompson headed to the maintenance man's house but found no one. Meanwhile, Hoobler went downstairs and paced around the apartment complex. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Confused, he went back upstairs and knocked on the door of Apartment D one last time.
This time, a faint voice answered.
"Help me! I've been shot! Help me! I've been shot!" Hoobler said he heard.
Hoobler kicked down the door.
He found a short-haired boy in jeans and a T-shirt, bleeding to death.
Hoobler radioed emergency medical services for help. As he awaited a reply, he spoke to the boy: "Talk to me, man. What happened to you? Stay awake."
The boy just groaned.
Moments later, Thompson came in to the apartment. Hoobler searched the apartment for a gunman or a witness. He found the pistol at the foot of the bed. He noticed a shell on the bedspread, near the half-eaten hamburger.
Meanwhile, Thompson kneeled next to little Dwayne, urging him to hang on, asking him what happened. The boy said he shot himself by accident.
Hoobler asked 911 dispatchers how long it would take for the ambulance to get there.
"No unit is available, " the dispatcher said.
Speeding to hospital
As Hoobler made sense of the dispatcher's grim words, officers Kevin Balancier, Gervais Allison, Steven Williams and then-Sgt. Timothy Bayard arrived.
Hoobler met Bayard downstairs and briefed him. Bayard climbed upstairs. He saw the blood-soaked boy and heard him wheezing.
Bayard radioed the dispatcher and asked when the ambulance would arrive.
"No unit is available, " the dispatcher said. "We'll send the first one that is free."
Bayard looked at Hoobler.
"Take him to the hospital yourself, " Bayard, now a captain, recalled saying. "Grab him and get the f - - - out of here."
Balancier backed a police car into the driveway and opened the back door. Hoobler scooped the boy up and carried him to the back seat of Balancier's car "like a little baby, " Bayard said. Hoobler lay the boy across his lap.
One officer suggested Charity Hospital, but it was too far away. "Take him to Ochsner, " in Jefferson Parish, Bayard said.
It wasn't as well-equipped to handle gunshot wounds like Charity -- but it was much closer.
Allison sped out in front of Balancier and blocked traffic at major intersections. As Dwayne groaned and bled all over Hoobler in the back seat, Balancier sped to Claiborne and turned right. The street led right to Ochsner's emergency room, which had already been notified of the situation.
Hoobler spoke to Dwayne the entire trip and lightly shook him to keep him alert. "Stay awake, son. You're going to be fine. You'll see."
When they got to Ochsner, Balancier opened the door and let Hoobler out. Hoobler placed Dwayne on a gurney. Nurses and doctors frantically wheeled him away.
Hoobler went to the bathroom to wash off what he could. Most of his shirt, except for the sleeves, was tinted dark red.
Hoobler, Bayard and the other officers reunited in the emergency room lobby. A nurse told the group of winded officers, "If y'all had waited for EMS or taken him to Charity, he would have died.
"You saved that kid's life."
'I almost died'
Years passed, and Hoobler went on to spend 10 years as a homicide detective. He began seeing and hearing about an up-and-coming Cash Money Records rapper named Lil Wayne everywhere: record stores, magazine stands, television and radio stations.
Meanwhile, whenever his work took him to Hollygrove, he came across the boy who nearly died in his arms.
He didn't realize the two were the same person until after the rapper had hit it big.
One night, as Hoobler dined at a restaurant on St. Charles Avenue with a friend, a large man tapped him on the shoulder and told him, "Lil Wayne wants to see you."
Hoobler cast a puzzled glance around the room and locked eyes with a man sporting wild dreadlocks and shiny chains. The man motioned him over. Hoobler didn't recognize him until he stood over the table.
"This man saved my life, " Lil Wayne said to several men and women around him, according to Hoobler. "I almost died, and this man saved my life. I'll never forget him."
He reached out and bumped Hoobler's fist. They spoke briefly before they each returned to their meals.
Hoobler finished eating. When he went to pay for his meal, the waiter told him not to worry about it. Lil Wayne had picked up the tab.
Rock, not rap
Hoobler, who was born and raised in Gentilly and attended John F. Kennedy High School, left the NOPD after Hurricane Katrina. His home took on nearly 12 feet of water, he said, and his wife nearly drowned on her quest to safety.
After the couple was separated for five days in the flood's aftermath, his wife convinced him to move to a small town in northern Mississippi. He got a job at a small police department, but became homesick. Now he plans to move back home, and hopes to get on with a local police department.
Lil Wayne, meanwhile, has gone on to record half-a-dozen studio albums and 11 mix tapes, selling millions of copies of his work and appearing in dozens of music videos along the way. His "Tha Carter III" was the best-selling album of 2008. He won four Grammys earlier this year.
Lil Wayne, now 26, would likely not be alive, much less the world's most celebrated rapper, without Hoobler's efforts.
Still, the officer said, "I'm proud of what he's done, but I would've done the same for the guy no one ever heard about again." Everyone else there would have, too, he said.
Hoobler has never bought any of Lil Wayne's CDs. He mostly listens to rock bands: AC/DC, Nickelback, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica.
Hoobler brightened when he learned Lil Wayne has recorded a rock album and will release it later this month. That, Hoobler said, he might buy.
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Ramon Antonio Vargas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3371.