By Adam Lovinus
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It's happy hour at the Tin Lizzie, a noisy hole-in-the-wall bar across from the Lab in Costa Mesa. But during this particular hour, Dana James and Ronnie Washburn are feeling anything but happy.
There's irony in that. Their band, the Pressure, has just put out its first CD, Things Move Fast (see review at left). It's selling well in local indie stores, a payoff earned from two and a half years of fan-base-building and constant local gigging, which saw the trio go from playing nearly empty clubs to landing a slot on the Warped Tour's San Bernardino stop in July.
Ordinarily, this would be a peak time for any band. But it's not really the new album that's on James' and Washburn's minds these days. Instead, it's the health of their drummer, Jason Thornberry.
"It's just weird," says James. "We never thought that something like this would happen to us. These kinds of things happen to other people, like some high-profile band."
"But no," Washburn interjects, "these things happen all the time. You can get knocked in the head and have your whole life changed—that could be it. It's reality, you know?"
What happened to Thornberry on the night of July 24 has left this rising OC band in limbo. Thornberry and James were at a small housewarming party in Long Beach; Thornberry had been drinking, which, according to Washburn, was unusual.
"He doesn't drink," he says. "He never drinks. But this time he did, and it had a reaction with him."
Thornberry became aggravated and violent. He tried to go outside, but James, fearing for her band mate's safety, blocked him. Thornberry landed two hard, fast blows to James' face, then bolted out the door and ran up the street.
"He was out of his mind," James reflects. "He didn't know what he was doing. He just wasn't himself."
By the time Long Beach police arrived, Thornberry was nowhere around. Meanwhile, in the confusion, the cops accused another male party guest of being the one who punched James.
While this was all being sorted out, Thornberry was sprawled out, unconscious, in a nearby street with his skull severely bashed in. He had been punched several times in the face and hit on the side of his head with a blunt object. No one witnessed the actual beating, so it's unknown whether Thornberry did anything to provoke the attack. Reports from the incident indicate that two people in a car were involved in some way, but there have been no arrests, says Washburn.
"I know that some people in a car beat up Jason," he says. "They obviously wanted to hurt someone, and they saw him. I honestly think it was just a random act of violence. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because how many times has some crazy person come up to your car, and how often has it crossed your mind to get out and try to kill them? To put them in the hospital and give them brain damage? Never. Normal people would have been like, 'Oh, this guy's nuts; let's get out of here' and just drive on."
Thornberry was taken to an emergency room, and he lay in a coma-like state in an intensive care unit for several days afterward. His condition has since stabilized, and it doesn't appear that he suffered any permanent brain damage. He's now working with a physical therapist but is unable to speak, though he seems to want to try to.
His band mates visit him as often as they can and only recently stopped going every day.
"The doctors say that when you talk to him, he knows who you are, but he doesn't really respond," says Washburn. "Just to see someone like that, it can make such an impact on you. That's one of our best friends; that's who we've lived with. We've hung out with him every day, so it's kind of weird to see him in that condition.
"But at least he's a lot better than he was when I first saw him," he continues. "I thought for sure he was going to die, that he was going to die right there. The whole thing was like, 'Say goodbye.' He had every kind of fucking tube imaginable sticking out of him. He had a drill in his head. He had a cut next to his nose in the shape of somebody's ring, from where he'd been hit. His ear didn't even look like an ear; it was all torn up. The hope is for a full recovery, but they never know with these kinds of injuries—it's all patient-by-patient. And there are all these personality changes that can come from it; there are skills that can be lost. His short-term memory could be gone. He's got a long, long healing process ahead of him.
"The support we've gotten, though, has just been crazy. We just haven't had enough time to say thanks to everybody. The first week, every time we'd come home, the message center was full with people wanting to know what they can do and how they can help."