Singer Marc Cohn Describes Terrifying Shooting

ByABC News

Aug. 18, 2005 — -- Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Marc Cohn tells "20/20" he recalls "a sense of danger" when he and his band mates left a concert performance in Denver just over a week ago.

In an exclusive interview on "20/20," Cohn and his band members describe the harrowing Aug. 7 carjacking attempt that left them shaken and left Cohn with a bullet wound in his head.

Cohn said he remembers seeing a man in the distance running on their way back to their hotel after their concert. Moments later the man pointed a gun directly at their van. Cohn recalls shouting "duck," just before a shot was fired.

"There wasn't any time to react to that. Before I knew it, he had aimed and he had fired a shot which I knew had broken glass. I knew it had to have come through the windshield," said Cohn's tour manager Tom Dubé.

"I touched myself and there was blood all over my hands and my clothes. And I realized I was the one who'd been hit. Every second that passed by I thought that's the last one, that's the last second I'll be here," Cohn told "20/20."

Cohn, who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1991 and is best-known for his hit songs "Walking in Memphis" and "True Companion," is married to "20/20's" Elizabeth Vargas.

Confused and frightened, Cohn and his companions tried desperately to get away. "I hear Shane [Fontayne,] who's in the back, yelling at Jay to try to gain control of the wheel. I think he assumed that if anybody had been shot, it was the driver. ... So I went and grabbed the wheel," said Cohn.

"I recall crossing what must be 15th Street and running the red light there. And avoiding a collision with somebody that was traveling into, into the intersection. It wasn't too long after that I heard Marc say, 'My God, I think I've been hit,' " Dubé said.

The bullet didn't just graze Cohn; it struck him in the head. Band member Fontayne said, "I could see a perfectly round hole in his head, which I knew had to be a bullet. He was looking to me for reassurance, and he was speaking of his family, his wife and his children and that he didn't want to die, you know?"

Cohn said he thought his life might be over. "From the time I realized I was shot, 'til maybe an hour later, when a CAT scan had been taken -- that whole hour, every passing second -- was a thought that this could be it."

And that's pretty logical thinking, paramedic Greg Munns tells "20/20." "Typically when you get dispatched to a gunshot wound in the head you're going to end up pronouncing them and leaving them on the scene. People don't often survive shootings to the head," he said.

But Cohn was lucky. "I suspect the bullet actually struck the skull, not with enough velocity to fracture it but enough to stop it and keep it in this location. Any more velocity could've fractured the skull and another centimeter or two would've been into the brain," said Dr. Jason Haukoos, who treated Cohn.

If Cohn had turned his head "five degrees to the left, it could've easily gotten into his eye. It was that close," he said.

"It was a terrifying moment and a moment of sheer relief. And release. I mean I saw that there was exactly enough room in, in the soft tissue between the outside of my face, and the beginning of my skull, there was just enough room to hold that bullet," Cohn said.

For Vargas, it was difficult to believe what had happened when she spoke to her husband. "It took a long time to find him, and finally he got on the phone himself, and he said, 'I've been shot.' I just kept saying, 'What?' And he kept repeating it. The first thing I thought is: How can you be talking to me if you've been shot in the head? It just seemed almost preposterous, and surreal."

The doctors were able to remove the bullet. Cohn was released from the hospital and is doing well physically. But the incident has left the singer with an emotional as well as a physical scar. "When the shock wears off, which it primarily has, I think you start to have to deal with the fact that the very useful bubble that you walk around in all the time, is now gone," he said.

Denver prosecutors this week charged 26-year-old Joseph Yacteen with 19 counts, including attempted-first degree murder with "extreme indifference," second-degree assault, aggravated robbery and menacing.

"There'll be times where I'll just be talking to somebody. And usually it's some passing thought, either about the event, or one of my kids, or Elizabeth, and I'll just start crying," he said. Cohn and Vargas have a son together. He also has two children from a previous marriage.

Vargas said she realizes the effects of this traumatic experience will be with her husband and family for a while. "I think the thing I've learned about all of this is sensitivity to people who have experiences like this, going forward. Long after the physical wounds are healed, I think my husband's going to really be struggling with the psychological effects of what happened," she said.

For Cohn, the experience has given him an even greater appreciation of how precious life is. "I need to make every moment fuller and appreciate it more," he said.

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