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Tom and Sheri Cihlar are shown with their children (from left) Nik, Tara, Jacob, Elle and Adam. (Submitted photo)

Benefit planned for July assault victim

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It has been tough for Tom Cihlar's family since a July beating left him with brain swelling, a broken skull and twelve facial fractures.

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He hasn't been able to go back to his work as a plumber, which has left his family of seven relying on one income, and he's still recovering from his injuries.

But last Wednesday night the family celebrated. It was the day they heard that the man charged with beating Cihlar, Martin John Johnson,  27, of Little Canada, had been arrested.

"Now we can get through the trial process and get that going, and hopefully get most of this behind us, so this is one step forward," said Tom's wife, Sheri Cihlar.

On July 27, a Sunday evening, Tom was out in the driveway with his son when he heard screaming a few houses down from him, he said.

Their neighborhood is usually pretty quiet, and Tom knew there was a child that lived in the house, so he decided he'd walk down and make sure everything was OK, he said. The house is just around a curve, and there are large bushes that prevented him from seeing anything before he got to the house. 

There was a man standing in the driveway at the house, and Tom remembers starting to talk with him, but that's where his memory of what took place that night fades, he said.

There was a party going on at the house when the incident occurred, according to the Washington County District Court Complaint.

One witness told police that Johnson walked up to Tom Cihlar and punched him in the face, causing him to fall to the ground, according to the complaint. 

Based on Tom's injuries, the Cihlars are pretty sure he was hit more than once, they said.

After the beating, someone at the party called 911. 

The Cihlars' 10-year-old son also called after hearing more screams and someone yelling to call 911.

When police arrived at the scene, Tom was lying on the driveway and had blood coming out of his mouth, nose and the back of his head. He was taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital, where they performed emergency surgery on him due to bleeding on the brain, according to the complaint.

He had a tube down his throat for six days, but he doesn't remember any of it. After 10 days he was able to leave the hospital, he said.

One piece of his skull had been broken into three pieces, and so it had to be removed. That meant Tom had to wear a helmet to protect his brain until Sept. 20, when he had surgery to have a plastic plate put in.

He's struggled with mixing up words since the injury, he said. For example, he'd call his catheter a cathedral and his IV an infrared.

He went through therapy to correct the problem, and it happens less often he said. The injury also has affected his ability to maintain his train of thought, he said, but that's improving too. 

Overall, he is recovering faster than doctors expected, Sheri said.

"He may always mix things up and say things the wrong way, but I guess if that's the worst of it, that's not so bad; it could have been a lot worse."

The Cihlars aren't sure when Tom will be able to work again, they said. Right now, he has to be careful not to move his head too much, which isn't an option for a plumber.

Tom isn't the only one in the house who's been affected by the incident.

"It's changed everyone in the house," he said. "It's changed the way they look at things; it's changed the way I look at things a lot."

Sheri agreed.

"I think everybody appreciates the little stuff a lot more," she said. "It's kind of one of those things that opens your eyes and you go 'why did I ever yell at him?' -- things like that."

They said their neighbors helped them out a lot, bringing over meals and cleaning the house. 

"It's kind of an overwhelming thing," Sheri said. "People have been very generous and kind to us for sure."

In the end, the Cihlars say everything that's happened won't stop them from sticking their necks out and trying to help someone in need.

"He went down there because he thought somebody was hurt or needed some help," Sheri said. "If we had to do it again, we'd do it again."

The man charged with assaulting Tom Cihlar, Martin J. Johnson, was arrested in Ramsey County in mid-October, according to St. Paul Park Police Chief Mike Monahan. He is being held there on other charges. 

For this incident, he faces a first-degree assault charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and $30,000 in fines.

The fundraising benefit for the family will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, at American Legion Post 98 in St. Paul Park. The event will include food, door prizes, a silent auction, a bake sale and a meat raffle.

Patricia Drey Busse can be reached at editor@swcbulletin.com.

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