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Julian Barbano, of Whiskeytown, New Mexico, fell off a ladder while painting his house and as a result fell into a deep coma that lasted approximately 29 days. Unfortunately, shortly after Mr. Barbano became comatose, the First Outbreak occurred.
In the panic and confusion that followed, Mr. Barbano was abandoned by hospital staff and presumed devoured by the undead hordes.
The circumstance and events surrounding Mr. Barbano’s awakening and subsequent injury at the hands of agents of Zom-B-Gone, Inc. are hotly disputed and have lead to a lawsuit which has reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme court. (See Barbano v. Zom-B-Gone)
According to Mr. Barbano’s testimony, he awoke in the hospital hungry and dehydrated after days of inattention. Unable to alert a nurse neither with the call button nor with his feeble cries for help, Barbano decided to take matters into his own hands. With determination, he crawled out of bed and made his way through the looted and deserted hospital.
Famished, Barbano made his way to the hospital cafeteria, hoping to find some sort of repast. It was here that he had his first encounter with a member of the living dead. The creature, a former hospital employee, came shambling out of the shadows towards Barbano as he was rummaging through snack-chip rack (Barbano admits to having a weakness for cheese-puffs).
Thankfully, in the zombie’s haste it tripped over its own feet and collapsed to the floor, allowing an understandably confused and frightened Barbano a chance to escape.
The streets of Whiskeytown, like many other small towns of New Mexico at the time, were crowded with the undead. Though weak, Barbano was able to thread his way through the lurching, shuffling corpse-horde and make it to the main road out of town. It was here that he encountered four Zom-B-Gone agents and it is here where the story splits into two different accounts.
The four agents in question, like many of the other impromptu zombie hunters at that time, were rather jittery and anxious. In fact, none of them had taken part in an active clean-up operation before and as such were considered rather green.
Their orders were to secure the road out of town and prevent any zombies from getting by, while the more experienced units went in and systematically neutralized the zombie presence. Because they were essentially pickets, they were lightly armed with pistols and machetes, though one did possess a deer rifle.
According to the agent’s testimony, when Barbano turned down the street, he exhibited the stilted, lurching gate of a zombie. However, he appeared to be alive, so they ignored their training (shoot first, ascertain later) and instead shouted a verbal warning. (Readers familiar with zombie hunting/combat doctrine must remember that the use of dachshunds as decoys was not widely known at this stage of the outbreak.)
According to the agents, Barbano did not heed their warning and instead silently made a bee-line for their position, in classic zombie fashion. Another verbal warning was ignored, forcing the agent with the rifle to take aim and fire with his weapon. Fortunately for Barbano, the agents aim was off; the bullet slamming into his shoulder rather than his chest.
Had Barbano not screamed as he fell, in all likelihood the agents would have continued firing upon the hapless man. (Again, those familiar with zombie hunting doctrine must bear in mind that this incident was early in the outbreak, when proper methods for destroying zombies were unknown.)
Quickly realizing that the man they shot was alive, not a zombie, the agents rushed in to provide first aid. With Barbano stabilized, he was transported to a nearby aid station.
Mr. Barbano's testimony differs significantly from that of the agents. He acknowledges that when he entered the street, he may have presented a disconcerting sight. A mixture of fright and fatigue, coupled with a dirty and disheveled hospital gown, caused the agents to visually mis-identify him as a member of the undead-- this Barbano makes no attempt to deny.
However, Barbano hotly denies that he was ever given a verbal warning. When he saw the agents, armed and living human beings, he instinctively ran towards them. Barbano attributed the first few shots that whizzed past his head to be aimed at some unseen zombie pursuing him. Only after he was hit in the shoulder did he realize that he was the intended target. Barbano claims that the agents laughed and cheered as he fell to the ground. Only after he cried out for mercy did they come over to help him.
Himself a combat veteran, Barbano claims that he understands that "friendly fire" incidents happen and are a fact of life in a war-zone. However, it was the way the agents laughed at his agony, which crystallized Barbano's resolve to seek justice.