53 surgeries and 'a life in decline' due to New Year's Eve gunfire

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Joe Jaskolka shares his story with (from left) Police Commissioner Richard Ross; his father, Gregory; friend Ruth Birchett.

He was an 11-year-old kid from Wilmington, walking to watch the annual fireworks at Penn's Landing on New Year's Eve 1998, when he was hit by celebratory gunfire in South Philadelphia.

As a result of the bullet that remains lodged in his head 18 years later, Joe Jaskolka has undergone 53 surgeries to his brain and eyes, and can no longer walk.

On Thursday, he appeared before reporters at Police Headquarters as a testament to the destruction that such random shooting can cause.

"With every brain surgery, I lose more mobility," he said. "Really, it's like a life in decline."

In what has become a sad but necessary annual tradition, District Attorney Seth Williams and Police Commissioner Richard Ross held a news conference to try to deter Philadelphians from ringing in the new year with gunfire.

"We have a lot of tremendous traditions here in Philadelphia," Williams said. "One tradition we don't know how it started is people going out and shooting guns in the air."

On an average night, police respond to about 10 reports of gunfire, but between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. last New Year's Eve, police received 132 reports of gunfire, the District Attorney's Office said.

Ross said that police deal with enough violence and that such "ridiculous behavior" will not be tolerated.

Williams said anyone caught shooting guns into the air on New Year's Eve could face charges of recklessly endangering another person and aggravated assault. If the gunfire hits someone, attempted-murder charges could apply, he said.

Jaskolka's shooter was never caught.

"People need to put the guns away. You're killing the citizens. Why the bloodshed anymore?" Jaskolka said. "This happens all over. Why? Why?"

Before he was shot, Jaskolka said, he was a football quarterback who also participated in basketball and karate.

"I was a very athletic, outgoing kid," he said. "My life has taken a full 360."

He is now majoring in criminal justice at Delaware Technical Community College's Stanton campus.

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