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Sunday, May 14, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Man Shot Wife, Put Their Marriage To The Test

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It's been nine months since Karin Pipkin went to her kitchen for a Diet Pepsi and wound up with a bullet in her head and her left knee blown apart.

But the recurring nightmares triggered by the horrors of that August night continue to haunt her. Even now, they come to her once, sometimes twice a week.

Pipkin, 39, finds herself in a phone booth or a grocery store, or at a bus stop, and bads guy are coming after her. Then she wakes up.

In another dream, she is in her midtown Sacramento house and someone is trying to break in. Half-asleep, she tells her husband, Bob, "They're trying to get in. Go check the house. They're coming in through the doggie door." Bob does just that. He finds nothing and climbs back into bed. They fall asleep again.

It is no small irony that Bob Pipkin, 42, a public-relations and political consultant, is his wife's protector in this dreamscape.

It was Bob who, in a case of mistaken identity last Aug. 9, thought Karin returning with her soda was a bad guy storming into their darkened upstairs bedroom. Bob squeezed off 12 rounds at the "intruder dressed in black." Karin, dressed in her sleepwear of red and black, was hit seven times.

Minutes before, something downstairs had tripped the burglar alarm twice. Bob shut off the alarm from a panel in the upstairs bedroom, then reached for his Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol under a stack of clothes in a closet.

He sat down on the bed, slipped on his thick glasses and dialed 911 at 10:57 p.m. All the time, Bob believed his wife was lying asleep beside him. He mistook a stuffed teddy bear on Karin's pillow for her head.

While on the phone with the dispatcher, he heard a thump downstairs. He loaded a magazine into the Glock and chambered a round. And he waited - gun in one hand, phone in the other. When the bedroom door swung open, Bob opened fire. Then he clicked on a light.

"Oh, my God!" Bob yelled into the phone. "I killed my wife! Oh, no!"

After 16 days of investigating, police and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office concluded "there was no evidence" that the shooting was anything but "an unfortunate accident." Case closed.

If only Karin Pipkin could put the episode behind her so neatly.

"Sometimes you have really bad days where you're frustrated, and for me, the hardest thing has been no stamina," said Karin, who is chief of staff to Republican state Sen. Tom Campbell. "And some days I just get really depressed and just wish I didn't have to deal with anything."

"I'm not suicidal. I don't get suicidal," she emphasized. "But I've certainly had moments where it was close to that. And that's when it's not always the best time to tell somebody how lucky they are. Just because you're saying it isn't going to make them feel it."

Considering the circumstances, Karin is remarkably lucky. It is a phrase she has grown sick and tired of hearing. But it is true.

She took one shot in her left knee - by far the most damaging; two to her left shoulder; one that skimmed the left side of her chin and neck, just missing the carotid artery; one to the bottom of her left foot; one to the back of her right ankle; and one to her right temple, just above her ear.

The shot to her head caused relatively minor brain damage. She was hit in the right parietal lobe, intensifying her existing tendency to be impatient, compulsive and obsessive. It also left her with a limited sense of taste and smell.

Today, Karin misses mainly the smell of the outdoors. "The way it smells after it rains," she said. "I miss that a lot."

In the nine months since the shooting, she has spent a combined five weeks in the hospital and has undergone about nine hours of surgery on five occasions. She has spent two weeks in a rehabilitation center, where she affectionately nicknamed one of her nurses "Warden."

She has grunted and groaned through 60 hours of 90-minute physical-therapy sessions and 100 hours of 40-minute exercise sessions.

And, with Bob, she has struggled through many more hours of therapy and counseling to keep their nearly four-year marriage intact and their emotional tumult in check.

To this day, Karin said, she has "never had a single minute of doubt that (the shooting) happened exactly as Bob said." Even so, on her bad days she is angry with Bob because "it seemed so avoidable."

Karin said she believes she is a better person for having gone through it all: "I don't think there is very much that you could put in front of me that I couldn't handle."

As Bob watches his wife heal physically, he realizes that his actions that night caused damage to his own psyche. He is not seeking sympathy. He merely wants to acknowledge what is.

"Because of the knee, we're going to be reminded every day of our lives what happened," he said.

Privately, Karin's family and friends worry that she is suppressing much of her anger about the accident as she concentrates on her physical ailments. They say Bob and Karin must seek more counseling before that anger erupts into a potentially destructive force.

They have done much to try to put the past behind them:

-- They have consciously avoided getting involved in the political debate over gun control and handguns.

-- At Karin's insistence, Bob has removed all his firearms from the house - a .22 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, a deer rifle and a revolver - and locked them in a gun safe at a friend's house. The Glock remains at the county crime lab.

-- They rarely set the alarm at night anymore. Asked to explain, Karin joked, "He could still come after me with a baseball bat!"

Karin has imposed one other condition for Bob's guns - one that Bob promises to meet. All of them must be sold by Aug. 2, which happens to be both her and Bob's birthday. If not, she moves out.

But, Karin says, "I just think it would be so much worse if we didn't stay together. . . . There are times when it's very hard, when I get frustrated, and I'm in a bad mood, and I'm snappish with him. But he's a lot of fun. He makes my life much happier."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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