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‘Emotional day for me’: Toronto lawyer injured in 2019 NYD attack opens legal practice for assault victims

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WATCH ABOVE: On Jan. 1, 2019, a Toronto lawyer David Shellnutt suffered a vicious assault and spent weeks in a coma, then months recovering. Now he's marking the anniversary of his assault with the start of something new that gives back. Matthew Bingley reports – Dec 31, 2019

This New Year’s Eve, David Shellnutt is planning on watching “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and going to bed before midnight. In the morning, he’s going to watch the sunrise with loved ones, savoring a moment which many thought he wouldn’t see this time last year.

Shellnutt was violently attacked in the early morning of New Year’s Day 2019 and is now launching a new legal practice in the city for victims of assault.

Toronto police said Shellnutt was walking with a female companion on Jan. 1, 2019 at 12:30 a.m. in downtown Toronto when he got into an altercation with two men after they shouted a “lewd” remark at the woman.

READ MORE: Toronto police charge suspect in New Year’s Day assault case

Surveillance video captured the incident and appeared to show two men get out of a Dodge Charger and proceed to punch Shellnut repeatedly before he fell to the ground unconscious. The two men then fled the scene in the same vehicle.

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Shellnutt was rushed to hospital, where he spent some time in a coma.

Police charged one suspect, 35-year-old Keron Alvarez, with aggravated assault but are still searching for the second suspect.

Now, a year later, Shellnutt said he is fully recovered, “turning a new page” and opening up a new independent legal practice.

He’ll be specializing in bike crashes, sexual assaults, and helping people who have survived violence. His new office is opening in a former bike shop on College St. near Dovercourt.

Shellnutt is an avid cyclist and said he’s seen how crazy it can be for people.

“People need support and protection, having been hit myself, in a bike lane, breaking my wrist and my elbow, I know that it’s really necessary to have lawyers who understand what cycling in Toronto is like” he said.

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Calls for national bike strategy as cities expand plans – Aug 15, 2019

He said opening an office nearby a local YMCA will help offer more of a community feel versus his experience working at larger downtown firms which can be more intimidating.

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“Today’s going to be an emotional day for me”

“My mom’s going to walk in that door later and the tears will not stop for a while,” he said.

Shellnutt said he feels blessed every day that he’s able to get up and being able to help those who need it, will be part of that.

Just outside of his new office is a corkboard covered with ‘get well’ cards and notes.

Well wishes line a bulletin board for David Shellnutt.
Well wishes line a bulletin board for David Shellnutt. David Shellnut

They surround a piece of paper detailing his medical history, which includes a notation from Jan. 1, 2019 which reads: “Not expected to live.”

“The road to recovery is long and it’s important to have significant steps along the way,” said Shellnutt. Choosing the anniversary of a traumatic event to start a new chapter of his life, he said was an important part of that.

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It’s also a way to turn a day which could have lingered on as a negative, into a positive.

“Today is just another one of those steps, steps forward, making progress, and making new memories,” he said.

He said he had always planned on opening his own practice to focus on the work he has been doing for years. But after last New Year’s, life changed significantly and in the process nudged him in the direction to do it.

Along with opening his own location, he plans on spending the day thanking those who contributed to his recovery.

A GoFundMe launched at the time of the incident helped contribute to his treatment and care. Shellnutt’s also spent a lot of time doing pro-bono work with Covenant House and the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre helping other victims of violence.

READ MORE: Toronto lawyer violently assaulted on New Year’s Day recovering, police still searching for suspects

While he’s having a low key New Year’s Eve this year, Shellnutt has advice for anyone going out Tuesday night who may experience something like he did in the lead up to his own vicious assault.

“Take a breath, nothing is worth losing your life over, and that can happen as it almost did to me.”

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“So be careful, have fun,” he said.

Mental health specialist Noah Mugenyi said Shellnutt’s “resilience” and “compassion,” along with his experience as a victim will aid him to help his clients even more.

“I have come to view Dave as a lawyer uniquely equipped to help and advocate for other people who have experienced trauma,” Mugenyi said in a press release.

“His resilience in bouncing back and the compassion he has shown his clients is what makes him a unique professional, helping others realize their full potential.”

Shellnutt is officially launching his new practice Tuesday at around 3 p.m.

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