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Teri Sutherland shares harrowing story of survival

By Staff | Jul 23, 2009

Teri Sutherland was home in Lahaina last week for a short visit.

LAHAINA — Imagine the terror you would feel to see your estranged boyfriend pull a car into the parking space next to you, look you in the eye, reach down to the passenger’s seat, pick up a gun and point it at you.

Think of the frozen time that stills your senses — the numbing shock of the bullet he fires into your neck.

You struggle to breathe as you flip open your cell phone. He fires again, and the bullet ricochets off the center post of the car and misses you.

You drop the phone, back your car out and drive around to the back of the donut shop you had been in just minutes before in your Sunday routine of church and a sweet snack.

The man — who you had recently been denied a restraining order from, because there had never been a “threatening” action — follows you and fires eight more shots, two grazing your head and another ripping through the front side of the sweatshirt you’re wearing.

Still struggling to breathe, you jump out of the car and run into a nearby supermarket.

Blood is everywhere, and people all around you at the coffee counter are gasping for breath as well, dialing 911 and calling for help.

You understand that the limit of time to be without oxygen is running short, but your country girl sense of humor says, “Oh boy — am I ever going to ruin these chicks’ day!”

Then the lack of air and loss of blood catches up with you, as you lose consciousness. It was April 15, 2007, and Lahaina girl Teri Sutherland was down.

Connie and Chuck Sutherland saw the light through the hazy Southern California skies of 1968 and made the move to Maui with their three young children. They set up a marine artifacts shop, The Whaler, Ltd., and found a home just footsteps from the shoreline along a quaint lane running alongside the Lahaina Jodo Mission at Mala to set their roots on the West Side.

It was an idyllic, country comforts life in the pre-boom days of Lahaina. The Cannery was a cannery, Uyehara’s “pink store” was a block away, and down the road on Front Street, Mr. Yamamoto was still making his mouthwatering shave ice. The Queen Theater was still showing full-length features, and the Maui Belle was rocking out.

The “haole” Sutherland family transitioned seamlessly to the easy, breezy sugar cane days of this era. The Pioneer Mill was running strong, and local families — like the Shigesh Wakida clan across the street — opened their arms to the Sutherlands.

It was a warm, carefree childhood for the Sutherland kids — Bob, Leslie and the youngster, Teri. It was King Kamehameha III School and on up to Lahainaluna High School after that for all three of them, as Lahaina Intermediate School was still a plot of sugar cane at this time. 

Throughout the years, the Sutherlands involved themselves in ocean-related themes, including whale preservation, marine artifacts and Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling.

They were part of the resurgence of Lahaina Canoe Club, and Teri spent much of her formative childhood years absorbing the culture under the guidance of coach/mentor Mary Helen Lindsey.

“Oh, yeah, I spent a lot of time down at Canoe Beach from age nine to 17. I loved to paddle and hang out down there. I had a really happy childhood,” she said.

The sunny skies of Teri Sutherland’s childhood were not free of dark clouds, however. At age ten, she was molested by a family acquaintance, and the incident would fester in her psyche throughout her future life.

“I suffered from low self-esteem from that time on,” she said today. “I had a strong personality, but I struggled continuously with this. I think it plays into my relationship with this man.”

That strong personality was perhaps developed within the camaraderie of Lahaina Canoe Club, and also as a three-sport athlete at Lahainaluna. Teri played four years of varsity basketball for the Lady Lunas, three years of volleyball and a year of softball.

She was a three-year captain of the hoops squad under coach Kaipo Miller — now the principal at Princess Nahienaena Elementary School — and one year for the volleyball team.

“I was just an average student, but all of this brings back happy memories of home here in Lahaina,” she said.

That strength of purpose took Teri to college at the University of Idaho and completion of a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Business from Cal Poly Pomona in 1985. She continued her studies to earn a teaching credential and master’s degree in Education in 2000.

She worked for ten years within the hotel sales field and then began teaching at the elementary school level.

The relationship with the shooter lasted for 20 years, until Teri broke up with him in the early part of 2007 and he moved out to another state.

“He never threatened me with physical violence, but he was very manipulative with me and was angry to have lost control of me,” she explained. “My low self-esteem played a big part in this, but I never thought that he would try to kill me.”

Teri Sutherland’s last thought before passing out was, “Okay God, I guess I’m going to die here at Vons (supermarket).”

The Good Lord, however, had different plans for her.

The wife of an emergency medical technician was standing nearby as Sutherland collapsed. Her husband, Thomas Barilla, had been waiting outside as she finished her grocery shopping.    

She ran out to her husband, and he rushed in to administer CPR and compression to the wound to control the bleeding.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Thomas Barilla, a man who just a year-and-a-half before suffered a traumatic experience himself, saved Teri’s life.

It was 15 to 20 minutes before the 911 responders arrived due to the mandatory preparations involved in a felony, critical situation like this. (Next week: the recovery.)