$30,000 reward offered in Hampton stabbing
    Woman, baby doing well after ordeal; family wants closure to tragedy

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Ninety days ago yesterday, Kara Austin, 21, was beaten with an ax handle, stabbed, had her throat and mouth slashed, and was left for dead by her husband, who jumped in her vehicle and fled, then abandoned it in the middle of Butler Bridge. Kara was four months' pregnant at the time.
   Rescue workers were unable to recover a body after several days of dragging operations on Watauga Lake and now, Kara and her family want closure to the nightmare.
   A $30,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the whereabouts of Charles Ray Austin II, 25, of Hampton. A member of Federal Bail Enforcement bounty hunters said Thursday that he was contacted by the victim's family "to find out what really happened to Charles Ray Austin II -- did he really jump or did he run somewhere else?
   "We're going to do it and we are not charging them anything. It's a 'freebie,' " he said.
   Federal Bail Enforcement "can use other methods the sheriff's department can't," he said. "They enter him into NCIC and hope he'll get pulled over. Well, we're not going to wait for him to get pulled over -- if he's still alive. There are scientific ways to test the water to see if there is a body down there decaying. At the same time, we're also going to start our manhunt and we're going to pull out all the stops," he said.
   One of the bounty hunter's relatives works for a company in Kingsport, which after hearing the story, offered to pay all of Federal Bail Enforcement's expenses and put up reward money.
   "They're offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of his body or his whereabouts," the bounty hunter said. Bounty hunters will begin sampling the water in Watauga Lake today and have it sent for laboratory analysis.
   "They look for body cells in the water. A dead fish won't do it," he said. Searchers also will be looking for articles of clothing worn by Austin at the time of his disappearance.
   "We've got an exact description and we know what to look for," he said.
   Austin is facing attempted first-degree murder charges in Carter County.
   "If a family member helped him (leave the area), they can be charged with accessory after the fact because he's a fleeing felon. If he's caught inside one of his relative's houses, they will go to jail. And if it's across state lines, it's a federal offense."
   The bounty hunter said he contacted "America's Most Wanted," which is interested in doing a segment on Kara's story. "If he didn't jump, he needs to be caught and we need help," the bounty hunter said.
   "Any information that we do get goes straight to (Carter County Sheriff) John Henson," who is cooperating in the investigation, he said.
   Kara's mother, Kelly McKinney of Elizabethton, said Thursday night that she is worried about her daughter's well-being, "especially since she's getting ready to have this baby.
   "She's doing fine and the baby's growing and he's the right size for her to be 6-1/2 months. He is a little boy and his name will be Christopher Chance. He just had a 50-50 chance of being here, so she named him Chance," McKinney said.
   The nightmare Kara has been through, "I wouldn't even wish on my worst enemy," she said.
   Kara has been undergoing physical therapy to try to get back the use of her hand.
   "He broke her left arm when she blocked one of the swings with an ax handle. She doesn't have any feeling in her pinkie and the lower part of her hand," McKinney said.
   Kara was in the Intensive Care Unit at Johnson City Medical Center for four days before being moved into a regular room. After release from the hospital, she was taken to a friend's house for a month-long stay "because we didn't know if he (Charles Austin) was going to be around or try to come back. She was real scared and skeptical about him being dead. She never did believe that," her mother said.
   "She's worried now that since he knows the baby's due in February, he will want to see his son," McKinney said, prompting the family to seek the help of bounty hunters. If Austin is alive, "maybe we can get a head start on this and if he does decide to come back, we can catch him before he does," she said.
   "If we could just have closure -- knowing whether he was dead or alive. For him to be found, it would just be such a relief.
   "It's like I told them at Carter County (Sheriff's Department): The worst thing that bothers me about this whole thing is to know that there is some other young girl out there that may not be so lucky."
   Kara is looking forward to her son's arrival in February.
   "Thank God my baby's still alive. That's the best thing. I just knew that he was going to be gone after I came to my senses in the hospital.
   "I just wish that if he was going to do it, he would have been man enough to come up face to face and not from the side. I saw him out of the corner of my eye coming at me and I turned my head and there was a butcher knife coming down my lip. He jumped on top of me and just started stabbing me every which way. Somewhere in between stabbing me in the mouth and chest, he tried to stab me in the stomach and cut my knee," she said.
   McKinney counts herself fortunate that her daughter is still alive.
   "By all rights, this young'un shouldn't even be here. The only thing that saved her life, I think, is that he tried to stab her first and her adrenaline got to flowing and she didn't even feel the ax handle.
   "She rolled and crawled down to the neighbor's house. He (Austin) tried to stop her because she was hollering for help and he was stuffing grass and dirt down in her throat and mouth and telling her to shut up. She told me that a voice kept telling her she wasn't going to die yet; she wasn't ready to die. That was her guardian angel, I told her," McKinney said.
   What provoked the attack is still a mystery to Kara and her family.
   "She told me she was pregnant and she said the only thing she could think of was the next day she was going to come to the house and stay for a little while because they had been arguing and fussing. ... I guess he must have thought that she probably wouldn't ever be back ..."
   Kara will have to have plastic surgery to take care of scar tissue resulting from the knife wounds.
   "Her gums are bothering her real bad where the knife went in. ... The scar tissue hampers her smile. It draws her mouth down on the right side. Her lip was cut completely in two from the inside out on both sides of her lip."
   Kara had to have 10 staples behind her ear where she was struck with the ax handle. "But first, he took the butcher knife and took her bottom lip and from the corner, sliced it all the way down to her chin. Then he stabbed her in the jaw about three times. He went to stab her in the eye and she ducked her forehead down and he stabbed her in the forehead. Then he stabbed her in the chest and that knifeblade broke in two. She pulled the knifeblade out of her chest and he got a steak knife out of his back pocket and cut her throat. She kept squinching her neck down into her shoulders and that was the only thing that kept him from getting the jugular," McKinney said.
   "She doesn't like looking at these scars. I don't see the scars any more like she does, but they bother her, so therefore, she deserves to have them fixed."
   According to Kara, after her husband cut her throat, "he went into the kitchen and I heard water cut on. I'm assuming that he was washing the knives off. The police officer said that the knifeblades were in the sink.
   "I was laying in the floor because he cut my throat and threw me in the floor. I got up and ran over to the door and it was locked. He heard me trying to get out and he came and threw me on the couch and then he came around with that ax. He swung three times and hit me twice. He went back into the kitchen and I guess was trying to clean up.
   "I sat there and shook the blows to the head off and got up and took off running out the door and I got almost to where we parked my car and he tackled me. That's when he tried to break my neck, and was telling me he wanted me to die and asking me why I wouldn't die and started shoving grass and dirt down my throat.
   "Where he had stabbed me in the jaw, he stuck his finger in my mouth and stuck his finger through my jaw and was ripping my jaw. Somehow I bit him on his knuckle and he took his hand out of my mouth real quick. We got down on the ground and was wrestling around and somehow I managed to kick him, I think in the head, and got up and took off running."
   Kara finally made it to the house next door. "My neighbor was asleep and it took forever to wake him up. He said he thought his dog wanted to go outside and use the bathroom because his dog woke him up, pulling on his shirt and trying to get him out of bed.
   "I was beating on the door when he opened it up. I had my head resting on the door -- I had lost so much blood and I was so tired.
   "I went in and I told him to call 911 and I layed down in his floor and I guess that's when Kim came out of the bedroom and she grabbed some towels and started holding the towels on the top of my head -- she didn't know where I was bleeding. I could hear Richard on the phone with 911 and they were asking who done it to me, what kind of car he was driving. I said just hang up with them and call my moma and I gave them my moma's cell phone number.
   "I guess Kim got on the phone and was talking to my moma and that's the last thing I remember until ... I remember mom running out with me when they were putting me in the helicopter. After I got in the ambulance they said my blood pressure bottomed out and I went into cardiac arrest. That's why they had Sycamore Shoals to call in Wings because I wasn't going to make it to Johnson City in the ambulance.
   "The only thing I remember after that is looking at the helicopter and all I saw was a white helmet and then I guess I went back out. Then I remember the lady who was sewing my face up. Some idiot stuck a needle through my knee without numbing it and she saw what he was doing because I screamed and I remember her cussing him.
   "The next thing I remember they were rolling me in a room and I remember looking at mom and saying, 'I'm OK. I'm alive!' She said, 'No you're not (OK), you're covered with blood.' My sister was standing there and she just looked at her like 'Mom!'
   "I wouldn't wish this on anyone," Kara said of the ordeal.
   "I tried to help the police as much as I could. I know they said this was the second-worst case of domestic violence they had seen, but that woman kept going back to her husband.
   "I said, 'Well, you don't have to worry about that with me. It only takes once. I've learned my lesson.' "
   Later on, Kara and her father, Mike, were able to joke about it, she said.
   "Daddy said, 'Yeah, it's a good thing I didn't buy you real expensive knives.'
   "I said, 'Yes, he'd probably have killed me if you had.'
   "I said, 'It's a good thing you didn't get those Ginzu.' "