CORVALLIS, Ore. – It has been just over a year since a Benton County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant was shot on duty, but his recovery, that some may call nothing short of a miracle, allowed him to return to patrol Monday.
Sergeant David Peterson with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office was working a swing shift on August 11, 2012.
“My wife sent me a text and said: ‘Hey are you going to get off early?’ Because I was going to get off when graveyard got here,” Peterson said. “And I said: ‘Yes, as long as the world doesn’t end in Benton County.’ That was about 20 minutes before the call came out.”
The Sheriff’s Office received a call saying a suspect, later identified as Demecio Cardenas Jr. had stolen a vehicle in North Albany, and that he had a gun. Multiple agencies responded, including Salem Police.
Sergeant Peterson spotted the stolen vehicle on Highway 20 between Corvallis and Albany. Before he had a chance to turn on his lights and turn around, he says the suspect sped off. Peterson chased after him, and Cardenas Jr. spun out at the intersection of Springhill Drive and Independence Highway near Adair Village. Peterson says Cardenas Jr. got out of the car and walked toward the area where Peterson and other law enforcement officers stood.
“I remember three shots,” Peterson said. “Boom, boom, boom. I could see the muzzle flash and hear the shots.”
More shots were fired. Cardenas Jr. also shot Salem Police Corporal Andrew Connolly, who is still recovering.
One of Sergeant Peterson’s friends immediately went to his house. His wife answered the door.
“My buddy knocked on the door and said: ‘You have to come to the hospital. David’s been shot.’ And her whole world was turned upside down. We have a 7-year-old, he was 6 at the time. And his whole little world was turned upside down too.”
After dropping off her son, the two of them rushed to the hospital.
“They saw me just in time to see me get wheeled from the emergency room to the operating room,” Peterson said. “I was the color of – I was grey basically because I had lost so much blood. And she actually had the cognitive thought of: oh my gosh, he’s dead.”
Peterson was shot three times. Once below his knee, another on his shin, and another right below the belt line.
“If I would have just been shot in those two places on my leg, I would have been back to work in just two months.”
But the bullet wound directly below his stomach did the most damage, striking some of his nerves.
“I was in very intense, intense physical pain,” he said. “It just felt like an elephant was standing on your toe and there wasn’t anything you could do about it. You could take morphine, any of those pain killers. Didn’t do anything.”
Despite the pain, Sergeant Peterson still wanted to go back to work. He has been working in the same building for over half his life – first starting out as a cadet with the Corvallis Police Department when he was in high school.
“This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said. “And I think I’m very lucky in that I still have the same level of enthusiasm for this job as when I did when I was 15 and 16 coming in on the weekends.”
During his recovery, he asked doctors one question. When could he go back to work?
“I remember clear as day,” Peterson said. “I was working with a doctor who dealt with nerve pain. I asked him when I could go back to work. And he said, that’s probably not going to happen. He walked out of the room, and I looked right at my wife and said, the bleep I’m not. And I’ve had that attitude the rest of the time.”
After months of recovery, Sergeant Peterson returned to work in May full time, but took on a lighter load behind the desk. Doctors told him he could not return to patrol until a blood clot cleared.
Last month, his doctor said the words once not thought possible. He could return to patrol.
“All I could do to squeak out was o-o-o-o-ok! I kept telling myself keep it together, keep it together, keep it together. It was a relief on one hand, but excitement on the other.”
On Monday, he returned to the shift he left off on.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “This is about all the people who helped me get through this. Had I not had them in my life, there’s no way I would have gotten through all that by myself. No way!”
Despite Sergeant Peterson’s excitement, he says the celebrations will wait for now.
“My thoughts and prayers are still going out to Corporal Connolly,” he said. “He’s still recovering and isn’t able to work yet. While this is a great day for me, I can’t fully celebrate until he’s able to come back to work.”