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  • El Segundo Lt. Returns to Work After Theatre Shooting

    `I remember the gun,' recalls
    wounded El Segundo officer

    By Larry Altman, Staff Writer
    Article Launched: 08/24/2008 11:07:55 PM PDT

    El Segundo police Lt. Ray Garcia sat on one knee on the theater lobby floor. His jaw shattered.

    Garcia spat up blood, tissue and teeth waiting for help to arrive. New code of conduct at El Segundo theaters

    "I'm not lying down," he said. "To me, if I lie down I wouldn't get back up. I stood on my knee as long as I could. I felt if I laid down, I would pass out and not wake up."

    Four months after Garcia and his partner, Scott O'Connor, were shot in a gun battle with a gang member at the Pacific theaters on Rosecrans Avenue, Garcia is back at work.

    Except for a tiny mark above the right side of his lip where the bullet entered, Garcia shows no signs on his face that anything happened.

    But his mouth is missing several teeth and a large portion of his jawbone is gone, bullet fragments remain lodged in his tongue and he has a 6-inch scar down his neck.

    Garcia, 40, and O'Connor were working the theater detail April 11 when a gang member became unruly in the lobby. When the officers interceded, Jonathan Taylor pulled a gun and began shooting at them.

    "I remember the gun," Garcia said. "I remember being within a couple of feet, and I remember a gunshot going off and seeing the flash."
    Bullets hit both officers, who pulled their guns from their holsters and returned fire despite their injuries. O'Connor was hit in the arm and shoulder.

    Garcia said he believes adrenaline and the fear he might watch his partner die kept him going.

    "When you see or feel that your partner and you are facing death, you kick it into overdrive," he said. "You do what you have to do to end it."

    When the shooting was over, Taylor lay dead outside the theater door. O'Connor sat nearby on the ground.

    Despite more than 100 people in the lobby, only one bullet fired by Taylor hit a customer, Hawthorne resident Devan Jackson.

    A 13-year-old Manhattan Beach boy who was at the theater with his family believes the officers' actions were heroic.

    "I think they are the greatest people ever," said Kenny Chesler, who had just watched "21" with his mother, brother and a friend.

    "I think the guys are superstars, nothing short of it," said Chesler's father, Evan. "I look forward to the day I can shake their hands."

    Moviegoers, some of whom had been screaming in the chaos, were herded into a back room.

    The bullet that hit Garcia penetrated his upper lip, shattering his pallet and upper jaw. It tore out the back side of his tongue, pulverizing a bone with three teeth attached to it and destroying several other teeth in the gumline.

    The bullet tore a hole in his sinus, plunged through his pharynx, ricocheted off a vertebra and lodged next to his carotid artery.

    "I was choking on my teeth and my bones and I was spitting them out. I knew that I was in bad shape," he said. "I just didn't know how bad. I did a quick self-assessment by taking my hand and feeling the back of my head to see if the bullet went through. It didn't."

    A theater security guard moved toward Garcia, handed him a towel and told him he would be all right. Garcia said he waved him to go away, telling him "We're not done. Get away."

    The policeman said he had no idea if the gunman was going to pop out and start shooting again.

    Garcia felt relief when officers began pouring in from throughout the South Bay.

    One of them, fellow El Segundo police Officer Cory McEnroe, a former emergency medical technician, checked Garcia and told he him "You are going to be fine, and you are not going to die."

    McEnroe's words calmed Garcia, who asked to be taken to a hospital.

    His wife, Kelly, also made her way to the hospital with their teenage children. Her first word of the shooting came while watching a television news broadcast.

    She called Garcia and e-mailed his Blackberry, but received no response.

    At County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, a crowd of doctors and nurses hovered over Garcia in the emergency room. A doctor told him "we know where the bullet is" and told him he was going into surgery. Garcia gave him a "thumbs up" and was wheeled into the operating room.

    Kelly Garcia arrived at the hospital while her husband was in surgery.

    Garcia said his first seven to eight days in the hospital are a blur. He spent much of them sedated so he would not move.

    Surgeons sewed up his wounds and constructed an acrylic cast that was placed inside his mouth to hold his jaw together.

    When Garcia fully awakened about a week later, he had no idea where he was. He was unable to speak because of the ventilation tube down his throat.

    "What really hurt was draining your lungs," he said. "When they did that, it was like seeing bright red close to you. It was just horrific. It would bring me out of the bed it hurt so bad."

    Transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Garcia was able to look at himself in the mirror for the first time. He didn't recognize the man in front of him.

    His hair was long and he had a full beard. He had lost about 25 pounds.

    "I was shocked by what I saw," Garcia said. "I was completely shrunken and frail-looking. My eyes were blood red."

    The ventilator was removed, and he was able to go home a few days later.

    His jaw still wired together, he ate soups and milkshakes. His weight kept dropping.

    To battle the weight loss, the couple tried pureed Kentucky Fried Chicken mixed with broth.

    "If it would stick, she would add more chicken broth and loosen it up," he said. "It had to be the right consistency or I would gag."

    Tired of chicken, he tried pureed Tyson beef tips and gravy.

    Before long, the splint was removed and he was allowed to eat again. By this time, his teeth had been unused for months and it was painful to start chewing again.

    "It took a long time to eat normal," Garcia said.

    Garcia chews on the left side of his mouth now, but has a retainer-like denture device that he can wear to eat.

    His weight is back to normal.

    Throughout his recovery, Garcia said he received hundreds of cards, letters, flowers and prayers from South Bay residents and others throughout the country. He described the thoughts as overwhelming and awe-inspiring.

    "That's what gets you through when you are sitting there trying to manage the pain, reading all these kind letters from people that you don't know," he said. "It makes a big difference and continues to make a difference."

    Garcia said he would have understood if he could never have worked as a police officer again. But his doctor cleared him Aug. 15 to return to work. Garcia was back two days later.

    He is working shifts without restriction, including riding a motorcycle.

    In a couple of months, he will take leave for more oral surgery. Taking bone from Garcia's hip or knee, or from a cadaver, doctors will replace a large piece of bone missing from his jaw.

    Once that heals, doctors will install dental implants to replace his missing teeth.

    His partner, O'Connor, remains off-duty. O'Connor underwent surgery Thursday to repair torn ligaments in his shoulder. He is expected to make a full recovery.

    The two dropped by the theaters together last week and ate lunch at the nearby P.F. Chang's.

    Despite everything he's been through, Garcia said he holds no ill feelings toward Taylor or his family. Garcia said he believes in God and that God had a plan for Taylor's actions to "do some good."

    "It has made me appreciate family and friends a lot more, and it also brought a community together," he said. "It brought a whole region together around officers who were there to protect and serve them. It galvanized strength in our own department and brought out the best in people that you rarely see."

    [email protected]

    ************************************************** *************
    Last edited by PaperWriter; 09-13-2008, 10:07 PM. Reason: delete advertising link from original article...........
    "We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions." -President Ronald Reagan

    Good people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

  • #2
    A hearty "Welcome Back" to him !!

    Very inspiring!
    LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK CHEAP BEER!

    Comment


    • #3
      Welcome back LT, stand and be proud I agree with young Mr. Chesler.

      Comment


      • #4
        Thank goodness their both expectd to fully recover and had a strong survivor mentality.

        Comment

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