Even the simplest of tasks seemed difficult for Matt Spink as he recovered from a gunshot wound that almost killed him last year.
“You are almost helpless at the start of this,” said the Spokane County sheriff’s deputy. “The recovery is almost like getting your independence back.
“I found you can’t rush it. There are ups and downs. It takes time.”
Spink returned to work Monday without fanfare: He is starting out on a series of light-duty office shifts of five hours. It was 17 months ago when Deputy Mike Northway and Spink were shot by Charles Wallace during a traffic stop along U.S. 2 in north Spokane.
Wallace fled, setting off a manhunt and wild car chase that ended north of Deer Park when he crashed at a police blockade and killed himself.
Spink and Northway have been on leave since that day.
Deputies Eric Johnson and Jeff Bergeron have been on leave, too. It’s paid leave for all four, through a combination of funding sources.
Bergeron was on scene within 20 seconds – the first to reach Spink and Northway as they lay bleeding in the street.
Bergeron tried to stop the bleeding from four bullet holes riddling Northway’s body.
He described a scene of blood and chaos awaiting backup help and ambulance crews.
“I was covered in blood up to my elbows,” Bergeron said.
Johnson stood guard with a rifle. Then the two men were left there to watch the crime scene for more than four hours.
He and Johnson are suffering from psychological trauma, sheriff’s officials said.
Spink is the first to return to work.
State officials say it’s tough to gauge an average time off in such situations because officers are rarely shot in the line of duty.
Where the officer is shot and what type of injury is suffered makes a big difference in time away from the job, said Elaine Fisher, a Washington Department of Labor and Industries spokeswoman.
There have been two other such shootings in Washington during the past five years. They ended with officers being killed.
Medical professionals help take the decision-making out of individual officers’ hands.
Spink finished physical therapy last spring. Doctors deemed him physically fit in July, he said.
Spink’s psychologist has cleared him for modified duty with no timetable to return to patrol.
“It’s me realizing I can do it and the Sheriff’s Office saying we have positions outside of patrol, so you can come back when you’re ready,” Spink said.
“The biggest hurdle was Diane (his wife). It’s not like all this is left at the workplace; getting family approval is part of it too,” he said. He said his wife is OK with him returning to work “since it’s not patrol yet.”
Spink is working in an area that would have helped him in the field, said Capt. Mark Werner. He’ll conduct crime analysis and act as a liaison between patrol and an investigative task force.
“In a sense, it’s strengthening communication between investigators and patrol,” Werner said, “providing information of who’s out there and where those criminals are committing crimes.”
He added, “That was one of the positions we identified as needs, and that’s one of the places we identified as where Spink was a good fit. Part of that is so we can be more effective with the resources we have out there.”
A timeline for when Northway will return is undetermined, Werner said. “Mike is making every indication that he will come back but he’s still having issues with his injuries. But we anticipate having him back.”
Bergeron and Johnson had delayed trauma from the experience. Bergeron was unable to sleep and began having memory lapses, he said, but he’s doing much better now.
“This is the most humiliating thing I’ve gone through,” he said. “I don’t have a bullet hole to show for it like Matt.”
Bergeron hopes to return to modified duty by the first of the year.
Spink is glad to be moving forward. “You can’t get it back to the way it was before, because it happened,” he said. “This has changed me forever; it’s how you decide to cope with it.”
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