Trooper Manny Lopez's Story

September 29, 2006, changed our lives forever. While on my way home from a volleyball tournament with my daughter, I received a call from the Belvidere Police Department. He said that my husband had been in an accident.

I knew my husband wasn't driving because our vehicle was at the repair shop. He was walking alongside the road in the grass when a van jumped the curb and hit him, throwing him a couple hundred feet. The driver did not stop. My husband's head hit the windshield so hard that the antenna was embedded in the glass, along with his skin and hair.

Thanks to an angel, my husband was found lying on the ground and police were alerted while investigating another accident. The police found my husband lying unconscious and barely breathing. The van was stopped and the driver questioned about his cracked windshield and why there was front end damage to his vehicle. The driver didn't know there was any damage, let alone that he'd hit something. The officer noticed a strong odor of alcohol.

The officer was unable to give me any information other than what hospital they took my husband to. I asked how he got there and he said by ambulance. I figured if they didn't get the helicopter it couldn't be that bad.

I was wrong. He did need the helicopter and had to be intabated before he could be transported to the trauma center. I began calling friends to take care of my son and meet me at the hospital while my daughter was in the back seat crying her eyes out, calling friends to ask them to pray for her dad.

When I arrived at the hospital I was met by my pastor and several friends as well as various members of the local and State police. My friend tried to tell me my husband wasn't as bad as he looked, but in fact he was in critical condition having suffered a closed head trauma, a concussion, a fractured C-2 vertebrae, three fractured ribs, a separated/fractured pelvis and lower lumbar fractures. The trauma doctor told me he expected a full recovery.

My husband was in a drug induced coma for two weeks. While my husband was in ICU, and I spent many days and nights at the hospital (while friends took care of our children), the offender was allowed to leave the country for work and go about his life. Following his hospitalization, my husband spent six weeks in rehab, followed by months of physical and occupational therapy along with cognitive retraining. Four years later my husband is still recovering, struggling daily with lower back pain, memory problems and tiredness.

My husband is very proud to be a State Trooper. Ironically, he spent the previous 9 1/2 years certifying breath alcohol instruments for almost 40 police departments, training the officers in the use of these instruments and how to process DUI's. Now, because of his brain injury, he is no longer able to do that job. He is still employed by the State Police, although in a different capacity.

He was very athletic and now is unable to do many of the sporty things he used to enjoy doing with our children. He's not as patient as he once was. Through counseling he is learning to deal with many of the issues caused by the brain injury. He is a different man than before this incident and this has changed things in our home. We have all had to learn to get to know each other again.

Although the police did a very thorough investigation, along with the State's Attorney, the judge really let us down. This was the second DUI for this offender, a felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison. The sentence was 180 days of work release, three year's probation and his driver's license suspended for one year. Not much compared to the fact that this crash will affect our family for the rest of our lives.

I thank God for sparing my husband's life! I am eternally grateful for the first responders who acted quickly to keep my husband alive, the hospital staff, the police and our many friends who have helped us through this horrible time. I am especially grateful to the Illinois State Police for all they have done for us and to AAIM for their continued support.

Heather Lopez

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