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The Fatal Collision that Altered My Life

(Joe Moore)

Recounting the Day that Changed Everything

Every Law Enforcement Officer will have this day at some point in their career. This isn’t something that you will be able to escape. It’s different for everyone, meaning it doesn’t always have to be so extreme that a life is taken or lost for you to become effected by the job you have been called to perform.

This isn’t your everyday job where you get up and go to the office and type reports, fix cars at a dealership, or a sales representative at some retail company. This job requires a vest you throw over your chest that will stop pistol rounds from killing you. This job requires you to make split second decisions to save or take a life. There are no second chances or a redo.

We don’t have the luxury of preparing for every detail before we make a decision. We are the women and men that have to make that decision immediately and allow hundreds of Americans to form opinions about what had to be done.

My Story

I’d like to tell my story and the day that changed everything for me.

April 19, 2012 was not a typical day for. It was a Thursday, my normal shift for that day was hoot shift. My hoot was 2400 hours to 0800 hours.

I worked for the Choctaw Nation Tribal Police. Part of our requirement for employment was to complete an annual PT test.

My assigned area for Choctaw Nation was Choctaw and Pushmataha Counties. Headquarters was located in Durant, Oklahoma, which was approximately 45 minutes away.

So, on this particular morning I left my house and headed to Durant to complete my PT test. Once completed, a few officers and I went to a local restaurant and ate lunch before heading home. I arrived home a little after 1400 hours and went 10-7 (off duty).

At some point that afternoon I realized that I owed the Tribe about 2 hours to complete a full shift. The consequences of this decision would prove enormous.

April 19, 2012, it was a little before 2000 hours, I got ready and went 10-8 (on duty) through my dispatch. I sent a text message to Deputy Brian Hayden, who was on duty at the time, to see if he wanted to grab some dinner.

Brian called and advised he couldn’t eat until later. He had to go by the jail and get statements for Jody (his partner) and take them to his location. He told me we could eat when he got back to town.

Brian then asked me if I would run to the jail and copy 10 witness statements and have them ready for him. No problem.

I arrived at jail and ran the copies. About the time I had them finished, Brian pulled into the sally port. I ran them out and he left.

I walked back into the jail, down the hallway and into the local dispatch office where I saw Bennie (dispatcher) on the phone. At the time, Bennie asked if I could assist Jody.

I asked Bennie what was going on? He advised that Jody had about 10 people out there. One person had been shot and more were threatening to get guns and return to handle the situation. I asked Bennie if he was scared. Bennie looked straight at me and told me Jody was scared.

As an officer who had worked county and domestics alone, you know what that feeling is like. Jody was in potential danger and it was my duty to get to the scene and help secure it.

I left dispatch and headed toward Jody. My patrol unit was a 2008 Crown Victoria. The vehicle had several different strobe lights mounted, mirror strobes and headlamp wigwags. I activated all my emergency lights and siren as I left Hugo heading west on Highway 70.

Over my unit radio, I let Brian know I would be coming up behind him. Brian’s patrol vehicle was a 2010 Chevy Silverado crew cab. I knew my unit was faster.

When responding, I saw a glimpse of Brian’s emergency lights a little after Soper, Oklahoma. Once I was making the curve around Muddy Boggy Bridge, I saw Brian brake and pull to the right shoulder.

Allowing a faster unit to take the lead was not uncommon for us. During an emergency, we want the faster unit to get to the scene as soon as possible. That is what I thought Brian was doing, so I slowed down and took the center of the highway to make the pass.

Point of Impact

Imagine being on a violent roller coaster. That is what the ride felt like. When I took the center of the road I started to speed up just a bit.

It was a two-lane highway and the road was straight, weather was clear and dry.

Suddenly, as I approached Brian’s patrol unit, he made what appeared to be an attempted u-turn. For me it was too late and I had nowhere to go.

All I could do was hit my brakes and shout.

The front of my patrol car struck the driver side of his patrol truck. I remember grabbing my steering wheel and waiting to die.

I didn’t think I’d ever see my kids again. You wouldn’t think in such a short period of time you would have the ability to think of the people that matter, but I did!

My patrol unit came to rest on the south side of Highway 70. I was dazed and incoherent, but alive.

I checked myself for injuries as I could feel shock setting in. At some point I called 911 seeking assistance and spoke to Bennie, the same dispatcher who just sent me to help another deputy.

I attempted to push open my driver side door but it was jammed. As a result, I couldn’t get out of my patrol vehicle. Consequently, I looked up and my engine bay was on fire.

My car was in flames and I was trapped.

Soon after, I began to accept my fate. Using my cellphone, I wanted to call my ex-wife to say goodbye to my kids. Suddenly, a Good Samaritan appeared. He started to beat on my window to see if I was alive. I shook my head yes and told him I couldn’t get out.

There were actually two, a man and woman. I’m truly thankful and owe them everything. They were able to open my door and pull me away from the burning patrol unit.

Within minutes of being extricated, the car completely engulfed in flames. I was that close to being part of the inferno that now appeared before my eyes.

The point of impact was actually the beginning of my life change. For me, it was similar to a soldier in combat experiencing the blast of an IED.

However, I never lost consciousness and will never forget what I witnessed. The sound was like hearing what I would imagine as a bomb going off. The sound of metal wadding like tinfoil all around; debris flying like an F5 Tornado. I saw what I thought was my windshield shatter before closing my eyes.

changed everything
Officer Joe Moore’s patrol unit. (Photo courtesy Joe Moore)
changed everything
The remains of Deputy Brian Hayden’s patrol truck. (Photo courtesy Joe Moore)

The Moment I Knew, But Didn’t

The moment I knew something was drastically wrong came after I was pulled from my patrol unit. I had massive pain shooting from my left hip. It was agony never previously experienced, but I was alive. As a result, I couldn’t walk, but I could crawl. So I made several attempts to inch toward Brian. But they kept telling me, “No Joe, don’t move.”

Who are these people and why can’t I help, were thoughts that echoed in my mind. I was being held down and unable able to move.

EMS had been on scene for a while but I hadn’t seen them. Intuitively, I knew they were working on Brian. I prayed to God that he would get what was needed. In the tumult, I heard the word “Mediflight!”

Thank God, he’s alive, I thought to myself. They are getting him out of here!

It wasn’t long after that another medic unit arrived on scene and began working on me.

“Where are you hurt,” they asked. “What day is it?”

Out came the neck collar. Before I knew it, I secured and loaded into the ambulance.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Dennis, (a close friend) jumped on the ambulance panic-ally asking, “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” were the only words I could utter, as I burst into a panic cry!

I asked if they got Brian out. Yet all they would say is to worry about me at the moment.

Next, I overheard the other medic crew tell my crew that they cancelled Brian’s Mediflight and were giving it to me.

This was the moment I knew, but didn’t officially know!

During the course of my career, I had been on scene at more vehicle collision than I could remember. As a result, I have helped set up for many landing zones. Therefore, I knew a requirement was for the patient to be in stable condition.

Consequently, this told me Brian wasn’t stable! I remember screaming at anyone who’d listen, to ensure Brian was on the first flight out. But they repeated their kind counsel. I was told not to worry and focus on me, that they were taking care of Brian.

I couldn’t tell how long I was in the ambulance, but it seemed like days. Finally, I heard the first helo come in for a landing. Hence, they started to get me ready to move.

The inside of my body felt like it was slowly dying. Yet all I could do was cry for my friend, knowing I was getting the Mediflight out, and Brian was not. Even worse, I had no idea where he was or what was going on.

As the transition occurred, I remember being led from the ambulance to the helicopter while an OHP trooper held my hand. I don’t know who it was, but it meant so much that he was there.

They loaded me onto the bird, hooked up machines and slammed the door. I was gone.

changed everything
Air Evac Lifeteam 34, Sheppard Air Force Base, 2016. Used for illustration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyle E. Gese)

We left Choctaw County headed for Plano. No one in my family was aware of my circumstances. I looked at the flight nurse and asked if she could let my family know where I was going and that I was okay. She immediately took my phone and called. She was my angel in the sky.

Related:

The Moment I knew

The flight seemed to last forever. My adrenaline began to subside and the pain was arriving like an angry locomotive. The flight nurse could only allow so much pain medication before landing.

We were getting close to Plano when I could here the captain tell the co-pilot that bad weather was approaching. While landing on the hospital roof, I could feel and hear the wind blowing the chopper around.

At that point, I seriously didn’t care what happened. I had already sunk into a deep depression, and nothing mattered.

Today, I’m thankful for the skilled pilots that landed the helicopter with precision in the cold front wind blowing over that hospital.

Upon touching down, they threw open the door and there was a barrage of medical professionals waiting on me. They rolled me into a trauma room with, which was aligned with various doctors.

I didn’t think my injuries warranted so much attention, but the pain was intense.

Finally, after a battery of tests, the morphine kicked in. It was the first relief I felt since the accident.

As I way lying in the trauma room, I heard a familiar voice demanding entry. Trooper Eric Blades came into the room with a look of fear I’ll never forget.

I looked into to his eyes and asked the question—the question he had to answer for me.

He handled the situation with grace. Beyond his status as a trooper, he was a good friend. I imagine this had to be one of the most difficult things he’s done.

“How is Brian?” I asked.

Eric looked at me with the most genuine set of eyes and affirming face. This was the moment I knew—the instant my life would change.

“We lost Brian,” he said.

That’s the moment I lost all composer.

Afterward, all I could remember was Eric and John Hobbs watching over me until they moved me to a room. Once that occurred, Eric informed me that Plano police would stand guard at my door until my family arrived. What an honor. How proud I am today and so thankful for that. The blue family is so strong and so amazing in a time of need. I am so grateful.

I had so many local officers and family make the trip that night to check on me. To each and everyone, thank you. You are all amazing.

I later learned that my family had a police escort most of the way from Hugo, Oklahoma to Plano, Texas. What family is stronger than the Blue family? In my opinion, there isn’t anything stronger. After hearing this you can only imagine how proud I was.

police suicides outnumber line-of-duty deaths

The Funeral

I was released from the hospital the following day, but these days were a blur.

After several test and specialist looking at my x-rays, they determined that my hip was just extremely bruised and not cracked; so I was off on crutches.

I cannot explain the guilt I felt. The only way to describe it is survivor guilt. Why am I alive and Brian isn’t? Why am I hobbling away with cuts and bruises while a good man, a good deputy, a good American is gone?

I didn’t return home immediately. I don’t recall how many days I stayed in Dallas, nor do I recall what I did. I just knew I wasn’t ready to return quite yet.

When I finally arrived home, I didn’t let anyone know I was there. I didn’t want to hear another well-intentioned person tell me how sorry they were.

My social media was so busy that I just turned my phone off. My work cell phone was turned off too. I didn’t want to hear or see anyone.

The day of the funeral was tough. Everyone told me that I didn’t have to go. In my head I’m thinking, How in the hell can you say that to me,’ of course I’m going!

This was the first day I put my uniform back on. Class A, all pressed and ready to go. Boots polished and brass shining. I still couldn’t walk without the assistance of crutches, but I was going to be there to honor Brian’s sacrifice.

velcro

Although I have been to police funerals since, this was the first LEO funeral that I would attend. I’ll never forget how many police officers came to support Brain and his family.

I was still distraught and don’t remember much of the service, but I remember this. Leaving the funeral, Undersheriff Terry Park found me. “You may try to dodge everyone,” he said, “but you are not dodging me.” He then gave the biggest hug of support, and we both just cried.

When something like this happens, you don’t know how much those moments mean, but years later you do.

I was dodging everyone, not speaking to anyone if I didn’t have to. But for him to make sure he got to me before I got into the car was something I needed at the time.

The funeral procession with all the agencies in attendance was amazing. Regretfully, I didn’t make it to the gravesite. To this day, I haven’t been able to bring myself to go.

(Public domain)

This was a time I needed support to push me out of my comfort zone, support I didn’t have.

Brian was laid to rest Thursday, the 27th of April, 2012. You will never understand how many lives can change so dramatically in a matter of a week unless you’ve been through something like this.

Career Ending

Every officer has a story about how they made the decision to join law enforcement. I didn’t have family that got me into the career, or friends that were cops. I was working in my dad’s auto repair business one day when I heard a car crash outside.

I ran to the door and saw an overturned vehicle flipped in the ditch. I immediately, without hesitation, ran to the car. The lady inside was trapped and couldn’t get out. I told her to shield her face as I kicked in the passenger front window, crawled in and cut the seat belt. I helped her get out of a potential dangerous spot.

I immediately felt a sense of purpose, a feeling that helping people was what I was meant to do.

The officer that showed up to work the scene was Billy Jenkins, my future FTO. He was the first person that asked if I ever thought about becoming a cop. That was the moment for me.

After my accident I was off work for several months; to be exact, I don’t know but it felt like a year. One day I woke up and decided enough was enough and I had to try to get back to work. I called Director John Hobbs and told him I was ready.

He asked if I was sure?

“Yes,” I said. So he scheduled me for a review with the Nations therapist to be cleared for duty.

The part I’m about to share is intended to caution others from experiencing my error. I said I was ready when I damn sure wasn’t.

So I made the trip to see the doctor. I sat down in the office with the best testifying face and demeanor I could muster. Johnny Depp couldn’t have performed better than I did that day.

I was like most cops and thought this brain stuff was a joke. As a result, I didn’t take it serious. After all, I was a strong man, a police officer who fought. I wasn’t afraid to give my life for the cause. There was no way this guy with a fancy degree was going to keep me from returning to work, and he didn’t.

I listened carefully and answered his questions just like he wanted me to. Lying to him didn’t matter to me.

“No sir, I don’t have dreams or nightmares, or have suicidal thoughts,” I replied to his query. “Yes sir, I am ready to perform the duties of my job.”

All of this was a lie!

I was released to full duty, and within days I was back on patrol. I remember a few shifts, but it was an act as I tried to be on my best behavior.

To all my brothers and sisters out there, please hear me. I wasn’t ready. I struggled every shift.

I remember a specific call that pushed me over my limit.

Choctaw County was requesting assistance on a disturbance. I was en route to help, emergency lights and siren activated. I reached top speeds of a whopping 60 mph. Suddenly, I experienced an episode of PTSD.

This request for help was similar to the call that caused the accident.

I was done!

Afterward, I wrote my letter of resignation. To this day I hate that I did that.

PTSD

Yes, I have PTSD. I’m not sure if I can say I’m a victim of PTSD, but I’m definitely a police officer that has experienced it. I have suffered through more PTSD episodes than I can count in the weeks, months and years that followed the accident.

I can’t tell you what triggers my brain to cause the reaction. Although, one story in particular, occurred about two months after the accident. This was my very first episode of PTSD that I was aware of.

I had gone to Sherman, Texas with my sister and her husband. We went out to dinner and stop by the Academy Sporting Goods store to purchase a kneeboard. On our way home, we took Texas State Highway 82 traveling East toward Paris, Texas.

It was after the sunset, and up in the distance, I could see a large fire close to the highway. Without warning my heart rate elevated. I began to sweat and couldn’t focus.

I was almost in a panic. The closer we got to the location of the fire, the more I feared what was happening.

My brain had emotionally taken me back to April 19th and there was nothing I could do to escape!

I closed my eyes and was trying to gain control of myself when I heard James say the words, “clearing for a fence.”

Bam, my brain was back and I could look at the fire like a normal person would. I’m here to tell you that nothing will mentally drain you more than an episode of PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder defines like this,

A disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

I hate admitting I have a disorder, but as a police officer, admitting it is the key to healing!

I have PTSD. This doesn’t mean my career is over or can’t work effectively as a police officer. What this means is I needed help after my accident to get back to 100 percent and wish I had taken every opportunity that was given to me to get myself restored. This is my purpose; to help officers understand and accept the help when offered. You are not weak for needing assistance.

Purpose 

This is my purpose. We may be some of the strongest Americans, and God has called us to this profession. But we need help. And when we need help God has given resources to assist his fighters.

Don’t be afraid to ask or get help. Moreover, reach out to me if you’d like. I will give you all the resources I have; travel the journey with you; talk to you.

I’m here and you can trust me. Avoid the trap that I fell into. Don’t allow these circumstances to ruin your career. I’m telling my story for a reason; it’s not for sympathy or anything like that.

It’s my desire to inspire or encourage people; maybe even get them to reach out and talk to someone like me.

I created Badges4Badges as a First Responder page for like-minded officers to share stories about their careers, to find help when needed, or simply a safe place to interact. I want others to understand they are not alone. Remember, The Thin Blue Line is strong and I’m just one person trying to reach whoever needs it. Private message me and let’s talk. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I hope those who need help will not hesitate to ask.

Josiah “Joe” Moore began working in law enforcement in December 2005. During his tour of duty he’s served the Hugo Police Department, Choctaw County Sheriff’s Office and the Choctaw Tribal Police. He resides in Owasso, Oklahoma. You can contact him at Badges4Badges, text or call 918-430-9831.

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