Despite the liver bleeding, fractured skull and vertebrae, bruised body, swollen face and permanent damage to her eyesight, not to mention a grueling recovery from those injuries that displaced her from her dream job, former police officer Lucia Wade, 40, insists the story of her accident is not — or shouldn’t be — a cautionary tale.
At its start, that Sunday shift in October 2009 was dull, if anything, and Wade recalled as her partner joined her after several hours on patrol in Beat 8, she was looking for things to do.
“I had all my reports completed,” Wade said in her interview with PoliceOne. “It was a good day to get my stats up.”
Search for a Soldier
So she initiated a search on Manual Santiago, 43, who was often seen roaming Santa Rosa’s streets and weeks prior had reportedly robbed a seedy area bar called The Zoo. Wade got a glimpse of “Manny,” as he was known in the department, lost him when dispatch sent her elsewhere, then found him again with help from an unassuming girl who approached Wade on Santa Rosa Avenue.
After learning who she was looking for — “the bad guy,” Wade said to the girl — the girl pointed in his direction, and her mother confirmed seeing a suspicious man wearing a soldier’s outfit duck into the bushes nearby. Wade called for backup, saw Santiago emerge and gave chase.
In her element and zeroed in on the task at hand, the lover of foot pursuits ran into the street. She had her physical fitness and strong radio command on her side, but neither prevented the hit from a northbound BMW that struck her straight-on.
As she hit the ground, Santiago kept going, but a truck driver who happened to be at a deli across the street subdued him until authorities arrived, and he was later sentenced to four years in prison.
Wade was transported to a facility for the immediate medical treatment she required.
Annoying, Embarrassing, Groundbreaking
Even though brain injury-induced memory loss made for a hazy hospital stay, Wade can still say for certain that immediately after the accident, she was unhappy.
“I needed 24-hour supervision,” she said, describing how, like most law enforcers, she was “not used to being anything but totally independent,” which only made an already difficult-to-swallow helplessness pill that much harder to choke down.
“Leave me alone! I’m going to the bathroom!” she remembers screaming at her family soon after her return home. “It’s none of your business!”
The day she left the hospital she was too weak to ascend her front steps, and the first time she felt somewhat vibrant — on the Halloween after the accident, with friends and family over for a party — her excitement quickly escalated into overextension.
As time wore on, the outpouring of support from the law enforcement community, which began when her room became so flooded with flowers hospital staff had to hand them out to other patients for lack of room, continued. Using what she called her "injured cop card," Wade was able to connect with some of her police trainer idols, forging friendships with some, but she found that heart attack patients, injured firefighters, or survivors more generally were just as key, as they could most directly relate to her plight.
“When you talk to people who’ve been through a similar near-death experience, you sort of have an understanding that not everyone you come into contact with shares,” she said, recounting how a conversation over lunch became critical to her emotional wellbeing and overall path to recovery.
A friend who had recently undergone surgery admitted hospitals and medication made her feel “like an old person," and for Wade, someone had finally put into words the drudgery and difficulty of her rehabilitation. Not only did the friend describe it, but she felt it herself, and however intrusive, bothersome or exhausting it was to dealing with people while injured, at times like that, it was key.
"When you’re a cop, you have to lose your ability to connect with people — if you overconnect, it can eat you alive,” Wade said. “This has been a very good lesson in why human connection is important.”
It’s now been two and a half years and six surgeries, and she’s taken on a job working security at a bar in nearby Sausalito. Certainly it marks independence regained, but she didn’t believe she’d ever give up policing, despite reminders as early as police academy.
“There were several references to always having something else up your sleeve,” Wade said, adding that frequency of the warnings didn't mean they sunk in. “You could get injured on the job, you might not be with this job for your entire career … I never took those warnings seriously. I thought I finally found a job that I loved, and that was gonna be it.”
She remembered joking with a friend in the locker room about “certain underwear we wear on duty because we could end up in an ambulance,” which in a way, made it “all too real. You’re hyper-aware that you might not make it home that night, but on the other hand, you’re totally out of touch that you might not be able to have that job for the rest of your career.”
Whenever a problem at work escalates, law enforcement diffuses the same situations she’s trained to handle — while she watches. That and her growing fondness for dealing with intoxicated customers, who offer a hint of what she’d see as a cop, remind her she cannot return a job she says once under your skin, is hard to shake.
Not a Punishment for Trying
“There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t miss police work, she said, “but I don’t want anybody to read about me and walk away thinking it’s an excuse not to give everything they’ve got.”
Wade didn’t get hit because she was too enthusiastic, and she didn’t get hit because she wasn’t cautious enough — but she did get hit.
“There’s some days when you’re tired, or have a cold and you don’t wanna go out there and get in the middle of something,” she said. “Most days you can’t predict when something is going to happen, and I certainly never predicted that. You have to be ready for anything.”
What would she say to an officer in her shoes?
“Boy, I’d like someone to tell me the answer,” she said.