SAN BERNARDINO (CBSLA.com) — A San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy who was critically wounded in the Christopher Dorner manhunt is speaking in-depth about that fateful day last February.
On Feb. 12, 2013, phone calls from Deputy Alex Collins’ brothers, who also work with the sheriff’s department, changed everything.
“[My brother] said, ‘I think we found Dorner’s truck up here near Bear Mountain,’” Collins said.
At the time of the call, Collins was home with his wife—his high school sweetheart—and enjoying being a first-time father with their newborn son.
“If anything happened to [my brothers]…I’d never be able to live with myself if I wasn’t there with them,” Collins said.
The 26-year-old made up his mind and headed up to Big Bear—right into the crosshairs of the end to one of the largest manhunts in Southern California history.
“Knowing that he’s already murdered two people, murdered a cop, being up there….you know it’s going to be in the back of your mind, knowing that this is dangerous,” he said.
A group of deputies, including Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, started examining footprints and tire tracks near a wood cabin. They had no idea that Dorner was hiding inside, waiting to ambush law enforcement.
“I just felt a flash, kind of like, only thing I can compare it to is getting punched in the face,” Collins said.
Collins was immediately struck by Dorner’s high-powered rifle. Bullets hit his face, arm, chest and leg.
As Collins and MacKay took cover behind a parked vehicle, Dorner continued shooting.
Collins didn’t know then that MacKay had been fatally shot.
He was just struggling to stay alive.
“I was suffocating, just choking on my blood. I felt the burning right on my left peck. The bullet actually went through my bulletproof vest and it hit my iPhone. I was really upset. Mad. Not only did this guy shoot me and try to kill me, but now my phone is broken, and now I can’t call my wife and tell her I love her and tell her I’m sorry for leaving our brand new baby with her, and I’m not going to make it home,” Collins said.
Officers created diversions, pulled out the deputies and airlifted them to Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Surgeons waited for what they were told was a “young deputy” who had been shot four times.
Trauma surgeon Barth Riedel was on-duty when Collins arrived.
“When I first saw Deputy Collins, the first thing that ran through my mind looking at his arm was he’s probably not going to use his hand,” he said.
Three surgeons worked simultaneously for hours on Collins’ face, arm and leg.
“Seven tendons were ruptured, one of the major nerves to his hand had a terrible contusion of about five inches…part of the bone on his arm was just not there and he had a huge skin defect, too,” Riedel said.
Dr. Lorra Sharp led the trauma surgical team to repair Collins’ leg.
“It was a high velocity gunshot wound. Just under the knee joint that left a large, gaping hole that killed the muscle, left a bunch of bone fragments in his leg. It was unlikely that he would walk normally again or be very active in the police department,” she said.
Collins underwent 20 surgeries and intensive physical therapy.
“I lost eight teeth…the ones in the front, so they’re working on that. I talk a little different now, the bolt went through my tongue, so the right side of my face is numb. I’ll drool every once in a while. My wife is always wiping food off my face. I’m here, so I don’t like to complain and there’s a lot of guys that have been through a lot worse,” Collins said.
Today, healed scars mask Collins’ extensive injuries. Doctors are amazed by his recovery.
“His leg injury should have crippled him,” Sharp said.
In September, seven months after the shootout, Collins returned to work.
“His recovery is nothing short of a miracle,” Riedel said.
“I’m back to work, I’m getting better. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Collins said.