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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Fontana, California 07/04/2005

After a foot pursuit, Officer Frank Tolerico ended up wounded and wrestling for his assailant's gun.

May 13, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

"This Cop is Dead"

The pure evilness of the laugh struck Tolerico every bit as hard as the fingers that gouged at his eyes and the teeth that tore at his head. The officer realized that Morales genuinely believed he was gaining the upper hand. For Morales, it would prove a fatal arrogance.

While Tolerico didn't initially recognize Morales, he had at least since taken stock of his situation and now knew what he was up against. But in keeping with his sociopathic nature, Morales' take on his predicament seemed to be one of assured victory. This cop is dead. If it meant his surviving the reality, Tolerico would allow this dirtbag to hold on to that fantasy.

Three minutes passed by-long enough for most men to become exhausted, let alone one who'd been shot multiple times. But Morales' grip gave out first, and Tolerico finally wrested the gun from him.

If the loss of the weapon shocked Morales or proved a point of concern for him, nothing in his manner betrayed as much. The gang member simply leapt up and took a couple of steps toward the fence as Tolerico staggered to his feet.

Was Morales going to jump over the fence, or spin, and fire with another gun?

"No you don't," Tolerico thought.

Drawing his own .40 caliber Glock 22, Tolerico squeezed off six quick rounds at Morales' flank.

Morales went down hard.

Alone In the Dark

Badly injured, exhausted, and still finding no other officer in sight, Tolerico keyed his portable and advised that he'd been shot.

His exact location remained as much a mystery to himself as it was to his fellow officers, many of whom had begun searching the area south of his patrol car in the belief that he'd run in that direction.

The pain in his chest and neck was overwhelming and the temptation to lie down and close his eyes was strong, but Tolerico leaned against the truck, determined not to go down.

Stay awake. Can't go into shock. Have to keep my wits.

As a department helicopter flew overhead, Tolerico used the tac light on his gun to get its observer's attention.

Seconds later, a corporal from Tolerico's unit, Pat Mackey, arrived on scene. Knowing that Mackey wasn't the kind of guy to panic gave Tolerico a genuine sense of relief. As Mackey began coordinating assistance and emergency rescue, Tolerico allowed himself to relax just a little.

His fellow officers loaded Tolerico into a black and white for the ride to Kaiser Hospital a half mile away, but then opted for the trauma center at Arrowhead Hospital. They also decided to forego waiting for an ambulance as a similar "scoop and load" had figured prominently in saving the life of Kevin Goltara, a fellow Fontana officer.

Until now Tolerico's mind had been too committed elsewhere to have acknowledged fear, but his chest felt as though someone had been using it for batting practice with a sledgehammer. During the eight-minute roll to the hospital, Tolerico suddenly wondered if he was going to make it. For a second, he felt his body go limp and he asked another officer if it looked bad.

"No," the officer assured him. "You're going to be OK."

So what if the guy didn't have a medical degree. He had told Tolerico what he needed to hear and the wounded officer willed himself to believe his peer.

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