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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


As they pulled up outside the ER doors of the hospital, Tolerico made clear his intentions of walking in on his own power. But his friends let him know otherwise and placed him down on a gurney.

In a mordant bit of humor, Tolerico recalled a debriefing in which the previously transported Officer Goltara detailed the process by which the ER team had cut off his clothes and cautioned "not to worry about the shrinkage."

As they wheeled him into the emergency room, Tolerico figured that would be the least of his worries.

The first thing Tolerico did when he woke up the next morning was ask, "Is the son of a bitch dead?"

Tolerico was told that paramedics had arrived at the scene and were unsuccessful in their attempts to resuscitate Morales, who'd been shot three times by Tolerico's Glock. Having insinuated himself back in the country despite being previously deported, the gang member had ultimately succeeded in getting himself killed at the scene.

Several factors played pivotal roles in Tolerico surviving the incident, not the least of which was his ballistic resistant vest: Two of Morales' rounds had center-punched the officer in the heart area leaving a grapefruit-sized bruise on his chest; a third had been a through-and-through in his neck.

Tolerico's conditioning had also saved him-not once, but twice. "It saved me during the fight, and it saved me in dealing with the aftermath and recovery," he says.

Looking back on the incident, Tolerico believes that a controlled and constructive fury also played a part in his ability to prevail.

"I knew that I'd been shot and I was angry," he says. "There was no time to have fear. I've seen videos of other officers who'd just given up, or had died of non-lethal wounds, and that just wasn't an option. Even though I'd been shot and was in a lot of pain, I wasn't going to go down or sit down.

"We fought for about three minutes and I had a death grip on his 9mm Taurus from the second I'd realized that I'd been shot," Tolerico continues. "When I finally succeeded in getting the gun from Morales, I didn't know if he was going to go for a second weapon or not, or try to take the gun away from me as I had him. But throughout that entire incident, I felt that one of us was going to die, and it wasn't going to be me.

"Not that he didn't try. The entire time we were fighting over the gun he was still trying to shoot me with it. But I wasn't going to give up my life. He was going to have to take it. And that's why the second I felt I had an opportunity, I took it."

That opportunity came when Tolerico wrested the gun from Morales' grasp and simultaneously starting firing rounds from his Glock.

Adrenaline continued coursing through Tolerico's body for some time following the shooting, as did his determination to retain control over his destiny.

Later, and with the benefit of medicinal insight, Tolerico realized just how close his brush with death had been.

"They said it was a miracle that I'd lived. It missed my carotid artery by an angel's wing and exited within an inch of my spine," he explains.

Tolerico spent five days in the hospital. Despite being shot on July 4, he was back to work on August 20. Among his numerous awards and recognitions, Tolerico was named a Parade Magazine Top Ten Officer of the Year for 2006 and received both the Medal of Valor from Fontana PD and the California State Medal of Valor.

Tolerico has since retired from law enforcement and currently runs his own security company, Sheepdog Security.

He says he wishes to impart one last thought to those officers who still do the job. "The biggest thing is to never give up no matter what. The adrenaline, the will to survive, you owe it to yourself, your partner, your department, your family to fight. You have to do whatever it takes to survive." 

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Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

skinni99 @ 5/13/2010 11:11 PM

I know every bit of this story to be true. I saw Officer Tolerico in the hospital the morning after he was shot and was there when he asked his Lt. if he had killed that low life. Frank is an example of how any one of us should be at work every day. Alert and ready to fight for our lives and those of the law abiding citizens we have sworn to protect.

Justin's Voice @ 4/17/2014 11:40 AM

If you were to reverse rolls, from that low lifes point of view, could it be possible that He already sensed he was a target for death, anc trying to fight for his life? Kill or be killed is an awful barbaric ultimatum to be confronted with...
Especially since the only crime he was in the process of committing before becoming the prey was wearing attire that "suggested" gang member..?

motor80 @ 9/30/2014 2:40 PM

Justin's Voice clearly didn't read this posting, or totally misinterpreted it. If you aren't doing illegal things and carrying illegal weapons in a country which you are not legal to be in, you won't have the mindset you described.
Good job by the officer, proud to call him a colleague.

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