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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Acworth, Georgia 03/21/2007

A desperate felon led Officer James Van Alstine into a foot pursuit and into a fight for his life.

November 29, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Point Blank

Grabbing onto King's wrist, the officer began an arching, twisting climb up the suspect's body. In response, King bared his teeth and bore down with his upper body, attempting to use the firearm as a fulcrum and force Van Alstine back down to the ground.

With King's attentions committed to gaining leverage on him, Van Alstine saw his chance.

Drawing his Glock 22 sidearm from his holster, he shoved the gun into King's right eye and told King one last time to drop the gun. But his assailant only continued his efforts to torque the gun in a bid to rotate its barrel at Van Alstine's head.

Backing the Glock a half-inch off the suspect's head to prevent his own weapon from going out of battery, Van Alstine activated its tactical light and squeezed the trigger.

One .40 caliber, Federal 180-grain, hollow point tore into King's forehead just above his left eyebrow. King's arms collapsed to his sides as his body fell backward to the ground.

Vega ran up and kicked the firearm from King's hand, but the only evidence of the man's waning existence came in the form of some guttural grunts and deep sighs.

Laying Van Alstine down on the side of the road, Vega assessed him for injuries. As his legs began to shake uncontrollably and he felt himself go into shock, Van Alstine reflected on what had just happened. On how a man had just tried to kill him and how thankful he was to be able to respond.

Then he blacked out.

Time to Think

Van Alstine awoke in the hospital where he was treated for blunt force trauma for the bullet that'd struck him. The Second Chance Level IIIA vest and trauma plate he'd been wearing had more than done its job, stopping the bullet that came to rest beneath his pectoral muscle. Unlike most men who'd taken a 9mm round to the chest, Van Alstine found himself released a mere six hours after his admittance.

Van Alstine has since had ample time to reflect on how little stock he'd placed in the threats that had been communicated to him. He has also had ample time to think about how he might have prevented getting shot even in the absence of such information.

"If I could have done one thing differently," Van Alstine reflects, "it would have been recognizing just a bit sooner the significance of King's reaching for the door handle with his left hand."

As far as the foot pursuit and what followed?

"He gave flight and I gave chase, and I'd still do it. Foot chases always have their unknowns. I have no doubt that he would have shot me whether he jumped out of the car or if he ran further. The gun was already in his hand," Van Alstine says.

As it was, King died winded. Both men had run about 200 yards-with Van Alstine covering the last 100 feet in a wind sprint before being shot. And while indebted to the Second Chance vest that lived up to its name, Van Alstine said taking the round was no walk in the park.

"It was like being hit full-force with a sledgehammer. It knocked the wind out of me and put me in a position of disadvantage," he explains.

Tipping the scales were Van Alstine's will to survive and an undeniably effective shot selection on his part.

Van Alstine could not recall having any contact with King prior to the night of the shooting. Given the timing of events and where they took place, he'd consider the nexus between the threat and the act stronger had the suspect not also had an active warrant for violating his probation from a drive-by shooting-the latest transgression in King's misspent life as a felon and gang member.

Even as Van Alstine knows that King reaped what he sowed, he is also aware that the incident has impacted him for life.

"Realizing that I didn't lose my life, but I took the life of another-that was something," Van Alstine reflects. "King never said a word to me throughout the shooting, but then he didn't have to. His actions communicated everything. He'd made a clear choice to kill me and there was no other option available for me to survive other than to do what I had to do."

Van Alstine believes that his determination may have caught King off-guard.

"I believe he expected me to just lay down and give up after having been shot and was shocked that I came after him."

The split-second decision to take the fight to the suspect was the culmination of many good officer safety practices Van Alstine had adopted. These included not only a continuing desire to take range and the tactical training sessions seriously, but also speaking with officers who'd been in shootings. Finally, a habit of continually placing himself in hypothetical situations and considering options available to him had paid off, as well.

These days, Van Alstine shares his own experience with other cops through forums with other agencies about Second Chance Body Armor. He makes a point of reminding officers of just how quickly things can turn bad and where you want to be mentally and physically when it does.

Van Alstine has received multiple awards for his courage that night, including several certificate awards from Second Chance and BAE Systems and an Officer of the Year nomination for Cobb County. He has also received a certificate and nomination from the State of Florida Law Enforcement Hall of Fame. He currently works for the Pickens County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office.

What Would You Do?

Have you considered how you would react if you were shot? Do you believe that you have mentally conditioned yourself to fight through the pain, even if you think you might be mortally injured?

Sound off in the comments below.

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Charles Allen @ 6/2/2013 9:22 PM

Good job, and, thank you!

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