Deputy lives to thank law enforcement 'family'
By CHRIS TISCH
For 15 minutes, Metts lay alone as other deputies scrambled to reach him without getting shot themselves. The Army veteran of Desert Storm felt light-headed, so he screamed, charging adrenaline through his body to keep himself from passing out.
"I will not quit," he told himself. "I will not give up. He will not beat me."
Fellow deputies cut through two fences to get close to him. Seeing that a street light would make the deputies sitting ducks if they got any closer, Metts lifted his pistol and shot out the light.
Under darkness, deputies reached Metts and lifted him to safety. Minutes later at Bayfront Medical Center, doctors couldn't find a vein in Metts' arm to give him morphine. His blood pressure was a low hum. He was badly injured. But he lived.
On Wednesday afternoon -- seven months after that ordeal -- Metts walked on a stage to accept three awards for his heroism on that October night. He stood before hundreds of fellow Pinellas sheriff's deputies and their families.
Metts couldn't finish his speech. The emotion overcame him, reddening his face and tightening his voice.
It wasn't physical pain that did that. Or the memory of that night. Or the 7-inch titanium plate and six screws in his arm. Or the seven months of rehabilitation that still await him.
It was the memory of 250 law officers, including Sheriff Everett Rice, who came to visit him in his hospital room. That the chief deputy continues to call him at home to check on his welfare. That hundreds of deputies have shared handshakes and hugs with him since that incident.
"Law enforcement is like a family," Metts, 42, said. "They truly come to the aid of fellow law enforcement officers in times of need."
Metts was one of more than 100 sheriff's deputies to be honored Wednesday at the department's annual awards ceremony.
Also awarded medals of honor were deputies -- and a St. Petersburg police officer -- who were involved in the incident in which Metts was shot.
The emotional thrust of the ceremony surrounded Metts, who received the department's Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. He also received the Ruth and Tim Johnson Deputy of the Year Award at the annual ceremony, held at the Seminole Department of Recreation Auditorium. The incident occurred Oct. 7 when Metts and other deputies responded to a call of shots fired at a home in the 4600 block of 40th Street N. They saw a woman lying in the front yard.
Meanwhile, the woman's boyfriend was in the home, firing his rifle at deputies.
The deputies devised a plan to rescue the woman. Using a cruiser as a shield, they reached the wounded woman. She was barely breathing. Deputies moved her to a safer spot, but the gunman began shooting at them from another angle.
They moved the woman again to arriving paramedics. The woman looked at the deputies and closed her eyes. Paramedics pronounced 43-year-old Cathy Elizabeth Gabel dead a few minutes later.
As this was happening, the gunman had moved to a garage apartment behind the home. His shooting became more erratic.
Metts had been huddled in a ditch, covering the other deputies. He crawled about 30 feet to his cruiser and slid underneath. He re-emerged and crouched against the rear quarter-panel.
"I was trying to find him, but he found me first and he shot me," Metts recalled Wednesday.
The bullet shattered a bone in his arm. Metts also suffered a wound higher up his arm. Though it's unknown how that wound occurred, Metts said he thinks the bullet ricocheted and spit out into his upper arm.
Metts, who has worked for the Sheriff's Office since 1996, said he never thought he would die.
"I knew I was shot, I knew I was bleeding," he said. "But I knew I would live."
After the other deputies rescued Metts, the gunman set fire to the home and tried to escape. The SWAT team caught him. John William Harbin, 39, was charged with killing Gabel and trying to kill Metts.
Harbin hanged himself in December at the Pinellas County Jail as he awaited trial.
Metts said his life since the incident has been a mental and physical roller-coaster. He has had two painful bone-graft surgeries and is going through physical therapy. He returned to light deputy last month and expects to be fit for full duty in January.
"You have good days and you have bad days," he said. "But every day it gets a little better. The hardest part is sitting on the sidelines."
Other deputies honored
Other Pinellas sheriff's deputies receiving awards Wednesday:
Receiving the Medal of Honor, along with Cpl. Terry Metts, were: Lt. Timothy Szumigala, Sgt. Michael Madden, Cpl. Joseph Cangemi and Deputies Eric Anfuso, Nicholas Baez, Bryan Bingham, Thomas Singleton and Richard Tapia.
St. Petersburg Officer Jimmy Olsen, who received his department's Medal of Valor in January, also received the Medal of Honor for his work during the incident in which Metts was injured. Communications Center worker Traci Hancock received a certificate of professionalism for her work during that call.
The Capt. Louis Kubler Forensic Science Specialist of the Year Award went to John L. Warfield for his work on major crime scenes.
Detention Cpl. Dannette Scholet received the Capt. Louis Kubler Detention Deputy of the Year Award for her work in the About Face boot camp program.
The department gave 36 deputies certificates of professionalism, including Sgt. Charles Street and Deputies Deborah Cieglo and Joni Holstein for their work in discovering a homicide in Palm Harbor in June.
Another 50 deputies received the Gold Star Award, including three forensics workers -- Robert Rast, Karen Waulk and Carol Davis -- whose work was essential in solving a murder and carjacking in Gulfport last year.
Another 29 deputies received the Excellent Service Award, including robbery detective Cpl. Paul Martin for his work in forming a task force that caught the Crowbar Robber, one of the most prolific robbers in Tampa Bay history; and homicide detective Sgt. Mike Ring for tireless work in solving a murder last year that had gone unsolved for more than a decade.
Deputy Brandon M. Harvey was given the Meritorious Service Award for helping to talk a man out of committing suicide. Reserve Deputy Keith Bailey received the Reserve Deputy of the Year Award.
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