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Tragedy inspires innovative thinking

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published October 17, 2006


Adam Pierce pulled his cruiser into the parking lot of the Orlando gas station, effectively cutting off an alleged drug dealer.

The Orange County deputy was on routine patrol in Holden Heights, an area of Orlando riddled with violent crimes. Pierce got out of his car as his partner Robert White continued to chase the suspect.

White hit the suspect with his Taser, sending 50,000 volts of electricity through his body.

If only White had hit the suspect in the chest.

But White hit Jeffery Forbes, 23, in the arm, failing to immobilize him with the Taser. Forbes, who was being sought on an armed robbery charge, rose and began to run. Pierce moved in to tackle him, and then it happened.

Forbes wheeled and fired at the 25-year-old Pierce.

"Shots fired, shots fired," the voice crackled on the police radio. "Deputy down."

Pierce was hit twice. The first bullet sliced part of his scalp. The second hit his neck, went through a lung and ended up lodged in his spine.

Pierce recounted his story from a wheelchair last week at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza hotel.

"The main focus of officer safety is to make sure you go home every night," he said. "They never really talk about what you do when you go home, but you can't do your job any more."

Paralyzed from the waist down, Pierce shared his story at a Bank of America event for a group of Tampa Bay real estate agents and builders who focus on low- to moderate-income housing. For a man whose dreams were shattered by a man now serving life plus 86 years, Pierce is remarkably composed.

"I just put it of my mind that I'm never going to be able to work the road again," Pierce said. "I could spend ... months depressed, or I could decide to move up and move on."

Moving on, however, meant finding a way to keep the home he shared with his fiancee, Melissa Sikorski.

Pierce was still employed by the Sheriff's Office, and workers' compensation and disability payments helped retrofit his home to accommodate his disabilities.

But now he could no longer earn the $1,200 a month in off-duty work he used to pay his mortgage.

Pierce's mortgage was through Bank of America's Neighborhood Champions Program designed for law enforcement, firefighters, educators and medical personnel.

However, the bank had no contingency plans when one of its special customers suffered a reduction in income because of a disability. Who would champion the champions when they needed it most?

Sikorski's aunt, Victoria Sikorski, sent a letter to the bank's chief executive, Ken Lewis. She didn't ask for any money; she didn't give the details of his mortgage. She merely explained how one of the bank's customers had endured a life-altering experience.

The bank paid off Pierce's loan and taxes and then went a step further. It's putting the finishing touches on a provision for its Neighborhood Champions that provides a full or partial payoff in the event of accidental death, dismemberment or paralysis.

"It feels good to know that I was some sort of inspiration for the whole thing," Pierce said.

Pierce hopes to become a trainer for new law enforcement officials, but in a way, he's already helped a lot of cops around the country.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or hooper@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 17, 2006, 06:37:33]


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