by David D Bagley
Law Enforcement Officer
I would respectfully like to share my story with you. It is about surviving, healing, faith and forgiveness. And somewhere in this journey, I have discovered a police officer I never thought I was or could be. Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to turn life’s light on. I have traveled this road many times; destination unknown, but now I know where I am going. I just had to take the long way there. With no one alive to forgive, in a prayer to God I sent my forgiveness to the drunk driver who hurt and injured me so bad.
PART ONE – SURVIVING
December 19, 2007 at approximately 11:20 pm, while in the line of duty with the Ellijay Police Department, I was hit head on by a drunk driver. I had just left the Gilmer County Detention Center in reference to picking up a temporary protective order for another officer working an active case. Traveling westbound on Highway 52, approximately two miles from the detention center, I had just exited a bridge on a curve, near Owltown Road, when I observed two headlights in my lane. All I remember is turning my steering wheel left.
I do not know how long I was unconscious. There is a time frame I have no recollection of events. I do not remember leaving the Gilmer County Detention Center, but I do remember the two headlights, and just a sensation of a collision, no pain. It is like I was temporarily absent from myself. Maybe it is the body’s way of protecting sanity, and fear.
It is apparent after a review of 911 tapes, I realize the imminent danger I was still in; low visibility, fog, darkness, and the position, and final resting place of the accident scene. By some miracle I was protected from a second collision.
From the calls placed to 911 I have listened to, I can hear the panic, fear, and what I call freeze frame shock in the caller’s voice. If pictures do speak a thousand words, it was a thousand words too many.
As I regained consciousness, I remember someone yelling my name, “Bagley! Bagley! Bagley!” For a moment in time I was trapped in a nightmare, with no escape. I could not get my body to move. It was like I was paralyzed. I heard noise’s outside my patrol car, and again I heard someone yelling, “Bagley! Bagley! Bagley!”
Time seemed to stand still for me. The next thing I remember was seeing flashing red and blue lights. Emergency personnel were around me. Paramedics, EMTs, Law Enforcement, and Firemen were trying to free me from entrapment in my patrol car.
Over the loud noises around me, I heard someone mention the status of the other driver, that they were 10-109d. Of all the noises that surrounded me that night, those words 10-109d were the loudest words I have ever heard. I knew that meant someone was dead. I remember asking the Paramedic if the driver was dead. He hesitated, and said yes.
The most terrifying fear came over me. All I could do was cry. I was scared, because I could not remember what happened. Horrifying thoughts started to plague my mind. Is this my fault, could I have done something to prevent this? Every fear my mind could conceive was happening to me. Even with critical injuries, I didn’t feel much pain. My pain was the haunting thoughts that someone had lost their life.
Three days after my accident, and still struggling with what happened, my chief and sergeant came to visit. I trembled in fear because I thought they were there to arrest me, because I just could not remember what happened. I was still pondering if this was my fault. I recall asking if I was under arrest. The chief handed me a copy of the accident report. The Georgia State Patrol completed their investigation. The chief said he wanted to bring the accident report to me to give me peace of mind. It concluded, and read, that I wasn’t at fault. Up until the report, everyone assured me it wasn’t my fault. I guess I just needed to read it for myself. Finally, I could start the healing process.
After being released from the hospital, I looked over the newspaper that had been saved. And read the obituary. There I saw the driver’s name, and a picture. Once again I broke down, started to shake, and cry. My wife stood beside me silent while I went through a momentary breakdown.
During the process of my healing, I contacted the mother several times; it was something I needed to do. I have also visited the grave site many times since then, in respect of the life lost. The badge I was wearing that night on patrol—until this letter, no one has known this, except my wife—I placed it in a small hole at the grave site. It is my way of saying goodbye, and I “forgive”.
Now, I survive on. I might work for another law enforcement agency, but my mission continues, save a life, the life you save might be your very own.
I hope I never have to tell a family their loved one has died because of an impaired driver, or from being impaired. There are too many victims who lay in eternal rest, in gardens of stone.
Sometimes at night I revisit that moment in a nightmare, and wonder what made the difference that December night, that a life was lost, and I survived. This is my testimony, this is my journey.
PART TWO – HEALING
Five years later. Wow! It just seems like a dream ago. There’s not a day that goes by I do not think of my accident. It has been a life-changing event. Some days I praise God I am alive. And sometimes I feel guilty of being the lone survivor.
I often reflect on the family who lost their loved one from driving under the influence. How many tears were shed, how many sleepless nights were there. In some ways, I imagine the family suffered more than I; of the loss of a son, a brother, than I did from my injuries.
I had learned weeks later after coming home, I felt an obligation to make contact with the family. I located the pastor of the church, where the driver was buried. I told the pastor who I was, and explained my situation. That I was having a difficult time dealing with the life lost. I had requested if the pastor could put me in touch with the family, I gave him my phone number. A short time later I received a call. I do not know the identity of who I was talking to. I assumed it was a close family member. I told her of my grief, and that I would like to speak to the mother. She was very understanding. Within just a few minutes the mother called. I identified myself to her. I told her I wanted to see how she was doing; I could sense the stress and pain in her voice. She began to cry. I never thought I could be wounded with so many teardrops. She probably never expected a call from me. Not just as a Law Enforcement Officer, but as a concerned human being, offering a helping hand.
Days later, while visiting the grave site I noticed that his father had passed several years earlier. Father and son were once again together. Several months later I spoke again with the mother. We talked about her son, not knowing that this would be the last time we would ever talk again.
During my last visit on the anniversary date of the accident, in shock, I saw the mother’s name on the headstone. She had passed earlier that year. I was frozen; I couldn’t even come up with words for a prayer. I just knelt down in silence; and wondered if the mother inside, ever healed, or if she passed away with a broken heart.
Until this day I have not found a way to escape my haunting memories. My nightmares keep chasing me down. They find me wherever I hide. I do find some comfort, knowing that the father, son, and mother, now rest in eternal peace, as a family, side by side.
To me, the son lives on in my personal testimony. I may never be able to surrender my memories, but I can definitely take a negative, and turn it into a positive. He lives on in my call to duty, our mission, together we will save lives. This is one of my most valued tools God has given me, I can offer in the line of duty. Rest in peace, M.J.
About the Author: David has been married to his wife for 28 years; they have no children. David attended military schools and served in the United States Navy. During his second enlistment he found his calling. His career in Law Enforcement began in the fall of 1990 as a Detention Officer with the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office. In 1993, he attended the police academy. He has worked for several agencies and puts his talents to work finding impaired drivers. In 2007, he nearly lost his life when he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Today, he still has physical pain, and there is not a day that goes by he does not think about his accident.
David’s outreach varies from social media to speaking. When he speaks of his accident to others, it takes all of his strength to avoid showing emotions. He says that it is like standing on the edge of grace. His fear is that he will breakdown and cry while speaking to others/DUI victims. His tears usually come later in privacy accompanied by a nightmare in his sleep. “Just because I have a nightmare, it is no reason for me to stop dreaming”.
He has received multiple awards from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), Officer of the Year, and Officer of the Quarter. MADD also presented him with an Outstanding Bravery award noting that it is because few officers return to the line of duty after such a horrific accident and injuries.
Over the months of recovery, David graduated from being in a wheel chair to a walker, crutches and walking cane. His first night back on patrol, 911 advised that a motorist had reported a possible drunk driver. David set up at an intersection to intercept the impaired driver. The impaired driver made an improper and deep left turn and was heading right towards David. He took defensive action to avoid another head-on collision by driving in reverse and escaped the path of the driver on the wrong side of the road. He turned around on the driver and made the traffic stop and arrest for DUI. “Without requesting assistance, officers that were on duty started to show up at the scene. It was their way of saying ‘welcome back’. I endure my physical pain in the line of duty “So Others May Live”.