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Crosby

Paralyzed Rock Hill officer spends first year trying to cope

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ROCK HILL • A psychologist told Matt Crosby: "You don't have to accept that you won't ever walk again. You just have to accept that you can't walk right now."

Crosby gets it. But he isn't there yet. "Not even close," he says.

Friday marks one year since he backed up a fellow Rock Hill police officer on a family disturbance call that turned into a gunfight. One bullet grazed Crosby's head and another lodged in his spine. He knows he should be grateful he survived, but he cannot get past being paralyzed from the chest down, possibly forever.

Running with his sons is out of the question, returning to patrol only a dream.

Crosby, 31, realizes he is still too torn over what was lost to appreciate what was saved.

"It's probably part of the accepting process, and I just really haven't gotten there," he said in a recent interview from his New Town home in St. Charles.

Yet, there are signs of brighter days. Crosby said he feels better by the week. Nightmares have faded. He no longer awakes smelling gunpowder.

He tries to stay busy with friends and family, particularly visits with his boys, to displace memories of the shooting. "Without them, I don't know that I'd still be alive," he said.

Grudgingly, he admits to progress.

"I couldn't even feed myself in the beginning," he said. "I've come a long way."

APRIL 8, 2010

The night was dragging last year when Crosby followed another officer, Lt. Jorden Lewis, on a call from a woman who said her boyfriend hit her with a gun. The patrolmen confronted George Jones on a stairway.

"Show us your hands!" Crosby yelled up from a landing. Jones fired twice into Crosby. Return fire brought Jones down on top of the fallen officer.

"Oh, my God, I'm going to bleed out in this hallway!" Crosby recalls thinking. And, "I can't feel my legs!"

At St. John's Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur, Stephanie Crosby bent over her husband and cried.

"Knock it off," he told her. "I'm still alive."

Lewis, twice his partner's age, felt grateful that Crosby was there to help save his life but guilty that Crosby sacrificed so much to do it. When not at his buddy's bedside, Lewis said, he was at home in south St. Louis County, "crying like a baby."

They had worked together since 2007, calling themselves P&J, Lewis explained, because they "just jelled, like peanut butter and jelly."

Within days, Lewis brought good news from the crime lab: Jones, recovering, had been hit by one shot from each officer. Lewis said Crosby "was on cloud nine knowing he got a shot off at him."

EVERYTHING CHANGES

In the aftermath of the shooting, Crosby was startled at loud noises and frustrated by dreams of walking. Grasping for normalcy, he still reviewed homework with sons Luke, 7, and Ian, 6, and stepson Jacob, 12. They stayed with his parents while his wife remained by his side day and night.

But over time, the couple's tone became edgy. He complained that she should return to work as a nurse to conserve her time off for later. She protested appearances at so many fundraisers, saying, "This is my family, this is my life and I don't understand why we need to share it with everyone."

The physical issues were daunting. Crosby needed help with basic functions. He wobbled like a newborn when sitting, had a sense of falling and felt leg spasms as if "they want to go running."

Getting himself dressed was an ordeal. T-shirt: two minutes. Pants: seven minutes. Socks: five minutes. Shoes: 10 minutes.

A good friend, Rock Hill Fire Chief Kevin Halloran, sent his stepbrother, Scott Brandon, for encouragement. Seven years before, at 34, Brandon was paralyzed from the waist down in a fall.

"You know, they say miracles happen. But you have to be prepared for both," Brandon told him. "You're going to miss out if you get up every day with that fake hope. The here and now is, your legs don't work. Once you get past the physical stuff, it's all between your ears."

Crosby was unimpressed. "All he wants to talk about is being paralyzed," he complained. "I want to talk about walking again."

GOING IT ALONE

On his wedding anniversary, Crosby bought a watch online for his wife and they ate dinner at a favorite restaurant. Later, they curled up together in his room at St. John's Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital in Chesterfield to watch a movie.

But facing his disability and a marriage already frayed from pre-shooting issues, Matt Crosby concluded just three weeks short of his release from rehab that summer, "I can't deal with that and deal with this at the same time." He decided the answer would be divorce.

So Crosby moved to a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom New Town vacation home lent by a family friend. He relied heavily on help from his parents, John and Virginia Crosby, and roommate, Dave Armstrong, a high school buddy.

In public, he was still the heroic cop, donning his old uniform three times to accept medals and collecting plaudits, like the standing ovation at Edward Jones Dome before the season's first Rams game. His celebrity transcended everyday life.

"You're that police officer, aren't you?" a woman asked as he signed in for outpatient therapy one day. "It's so great to see you."

LETTING GO

On a late Sunday in August, Lewis drove Crosby to the police station, where his desk was now someone else's and his possessions were in boxes. He also learned he would soon be dropped from the city's insurance.

"That's how I know they don't consider me an employee anymore," he said, "even though they've never said it."

By early October, occupational therapist Trisha Dorries said that rehab had run its course. Crosby pleaded for more, arguing that he was still gaining strength. "No, Matt, it's not just that, it's that you can do it for yourself now," Dorries explained. She called it "a good thing."

"Yeah, but I thought that would be when I get back to normal," Crosby said.

"I don't know if that's going to happen, Matt," she said.

"Oh, it's going to happen," Crosby said.

Privately, he struggled. He admits fleeting thoughts of suicide. For a while, he shut off the TV that played nonstop cop shows and the computer that linked him to friends, and spent days dozing in the wheelchair. "Sleep makes time go by faster," he explained.

It was not a unique reaction. According to the Spinal Cord Injury Information Network at the University of Alabama, people with such injuries grieve the loss of their abilities and can take as long as a year to accept it.

FINISHING THE YEAR

Crosby scoffed at suggestions that he become a police dispatcher. But while attending the sentencing of a child molester whose case he investigated, he did start thinking about another possibility: investigating computer crimes.

For now, he has one police duty left: Crosby will testify in July against Jones, the man accused of paralyzing him. Some satisfaction may be gained, he said, but "it's not going to change my situation."

Since the start of 2011, Armstrong has moved out and Crosby's parents take turns spending the night. Physical therapy ended, so Crosby goes to a gym three days a week. He has not yet filled out the divorce papers. He isn't sure when workers' compensation will run out or what kind of settlement he might receive.

Crosby sees his sons often. They stay overnight once a week and every other weekend. "I just try to have fun and still be Dad," he said. "They've been through as much as I have in the last year."

Despite his experience, Crosby said he was proud to hear son Luke say he wants to be a police officer or perhaps an FBI agent.

"If I could walk again, I'd go back to being a police officer in a second," Crosby said. "I miss it and I love the job. Even after being shot at. It doesn't bother me. I'd go back and do it again.

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