Orange PD officer nearly killed by drunk driver says goodbye to profession he loves

By Greg Hardesty

The front of his T-shirt reads:

Sweat dries

Blood clots

Bones heal

The back:

Suck it up, Buttercup

Ever since a drunk driver nearly killed him on Dec. 10, 2016, Sharif Muzayen has been sucking it up – often through immense pain.

In this file photo, which won Best News Photo in Orange County Press Club competition, Vanessa Muzayen gives her husband, Orange PD Officer Sharif Muzayen, a big hug as she comes to visit him in the hospital on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. Muzayen was hit and nearly killed by a drunk driver on Dec. 10, 2016. File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

And although he has made great strides after nearly losing his leg when the driver hit him when he was standing behind his patrol car, Muzayen couldn’t fight his way back, health wise, to the career he dearly loved:

Patrol officer at the Orange PD.

On Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, Muzayen wore that T-shirt as he visited the Orange PD to sign papers to formalize his medical retirement and to turn in his uniforms.

Orange PD Officer Sharif Muzayen is greeted by his friends at the Orange PD as he arrives with his family to turn in his final paperwork on Jan. 16, 2019.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

It was five years to the day after he graduated from the police academy after serving in the Marine Corps for five years, which included two tours of Afghanistan.

“I tried to do everything to come back, but I always knew the chances wouldn’t be the best,” Muzayen, 34, said after saying his goodbyes to a room full of colleagues who hosted a pizza party for him and his family.

Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela gives Sharif Muzayen a hug on Muzayen’s last day as an officer.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Muzayen, whose left leg still is broken and who had surgery in late November 2018 to replace a titanium rod, said he would return to police work only if he knew he would be able to perform at the highest level possible.

He came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be able to do so, thanks to the driver who ended his career as a cop – and almost his life.

“I have to do something else and move on, and not wallow in the past,” Muzayen said.

Sharif Muzayen arrives with his wife, Vanessa, sons Luke, 10, Ben, 3 months, and 4-year-old daughter, Leia, on his last day as a police officer. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Orange PD personnel will sorely miss Muzayen, who started working the streets in January 2014.

“It’s a sad day for me and everyone in here,” Lt. Dan Adams said.

Sgt. Trevor Cullen, who served as one of Muzayen’s field training officers, made a couple of wooden plaques for him and his family.

Orange PD Capt. David Nichols holds Sharif Muzayen’s son, 3-month-old Ben.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

One, in a pine frame, was made from 9mm brass casings arranged to form a thin blue line design of black and blue, with Muzayen’s badge number, 1500.

The other, using .223 casings, was a thin blue line flag with a department challenge coin embedded in the star section.

In addition, Muzayen was given a City of Orange street sign. The front reads, “Muzayen Way,” and includes the OPD station number, 33, and his badge number.

Orange PD Capt. David Nichols gives a fist bump to Sharif Muzayen’s 4-year-old daughter, Leia, on her father’s last day as an OPD officer.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

On the back of the sign is the slogan “Strong With the Force,” a reference to the Muzayen family’s love for all things “Star Wars.”

Cullen said Muzayen was a great officer.

“He’s going out in a way that no officer ever wants to experience,” Cullen said. “We really do want to serve the community, and he was a committed to doing that.”

Cullen said he imparted in Muzayen an interest in catching drunk drivers.

Orange PD Officer Sharif Muzayen, on his last day as a police officer, with his family, Luke, 10, wife Vanessa, 3-month-old Ben, and daughter Leia, 4.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

That’s why Muzayen showed up as backup on the call that nearly killed him.

He was helping another officer on a report of an intoxicated man sleeping in a truck and blocking a driveway in the 500 block of North Cambridge Street when a woman later found to be under the influence of alcohol and drugs crashed into him.

The impact completely severed Muzayen’s femoral artery, the main supplier of blood to the lower limb.

Muzayen suffered a broken fibula and tibia and brain hemorrhaging, and lost nine pints of blood at the scene of the crash. Surgeons used an artery from a cow to bypass his destroyed femoral artery, and he underwent several skin grafts.

Sharif Muzayen’s daughter, 4-year-old Leia, smiles as she holds an art set given to her by the Orange PD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

For slamming into Muzayen at a speed estimated to be 40 to 50 miles per hour, Ashley Victoria Bertolino, 27, of Tustin, was sentenced to three years in prison.

And Muzayen was sentenced to a new life in which such beloved activities as hunting, running, and playing soccer with his two oldest children — Luke, 10, and Leia, 4 – are but memories.

For several hours a day, Muzayen has to keep his left leg elevated. At times, he uses a wheelchair.

In about eight years, his artery bypass will need to be replaced.

Orange PD Capt. David Nichols with Sharif Muzayen’s daughter, 4-year-old Leia, and son, Luke, 10, as they play with their Star Wars toys given to them by members of the Orange PD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“He’s always in good spirits,” said his wife, Vanessa, 34. “I’m the one who always feels more emotional about these things and worried, but he’s always really strong.

“We’ve been doing pretty good. Thankfully, this department has really taken care of us.”

The Muzayens have a third child, son Ben, 3 months, who grabbed much of the spotlight at the Jan. 16 gathering.

The Muzayens are likely to move from Southern California to Texas or Georgia, where Sharif Muzayen has relatives. He and has wife said the cost of living in Southern California is making it tough for them to stay here.

Sgt. Trevor Cullen, left, with retirement gifts he made from gun shell casings for Sharif Muzayen. Muzayen’s badge number was 1500.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Muzayen, who will receive half his salary the rest of his life, currently is taking three courses as he works on a college degree in business administration. He said he would like to start his own business, perhaps in marketing.

“This isn’t so much of a celebration but an opportunity for us to honor your career,” Sgt. Phil McMullin said to Muzayen at the Jan. 16 pizza party.

Co-workers from the Orange PD gather to honor their friend, Sharif Muzayen, as he retires.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“It was an absolute pleasure working here,” Muzayen told the assembled, who included Chief Tom Kisela. “It was my absolute best job. When I left the Marine Corps, I left it with sadness. I wanted to enlist, that was my original plan, but it fell through.

“I wanted to find something better for my kids, my family, and thank God I ended up here.

“Even if I knew this (injury) was going to happen to me, I wouldn’t have made any other choice, other than ‘watching my six’ a little better. I wouldn’t have changed (police) departments for the life of me.

“There are so many great (officers) I worked with here, and absolutely amazing supervisors and training officers. So everyone, thank you very much.”