As Sgt. Duane Havourd sat down to write his annual letter for a sixth year, he briefly considered abandoning the tradition.
He thought it might be cliche. He wondered if he had anything more to say.
When he sat at his keyboard this year, he decided that after what he endured on Aug. 22, 2009 and during the eight months that followed, he needed to remind his colleagues he appreciates their work and their dedication to the community.
So he dashed out the letter.
If Havourd learned anything on that August day six years ago, it’s that being grateful is never cliche.
The morning of Aug. 22, 2009 was clear and slightly cool.
Havourd packed his backpack and zipped his leather jacket over his SWAT fatigues to head out for training with the Tustin/Irvine Regional SWAT Team.
He rode his Kawasaki sport bike to save on gas.
Driving through an intersection at Marguerite and Oso parkways, just four miles from his home, a pickup truck blew through the intersection and crashed into him.
The bumper of the truck smashed into Havourd’s right leg, sending him flying through the air.
The sergeant crashed to the ground and the pickup truck driver reversed and drove away.
Havourd lay in the street and looked down to see his leg contorted in such a way he knew that underneath his SWAT pants, his right leg likely was severed.
Havourd tried to drag his body to the curb, but the pain was too intense.
“Initially, nobody stopped,” he said. “I was in opposing traffic lanes and cars just kept swerving around me.”
He grabbed his leg and moved it so it was in front of his body. Then Havourd tried to remove his belt to use as a tourniquet.
“In SWAT we are trained how to treat yourself if you go down,” he said. “But I couldn’t get my belt free.”
Havourd could feel the blood filling his waterproof SWAT pants. He willed himself to stay conscious, he said.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to pass out; I’m pretty stubborn,” he said. “I wanted to be in a control.”
Another motorcyclist finally stopped and tried to help Havourd, but there wasn’t much he could do except keep the sergeant talking until medics arrived.
Havourd later learned the driver who hit him pulled in to a shopping center where an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy was parked at a gas station.
The driver eventually reported the collision to the deputy and he was not charged, Havourd said.
Four paramedics arrived on scene and treated Havourd.
They gave him a morphine shot, but it barely numbed the pain.
They went for another dose of morphine, but Havourd’s blood pressure was too low to take on the extra medication.
“I heard one of them say, ‘If you give him that shot of morphine, he’ll die’,” Havourd said.
The paramedics told the sergeant to brace himself as they cut open his pants.
As they cut open the material, blood filled the gutter next to him.
Havourd didn’t look at the wound because he didn’t want to go into shock, he said.
He remembered the ambulance ride and he remembered arriving at the hospital.
Havourd said he kept moving his toes.
“I just figured as long as I could keep moving my toes, I’d be alright,” he said. “When they wouldn’t move anymore I knew I was in bad shape.”
In the ambulance, everything went dark, Havourd said.
“I lost my vision, but I could hear everything,” he said. “In the ambulance is when things started to fade.”
Havourd said he was later told when he arrived at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo that a priest delivered the last rites and his wife was told he would not survive.
The sergeant proved everyone wrong.
After he lived when doctors said he wouldn’t, Havourd had the next obstacle to overcome — keeping his leg.
The arteries, bones and nerves were severely damaged, and he had lost 60 percent of his calf muscle.
His first surgery was 12 hours of doctors working to repair severed arteries and broken bones.
The doctor would come in every day and Havourd would ask, “Do I have enough of my leg left?”
The answer continued to be “yes,” but his doctors cautiously managed the sergeant’s expectations.
“It was just a battle to stay alive,” Havourd said. “Then they came in and told me that I was never going to walk again, but that was never an option for me.
“In life, you have crosses to bear and this was my cross to bear. I was willing to get through it as positively as possible and not feel sorry for myself.”
Every time he gained consciousness in the hospital, someone from his law enforcement family was ready to help.
“When this happened to Duane, we did what we always do for a member of our family…we rallied around him,” said Police Chief Charles Celano. “I had no doubt in my mind, having known Duane for over 20 years, that he would be back to work eventually and he would never give up. That is just the kind of man he is.”
They donated blood, brought food and supported his family. One SWAT team member ran out to buy a fan after Havourd had a bad reaction to one medication that made his body temperature spike.
“There was such a show of support from everyone,” he said. “Every day somebody was doing something for me.”
Thirty-eight days in the hospital and 17 surgeries later, Havourd returned home.
He was in a wheelchair for two months and spent another several weeks using crutches to get around.
Eight months after his accident, he hobbled in to the Tustin Police Department to return to desk duty.
He refused to take the elevator and instead crutched up the stairs, a decision he immediately regretted afterward, he said.
“I was in so much pain, I thought I was going to pass out,” he said.
Havourd stayed on light duty for weeks before returning to be sergeant of the SWAT program.
But, he said, he approached his job a little differently after his accident.
“I’ve always loved my job and I’ve always been that guy that because I love my job so much, maybe I worked too much,” he said. “Now I appreciate a broader view of my life.
“I want my legacy in law enforcement to be someone who was a great cop, who did the right thing, served the community and who was an overall good guy. With my kids, I want it to be that I was a loving dad and to know that my children never wondered whether or not I loved them.”
Havourd doesn’t put off family vacations and makes sure he’s present for his kids’ high school activities.
He makes time for 100-mile cycling trips and mountain biking excursions.
And he makes sure, every Aug. 22, that he thanks the men and women he works alongside at the Tustin Police Department.
“It’s important for them to know that I was touched by it and I appreciate it,” he said. “It was super humbling to see that kind of outpouring, and I’ll just never forget it.”
So he wrote his letter. It reads, in part:
“I have always loved my job with the Tustin Police Department and I have cherished the trust of the public.
My accident and the prospect of not being a police officer only made me cherish it more.
Ironically, as I watch the news and see the ever present disenchantment of the nation’s public with law enforcement spurred on by the media, I can only think what a great agency I work for … I am blessed to work with some of the best police professionals I have ever encountered.
My hope for you all, is that on your worst day on the job, you will find comfort in the fact that you work in the noblest of professions. Without your dedication to a life of service, civilized society would cease to exist…I am now, and will always be, forever grateful.”