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Finding words: Shot in head, Lehi ex-officer is regaining his speech

LEHI — For the first few days in the hospital, Lehi Police Capt. Harold Terry couldn't say his wife's name.

"All I could tell Karen, 'That's my woman,' " he said.

And although he knew each of his six children, he couldn't get their names out either. His oldest son? "That's my big boy," he said.

Now, nearly a year later, Terry's vocabulary has increased immensely, thanks to speech therapy three times a week, a devoted wife and family and a supportive extended police family.

"It's been quite a thing," Terry said Monday, while visiting the Lehi Police Department, his second home. "If I'm talking, it's good. If I have to go fast, then that's hard. The bullet made a mess. I was just fine till this went junk."

That "junk" began June 23, 2008, when Terry pulled over Kelly Wark, 34, for what should have been a routine traffic stop. But Wark had a severe mental illness that made her paranoid, especially of police officers, her family told the Deseret News.

She grew more and more agitated throughout Terry's routine questions and eventually pulled a gun from her bag and fired at Terry.

The bullet hit the door frame and two pieces went into the left side of his head, lodging in the cognitive area, his family said.

Wark got out of her car and after trying to shoot at other officers, was shot and killed by backup officers.

Terry was rushed to the hospital where he spent eight days in the intensive care unit and two additional weeks in therapy, relearning how to walk, how to keep his balance and how to say his wife's name.

"It's your world turned upside down," Karen Terry said. "He has to relearn, to start from scratch on everything. But he's always been the person who gave 150 percent with everything he ever did. He's still doing that."

"I could talk forever," Terry said of himself before the shooting. "It's there, I just gotta find it (now)."

He knows exactly what he wants to say, but has a hard time forming the words. He can repeat back words he hears, but unless he can make a new connection in his brain, the words slip away.

He's got Karen's name down. And "Chief," for his friend, Lehi Police Chief Chad Smith. Friday's phrase in speech therapy was "Happy Mother's Day," and he keeps practicing "workers compensation," "questioning" and the names of his many doctors.

"Criminal work, words, for a while I remembered," Terry said. "It's ready to go, it's there. But now I'm retired. Disabled. On disability."

He pauses between each word to make sure he's pronouncing it correctly. "I wasn't able to say that for a while."

When he gets stuck, he turns to his wife or Candie, his daughter. He'll cock his head a bit and stare intently, reaching back to try to pull out the word. Sometimes Karen will prompt him, or just guess at what he wants to say.

But occasionally it comes down to a game of charades.

It gets frustrating for both of them, Karen says. But it's a pretty small thing in the long run.

"We can put up with anything," she said. "He's here. He's alive."

Despite the huge life change, the Terrys never felt any hatred toward Wark, Karen said. That would simply be a waste of their energy. Their entire focus was getting Harold better.

"I feel sorrow for her family," Karen said. "At least I have my husband. They don't have their daughter."

"It's all done," Terry says of the shooting. He stays focused on where he's headed.

"I just want to be normal, talk right," he says. "You don't realize till you don't have it."

Smith hired Terry to the force in 1992 at the age of 38, one of the oldest peace-officer training school graduates. Smith referred to Terry as a "diamond in the rough."

At first, Terry was all business. Black and white. No gray area. My way or the highway.

"The chief would tell me, 'Leave it alone. Shut up. Leave it alone,' " Terry says with a smile.

Smith knew when to let Terry vent and when to rein him in.

"I smoothed him," Smith said.

And since the accident?

"The bullet hit his sweet spot," the chief told the Deseret News. "He tells me every day he loves me. He'll say 'thank you, thank you, thank you.' 'I love you.' He'll hug you. He's so sweet."

The bond between Smith and Terry is close.

The men talk at least once a day on the phone and see each other several times a week. Their families go on cruises together and spend their summer evenings camped up at Strawberry Reservoir.

"Harold worked here for (almost) 20 years," Smith said. "He wasn't just an officer. He was a brother. I'm committed to him as long as I live."

Smith became emotional as he recounted details from that June day. It's been almost a year, but it's still close to the surface.

"When he went down, it was so traumatic on me and the whole department," he said. "I still have scarring over it. I've been through this twice."

The first time was Aug. 3, 2001.

Officer Joe Adams had pulled over Arturo Javier Scott Welch for a traffic violation and was shot and killed as he tried to handcuff Welch after finding drugs. Welch later pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As if that weren't enough, in January 2006, Lehi officers had to take down a former colleague, Art Henderson, who had chased his estranged wife and her boyfriend through a residential neighborhood, shooting at them as he drove.

Henderson had worked for Lehi police from 2000 to 2004, until he was dismissed for a misdemeanor charge of assault. Former co-workers brought Henderson down with shots to the knee and arrested him for investigation of attempted aggravated murder.

He hanged himself in a maximum security jail cell four months later.

Talking about Adams is still a tender subject, and the loss of Henderson was difficult, but last June probably ranks as the toughest situation Smith has ever gone through.

"It was like someone blowing up the Statue of Liberty, knocking it over," Smith said. "When (Terry) went down, it shook everyone. It was an 8.0 earthquake around here."

Patrolman Greg Neer got shaken especially hard that day. He was one of the back-up officers who fired at Wark.

"It was very, very tough," he said. "It's tough to see things that will never leave my head. I always think about it. But I'm glad I was there. I'm glad I'm an officer."

Neer, who had been with Lehi for five years when the shooting occurred, said he appreciated the interviews with the review teams, as well as the several months of counseling he received before coming back to work. His wife and family were also crucial in his recovery process, he said.

"I don't want to be a hero," he said. "I just want to help."

And seeing Terry at the police department mingling with the officers is a big boost, he said. He sees Terry at least once a month.

"Every time I do, it wasn't a hug before, but now it is," he said. "It has to be."

Along with the support from the police department, Lehi city has also stepped up to make sure Terry is taken care of.

After Adams' death, the city bumped up its long-term disability pay from 66 percent to 100 percent of pre-disability pay for any city employee who is permanently disabled in the line of duty, until they qualify for Social Security benefits, said Jamie Davidson, Lehi city administrator.

However, after Terry was injured, the city also wanted to look at future health insurance benefits for an injured employee.

"I know as our mayor and City Council contemplated what they should do, they felt like the moral thing to do was to help Harold with moving forward," Davidson said.

So Lehi passed an ordinance in October that states it will make COBRA health insurance payments for a permanently injured city employee and his or her dependents until that runs out. Then, they'll provide financial means for an injured employee to purchase an individual plan through the insurance company.

That benefit for Terry and his wife will extend until they are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

"I know our City Council and our mayor felt like Harold is giving us his all, and we need to do something to show appreciation and recognition for his contribution," Davidson said.

It's things like that, plus the cards, letters, fundraisers, donations and acts of service that have overwhelmed the Terry family.

"We are very thankful and grateful for everyone who put us in their prayers, attended the fundraisers, thought about Harold," Karen said.

She said some weeks, her lawn got mowed as many as three times — just another sign they were loved and well taken care of.

Cars from St. George to Logan displayed "get-well" posters on their windows, and marquees all over Lehi wished Capt. Terry a speedy recovery.

"Things like this tend to bring a community closer," Smith said. "He's part of the community. He's who people love. They need to know that he's doing OK. Life goes on."

But Terry still misses police work. He misses being around his officers, his colleagues, his friends.

Although Terry will probably never come back to the force, Smith's goal is to get him back into teaching.

Terry, who has a bachelor's degree and an MBA, previously taught classes at Provo College in criminal justice. He was even looking into law school before the shooting.

A class on surviving would be one of Terry's most valuable offerings, Smith says.

"I'm a survivor," said Terry looking over at Karen. "And she is. She was here for me. I wanted to be able to tell her 'I love you.' It took a few months to talk that, to be right."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com