Officer rebounds from traumatic injury with service dog at his side

“If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans.”

This lyric from Van Zant’s rock song “Help Somebody” is how Peoria police detective Bill Weigt describes his life.

Weigt always dreamed of becoming a police officer, but tragedy altered his plans in 2005.

On Dec. 17, only 19 months into his career as a Peoria police officer, Weigt was caught in the middle of a firefight with a homicide suspect after a high-speed car chase.

The suspect, 27-year-old Damon Hicks, stopped in the middle of the road at the intersection of Olive and 88th avenues in Peoria. He began firing at the officers, and Weigt was hit once just above his police vest.

The bullet entered his chest but never left his body, lodging itself in his spine. He was the only officer hit. Hicks was shot and killed by the other officers on scene.

When firemen arrived on the scene, Weigt heard them say they could see the entrance wound, but no exit wound.

He knew at that moment he was paralyzed.

“Once he said that, I knew,” Weigt said. “It just felt like it was one of those (times) when you whack your funny bone, but it was through my whole body.”

Weigt said he was in a coma for three days afterward, celebrating his 31st birthday in the hospital.

Doctors gave him a grim prognosis, telling him he would spend almost five years in rehab and would probably never go back to work.

“Once they told me, I already knew, but it just sucks hearing it for the first time that this is where your paralysis is,” Weigt said.

But Weigt defied the doctors’ odds, spending only 30 days in the hospital and 30 days in rehab. Afterward, he spent six months in home-based rehab and had to re-learn tasks that came easily for his entire life.

“Pretty much you’re on your own,” Weigt said. “You just have to learn your body.”

He returned to work in December 2006, part-time and confined to a wheelchair. He spent his free time lying around and sleeping, coming to terms with the aftermath of his injury.

“The time in between, I was living in my own head. It was horrible,” Weigt said.

Now, he drives past the intersection where he was shot every day on his way to work.

In 2006, Weigt began speaking on behalf of the 100 Club of Arizona, an organization benefitting seriously injured public safety officials.

At a speaking event for the club, he was approached by Dr. CJ Betancourt of the Foundation for Service Dog Support, who asked him if he was interested in using a service dog.

Weigt wasn’t sure how to reply, wondering if he wanted to take on the responsibility of owning, caring and cleaning up after a service dog.

Biology sophomore Becky Brooks was training Zeus, a yellow Labrador service dog, when she met Weigt in August 2009.

“I met Bill and (he was) the typical cop,” Brooks said. “Very to the point. He says what he feels and (there’s) not a whole lot of emotion out of him, but Zeus and I were really excited.”

Brooks said Zeus was trained to meet Bill’s needs, including pulling his wheelchair, barking for help and opening doors.

“Once we started gelling about the purpose of the whole thing, it really went well,” Brooks said. “Bill picked up really easily and Zeus fell in love with Bill immediately.”

Zeus was handed over to Weigt in May 2010. Brooks said the dog and Bill are like a married couple now.

“He is singing to a different tune,” Brooks said. “Zeus is his legs, Zeus is his ability to exist in the world at this point, so he has come a long way.”

Weigt has even become an ambassador for the Foundation for Service Dog Support, traveling to speaking events to supplement his day job as a Peoria detective.

“It’s neat because I can say the whole story and I like that,” Weigt said.

Weigt said his dream is to coach high school football —he currently coaches the Sun Devils, a Peoria Pop Warner football team. He also wants to get into politics, a path far from his original plan of moving up the ranks as a police officer.

For now, he is taking the good with the bad every day.

“I guess there is a different plan out there for me,” Weigt said.

 

Reach the reporter at brennan.j.smith@asu.edu

 

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