The image of bullets dangling from a chain looped around one’s neck is disturbing, partially discolored from piercing through the flesh of his shoulders and back. Such was the case with Sgt. David White. The 60-year-old Uniontown police officer of the summer night when he was shot four times … and it reminds him he's still alive.
As he was being rushed five months ago in an ambulance to Summa Akron City Hospital, the officer of 25 years thought he was a dead man. He had lost half of the blood circulating through his body.
He sits in his living room gazing out a window obstructed by a Christmas tree, recounting that July night in a resolute voice and with unblinking precision. "I'm just grateful to be here for Christmas again," he said.
Countless midnight shifts had always been adopted, so was the case on the 9th of July. Around 9:45 p.m., the veteran officer left his township home following dinner with his wife and teenage daughter. Nothing else about that day was memorable until he arrived at the Uniontown Police Department. Two rifles and other gear were loaded into a police cruiser. Normal equipment.
The police radio crackled shortly after 10 p.m. with a call to Lela Avenue NW for a domestic dispute.
The address and name of Ryan A. Probst were familiar. Police had been there before. Family members said Probst struggled with mental illness and depression. That night he turned violent.
Probst’s relative hustled past White and his partner, blurting Ryan had fired a gun outside the home. A woman also had fled the home, screaming for help. White and his partner went to the front of the house. Light illuminated the area inside. The door was open. White stepped inside, gun drawn. He called out to no response. Then he saw Probst to the left, in the near distance, at the bottom of stairs leading to the basement. A gun was spotted. White reflexively shuffled back outside in a burst of movement, yelling: "Shotgun!"
White paced cautiously with the thought of Probst's family members safety, who fled to a neighboring home. White proceeded with a Taser in his right hand and gun in his left. A Taser had no effect on Probst, who wielded a handgun, spraying gunfire.
Six gunshots echoed. Two missed White. Four connected. One pierced the vest over his stomach. Two ripped through his wrist. Another tore through his shoulder. White returned fire but didn't strike the 28-year-old Probst.
White took cover behind the police cruiser. The second officer shouted an order, near the front of the home: "Show me your hands!" Within moments, gunshots erupted. White's partner shot Probst, who died from the wounds.
White had already called police dispatch, breathing heavily as he gave the numbers for an officer in trouble: "Code 44."
Then he called Police Chief Harold Britt on a cellphone. Watching television with his two sons, Britt already had been contacted by dispatch and immediately drove to Lela Avenue.
Sirens wailed in the distance. Uniontown firefighters were getting closer. A few minutes passed before fatigue and weakness overtook White, forcing him to sit and lean against the vehicle, his complexion paling, his breathing altered. Britt arrived and helped White's partner tend to the wounds.
That's when he said he felt God. He saw a spirit with no face, no eyes, no hair. Something beyond Earthly description.
"There was a presence beside me that just kind of appeared at my right side," he said. "And it was God or an angel or Jesus Christ."
Then it was gone.
"I can't tell you what it was … but there was a being beside me."
The mysterious presence comforted him. But moments later, while being driven to the hospital, doubts swam inside his head.
"I did not think I would survive that night," he said. "I thought this was it. It was going bad fast."
Chief Britt drove White's wife and daughter to the hospital - a quiet ride interrupted only by traffic on his police radio.
White was whisked through blood transfusions and emergency surgery. Time on a respirator followed. A continuous stream of friends, family and police officers visited.
At least one officer was there around the clock, Britt said. From Uniontown, Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Boston Heights, the Summit County Sheriff's Office and beyond, he said.
White is determined to return to the job. When? He's not sure, possibly May or June. It depends on his recovery. "I want to retire on my terms," White said. "I feel I need to prove it to myself that I can do it and I'm tough enough to come back from all this. I've come this far - I want to see it all through."
The effects of July 9 linger. A twinge shoots through his upper spine when he touches the area below his neck. Pain surges through a wrist that suffered two gunshots wounds, scar tissue left behind, a tendon inflamed. He plans to begin treatment once he gets approval through workers' compensation.
Overall, considering what happened, White said he's doing well. Now he sleeps better, although he has "ups and downs."