Roanoke Rapids, N.C. — “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!” It was 19 months ago that Roanoke Rapids police Officer John Taylor screamed those words into his radio, begging for help as he choked on his own blood along Interstate 95.
Shot four times during what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop, Taylor says the gunfire that nearly killed him has taught him to be grateful for the gift of life.
“There, on the side of the road, I thought I was going to die,” he said. His frantic thoughts drifted to his wife and young son.
The dashboard camera video from Taylor’s patrol car captured the entire scene on Nov. 17, 2010, as he stopped a green 1997 Geo Prism for following another vehicle too closely. As he got to the passenger door, Taylor said he noticed the smell of alcohol and thought he might be dealing with a drunken driver.
“I need your license, please. Can you roll the window down?” Taylor asked the woman in the passenger seat.
“No, I was, I, I, I …” the woman stammered. Before she could finish, the man in the driver’s seat raised a gun and fired five quick shots at Taylor, hitting him in the neck, stomach and hand and once in his bullet-proof vest. Another bullet missed.
Recoiling in shock, Taylor ran away from the car, out of view of his dash-cam, but his cries for help could still be heard on the recording.
“Southbound, give me EMS, please! A green car is going towards the bridge. I’ve been shot in the neck!” he screamed, as the shooter sped away.
The driver, Michael Edgerton, and his fiancée, Renee Phillips, left Taylor for dead along the highway, ditched their car down the road and fled into the woods, prompting an intense overnight manhunt. Taylor later learned they were wanted criminals, on the run from Pennsylvania authorities in a stolen car.
Before police could capture Edgerton, 38, he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. Officers arrested Phillips and charged her with accessory after the fact of attempted murder, possession of a stolen firearm and possession of a stolen vehicle. She is now in a Pennsylvania jail.
Police chief: ‘It’s a sickening feeling’
Roanoke Rapids Police Chief Jeff “JK” Hinton was in his patrol car when he heard Taylor’s screams for help.
“It’s a sickening feeling,” Hinton said. “We could tell by his voice that he was obviously in distress. We were lucky he was even able to talk at all, being a bullet hit him in the throat.”
Before emergency crews could arrive, two passing drivers who saw the shooting stopped and helped the 31-year-old officer. Two paramedic friends also rushed to the scene after hearing his calls on the radio. Thinking he was dying, Taylor asked for his preacher to meet him at the hospital.
Once he arrived in the emergency room at Halifax Regional Medical Center, the police chief watched as doctors and nurses put a tube down Taylor’s throat and called out his blood pressure number, which dropped lower and lower.
“He did not look good at all,” Hinton recalled. “I was mighty nervous for him. It’s really hard to describe … to see him lying there on the stretcher and not knowing what his condition is going to be.”
News of an injured officer spread quickly through the small town and to the officer’s wife, Kristen Taylor, in her kindergarten classroom. Her principal came to her with a note, saying there had been an accident involving her husband. She quickly ran to her car, picked up their 18-month-old son and rushed to the hospital, just in time to see her husband being wheeled onto a helicopter headed for Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville.
“It was just a brief moment that I saw him. He had wires and tubes connected to him, a neck brace (and) he was strapped to the gurney,” Kristen Taylor recalled. “His eyes were … they were kind of fluttering. They weren’t open. They weren’t closed.”
Unsure of what had happened to her husband and assuming he had been in a crash, Kristen Taylor called her mother in Wilmington. She finally got the news after arriving in Greenville – her husband had been shot. “I was stunned, (in) disbelief,” she said.
John Taylor arrived at the hospital just as two trauma surgeon teams were changing shifts. Both teams stayed on – one working on the bullet in his neck, which nearly hit his carotid artery, and the other team working on the shot that pierced his stomach, which nearly hit his spine and heart.
“When I say it was a gift that I had my life that day, it really was,” he said. “There were a lot of things, not just God, but that a lot of people did for me.”
Officer: I thought about my wife and son
After undergoing several surgeries, John Taylor was released from Pitt County Memorial Hospital on Thanksgiving Day 2010 and recuperated at home through the holidays. He says he doesn’t recall everything about the shooting, but he does remember the pain and the struggle to stay alive for his family.
“I didn’t realize there was a gun until I could feel the pain as a result of the injuries,” he said. “I immediately thought about my wife and my son, and it kind of gives you motivation to hold on and fight and survive.”
Once the adrenaline wore off, John Taylor said, he realized he had been shot more than once. The wound on his neck was obvious, but the bullet holes in his hand and stomach took longer to set in.
“Watching the video, you can’t tell where I was shot first. They were all virtually simultaneous,” he said, noting that he has watched the video numerous times.
Even though his police chief says there is nothing he could have done differently, Taylor still watches the video and wonders. “You watch for things, hoping that you might be able to learn from it, looking at things you might have done differently,” he said.
One thing John Taylor is doing differently these days is saying a prayer each night, thanking God for saving his life – a life that is growing. His wife is pregnant with their second child, another son, due in September.
“It really makes you appreciate how valuable life is, how precious a gift it is, and it helps you appreciate it for what it is and helps you realize how quickly it can be taken away from you,” he said.
Wife: Being a police officer is what he does
John Taylor returned to work at the end of January 2011, taking on light duties and desk work, and was later promoted to detective, a job his wife fully supports.
“It’s who he is, it’s always been,” Kristen Taylor said. “He was a police officer before I met him, so it’s what he does … He wouldn’t be the same person if he wasn’t working in law enforcement.”
While John Taylor never had any hesitation about returning to the job he loves, he was concerned about his injuries. A bullet damaged bones and nerves in his left hand, requiring doctors to install plates and screws. He still has 20 percent disability in his wrist, which constantly aches. However, his shooting has improved.
“I can shoot better than before, just because of all the range time I put in training to re-qualify,” he said.
He also has side-effects from the bullet that entered his neck and left behind shrapnel, which his son calls daddy’s “boo-boo.” When he shaves his neck, he can still feel the pieces of metal.
“I’ve constantly got different pieces coming out all the time. I had one rather large piece, fairly painful that came out … like probably the worst splinter you’ve ever had,” he said, smiling.
Another bullet ricocheted inside his stomach, cutting through both intestines, eventually landing between his heart and spine – where is still rests.
“It was more dangerous for them to try to go in and try to surgically remove it than just repair the damage that had been done and leaving it in place. So, that one is still there,” he said.
In the meantime, John Taylor and his wife say they try not to worry about the danger of his job and the what-ifs. Instead, they focus on their family and not taking life for granted.
“In the morning, I give him a kiss goodbye, tell him to have a good day and be careful and wait for him to come home in the afternoon,” Kristen Taylor said.
“It’s always in the back of your head, in the back of your mind it could happen,” John Taylor added. “I feel most law enforcement officers have the same heart – they love their families, they love their communities, they love this country, and it’s a sacrifice, but it’s one most of them are ready to take … I don’t ever want to come that close again, but somebody needs to do it.”