Local News

Sheriff: Wounded Harnett deputy lucky to be alive

Posted April 16, 2018 3:50 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:12 a.m. EDT

— A Harnett County deputy has a long road ahead of him as he recovers from a gunshot to his face over the weekend, Sheriff Wayne Coats said Monday.

Cpl. Eric Cook had located a teen who had been reported missing on Friday when the teen opened fire on him Saturday night near H.M. Cagle Drive in Cameron.

"The suspect pushed him, and the next thing you know, he said he heard a gunshot and then the stinging in the face," Coats said Monday. "The good Lord was guiding that bullet through this young man’s face, because it could have easily hit a tooth and ricocheted and went up through his brain. He is just a very lucky man."

Cook, 36, also was shot in the chest, but his protective vest stopped that bullet, the sheriff said. The deputy was able to get off a couple shots of his own during the incident, but he didn't hit the teen suspect.

"We have to make split-second decisions every day, and as quick as this went down, that officer didn’t have a chance," Coats said.

Mario Alexander Garza III, 16, made his first court appearance on Monday morning on charges of attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and assault on a law enforcement officer. He was ordered held under a $1.5 million bond.

"It is obvious, in my opinion, he meant to kill this officer," Coats said.

Although Garza's father previously reported a missing gun, authorities said there was no indication that Garza would be armed when Cook approached him. Investigators are still trying to determine if the gun used in the shooting belongs to the father.

Garza two months ago was charged with taking a pocketknife to Overhills High School, the sheriff said.

Co-workers gathered around the flag outside the Harnett County Sheriff's Office on Monday to support one another and Cook's family.

"We need everybody to be praying for this family and this officer," Coats said.

When Cook isn't on duty with the sheriff's office, he serves as a captain with Benhaven Fire & Rescue. The department answered the emergency call Saturday night when he was shot.

"Some of our crews had to respond to the incident, so they rendered care to him and transported him to the hospital," Fire Chief Andy Thomas said. "It is overwhelming at times."

Cook was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville and was then airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

"He has multiple surgeries to come," Coats said. "He has some issues with damage to his face, which you can understand, being shot in the face with a .45, there is all types of damage."

Cook also shattered his right ankle in the incident, the sheriff said.