A bullet dangles from a chain looped around the neck of Sgt. David White.
Partially discolored from ripping through the flesh of his shoulders and back, it reminds 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.
Alive to smell the fragrance of a lilac bush or to feel the rush of wind while cruising the highway on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Alive to listen to birds chirping and to tell his wife and daughter, “I love you.”
Five months ago, while being rushed 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. A tourniquet was wrapped around his left arm and a combat dressing plugged a hole in his stomach.
On that ride, while he prayed silently, the world started to fade out before arriving at the hospital. At that moment, he didn’t expect to live out the scene that unfolded at his home recently, where he sat 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.
The midnight shift of July 9 started out like countless others.
About 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.
Before heading out with his partner, White smoked a cigarette in the parking lot. Then his 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.
Arriving on the scene, a relative of Probst 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!”
Moments elapsed before White was jarred by the sound of a motorcycle revving inside the garage. Probst was on it before it crashed to the garage floor. The engine silenced. The shotgun dropped.
White paced cautiously into the darkened garage. Foremost in his mind was the safety of Probst’s family members, 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.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. 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 into 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.
Sometimes there were too many visitors, he said, forcing people to wait outside the hospital room. Visitors had to be restricted at one point to ensure he could rest.
Support from Uniontown residents, churches and the surrounding communities of Hartville, Springfield Township, Lake Township and Green also was tremendous, Britt said.
“I didn’t really know if he would make it but I know he’s a strong individual, and he’s stubborn,” he said. “And if anybody was going to survive that it was going to be Dave.”
Florida. Pennsylvania. Michigan. New York. South Dakota. Cards and religious and heartfelt sentiments poured in from across the country.
A 13-year-old boy in Las Vegas was thinking of him. So was a deacon in Georgia. Also sent were a football and baseballs signed by members of the Lake High School football and baseball teams. Among the cards and items were religious books, including “God’s Word: Real Hope” and “Devotions for COPS and the people they serve.”
The deluge of attention was overwhelming to the former construction worker, a man with a strong disposition who is at ease in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and speaks candidly about his ordeal. He was unaccustomed to publicity, working in a community usually patrolled by two officers.
“As police officers, we don’t realize how many people really care because we usually see the bad; we don’t usually see the good,” White said.