FARMINGTON, CT (WFSB) – His first instinct after being slammed against his own cruiser by a suspect in a stolen car was asking himself if he could move.

Officer James O'Donnell

Officer James O'Donnell, Farmington police.

Farmington police officer James O’Donnell nearly died back in September. Now, more than a month after the incident, he’s back home.

He gave Channel 3 an exclusive look into his life and his recovery.

O’Donnell is mobile.

This progress is astounding after watching what happened to him just five weeks ago.

On the morning of Sept. 20, O’Donnell was struck by a stolen car. Police said it was driven by a man stealing catalytic converters.

It’s a call that O’Donnell has been to a lot.

“Too many to count, but it’s rare that we get them in the act,” he said.

The suspect, 32-year-old Pedro Acevedo, was boxed in, but according to dash cam footage, he chose to slam into O’Donnell in an attempt to flee.

“His vehicle started moving forward and it then squished me, pinned me, in between his car and my car as his car was driving away,” O’Donnell said.

Doctors said O’Donnell’s pelvis was crushed.

“I attempted to move myself around, move my leg. I tried to crawl, and I couldn’t,” he said.

O’Donnell said he went through a mental checklist.

“Do I feel anything different? Do I feel anything different that I need to be concerned of? Is there any bleeding going on?” he asked himself.

He said the pain really kicked in when he was lifted onto a stretcher.

“That was one of the most painful parts of that night,” O’Donnell recalled. “That’s when I found out it was my pelvis.”

His wife Kris joined him at the hospital, and it was during that part of the interview where Channel 3 got to see O’Donnell’s perspective and outlook on life. For him, a crushed pelvis was a scenario he could live with.

“We were actually happy that it was just broken bones in that sense,” O’Donnell said.

Even though he was inches from being paralyzed or worse, O’Donnell still found an opportunity to look on the bright side.

“I started laughing and it was painful to laugh and then I was laughing because of the pain, it was a bad combination,” he said.

The next four weeks would be spent at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford in rehab. Each week saw major progress.

“I wasn’t able to move my legs,” O’Donnell said. “They had to assist me. At the end of the week, I was able to move myself across a board into a wheelchair. By the end of the next week, I was able to use a walker to stand up.”

Two weeks ago, O’Donnell was released from Gaylord and sent home to be with Kris and their two young children, Andrew and Saoirse.

It was sooner than anyone expected.

“It’s been a little bit of a learning curve getting back into the house, having to use a wheelchair and also the walker,” O’Donnell said.

There’s a $16,000 ramp, a wheelchair for especially painful days, but no chair lift going up the stairs. That’s because there was a backlog, but also because O’Donnell has the upper body strength to get to the top on his own.

“Really no pain at all in my hips,” he explained. “My foot is still hurting, but other than that, it’s just discomfort from what’s occurred.”

O’Donnell said he can laugh as he reflects on “what’s occurred,” but the fact is that one man’s alleged desire to steal a car part and then flee is what has him in this situation.

“It’s my job,” he said. “I can’t say one way or the other why my reaction is the way it is, but I just always look at life with a positive attitude.”

Doctors said if the rehab continues at this pace, O’Donnell should be 100 percent back to normal in 6 months.

He said he has every intention to return to the force.

James and Kris focus on the rehab, but they’re also demanding people pay attention to the increase in quality-of-life crimes that have plagued Connecticut’s suburbs and cities since the pandemic started.

“It sadly takes these huge events that make people actually see how dangerous this job can be and what’s going on,” O’Donnell said.

Through social media, Kris, has publicly called out legislators who voted for the police accountability bill.

The O’Donnell’s say they agree with the majority of the bill.

“I’m a firm believer that social services will help in some aspect especially with the youth, especially after all this covid ordeal with the mental health that’s been going on,” O’Donnell said.

However, O’Donnell believes that qualified immunity should have stayed.

Without it, officers who use force can be open to lawsuits in civil court.

This is something Kris expressed in a previous interview with Channel 3.

“I would bet my life that my husband did not shoot because we would have lost our house,” she said.

O’Donnell raised his gun in this dash cam video, and Channel 3 asked if he thought about shooting, but he wanted to wait to get approval from the department before getting into those details.

“I’ve moved on from the case, get myself better and get myself moving,” he said.

Officer O’Donnell says what happened to him is just a blip the in big picture. He’s focused on the future, and focused on progressing, but he’s hoping the state can progress along with him to ensure these crimes aren’t running rampant when he returns to the force.

“It will remain that way until legislation is changed to allow the judges to impose stricter sentences, stricter conditions of their release,” he said.

The O’Donnell’s say they never intended to be the face of the movement to revise the accountability law, but through this incident, they say they had no choice. Neither of them felt at the beginning this was going to be a political issue, but after talking with local leaders they want it to be known that they are taking sides and will be voting Republican on Tuesday.

Channel 3 will have more with O’Donnell at 11 p.m.

Copyright 2021 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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