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Back on the beat: Officers hurt in wreck continue road to recovery

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, September 9, 2017
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Wise County Sheriff’s Investigators Mike Neagle and James Mayo were working a narcotics investigation Dec. 8 of last year when their suspect decided to speed off rather than stop.

That set off a chain of events that included a serious wreck, a long recovery and, coming up on Monday, an award for Neagle from the governor.

James Mayo and Mike Neagle. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

WRECK

The two investigators have 40 years of experience between them, but their experience had never involved being in a wreck on the job.

The suspect they were chasing, David Nickolas Armstrong of Bridgeport, had been out of prison about six months after serving a sentence for a drug charge, and Mayo said a multiple agency investigation revealed Armstrong was once again in possession of narcotics.

They located Armstrong and attempted to make a traffic stop, but Armstrong sped down U.S. 81/287 toward Decatur with the investigators in pursuit.

By the time the chase reached Decatur, several different law enforcement agencies had joined the pursuit, and in an instant, the pickup Neagle and Mayo were in struck another police vehicle and crashed.

The truck came to rest on its side in the southbound shoulder, with Neagle falling on top of his partner.

“As soon as we came to a stop, we’re laying there, and we start asking each other, ‘Are you OK?’ You start checking on each other. We were asking, ‘Where are we at?’ You want to make sure you’re not in the roadway where you might get hit again,” Neagle said.

Both were taken to Wise Health System in Decatur.

“I remember being in the back of the ambulance, and I was telling them I needed some water,” Mayo said. “They said, ‘Water?’ I said, ‘I’ve got glass all inside of my mouth and need to rinse out the glass.'”

Mayo sustained injuries to his shoulder and back. He was released from the hospital that day.

But Neagle’s injuries included a fracture in his C-6 and C-7 vertebrae in his neck, so he was flown to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

Mayo said he thinks the bulletproof vests the two were wearing might have prevented them from being more seriously injured.

In the meantime, Armstrong had driven into Decatur where he ran from his car and, after a brief foot chase, was arrested. Armstrong was indicted on a felony charge of evading arrest with a vehicle in February and remains in the Wise County Jail awaiting trial.

Neagle said he doesn’t fault the other vehicle involved in the wreck since the officer was simply doing his job.

“It’s one of those deals, it was just something that happened,” he said. “The person you blame is the bad guy we were trying to apprehend. Everyone was doing their job that day. The person at fault is the person we were trying to apprehend that day.”

Crash Scene

CRASH SCENE – Wise County Sheriff’s Office Investigators Mike Neagle and James Mayo had to be extricated out of their truck following a crash last December on U.S. 81/287 in Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

RECOVERY

The injuries sustained from the wreck would keep both men from resuming their full duties for several months.

With several new investigators in the fold, having two experienced investigators gone would present challenges, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said.

“Those two guys represent a lot of investigative experience, and with the transition we’ve had on personnel and having the new investigators coming in, we missed them a lot because we need folks with that type of experience to lead the others of less experience,” he said.

“That’s a lot of experience you hate to have riding the pine.”

Mayo was able to return to work shortly after the accident, but he was restricted to “light duty” through April.

“I was stuck to this office – a lot of clerical work,” he said.

Due to the seriousness of his injuries, Neagle’s return to work would take much longer – about eight months.

He returned to work in July, but he remains on light duty, most likely for the rest of the year.

Like Mayo, Neagle said he would prefer to be out in the field, but at least he is now able to help the new investigators.

“Even though I’m stuck in the office, I’m trying to guide them in the right direction,” he said. “These guys will give me a hard time. They’ll go out and do something, and they’ll Facetime me saying here’s what we’re doing.”

Neagle is one of five resident deputies who serve the city of Chico. Since he has not been able to return to his patrol duties in that role, the other deputies have taken on extra shifts while Neagle recovers.

Mayo also serves as a resident deputy for the city of Aurora, but like Neagle, he has not been able to return to that role due to his recovery from injuries.

“It’s constant doctor’s appointments,” he said.

Neagle is still going to physical therapy regularly. He said he and Mayo often wonder if they will ever reach a point where they won’t feel the aches and pains.

Beginning of a Long Journey

BEGINNING OF A LONG JOURNEY – Investigator Mike Neagle is loaded into an ambulance at the scene of last December’s crash. He was later flown to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth with broken vertebrae in his neck. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT

One thing that has given both officers comfort since the day of the wreck has been the support they have received from a number of different places: hospital staff, the county, other law enforcement agencies, community members, friends and family, just to name a few.

Neagle recalls the story his wife, Christine (who he also credits with tremendous support during his recovery), told him about arriving at JPS on the day of the wreck.

“When she got there, the hospital police officers found her and directed her (where to go),” he said. “There was a huge conference room, and she said it was packed with officers: Fort Worth, Tarrant County, hospital officers, officers from everywhere in uniform. It was just amazing, she said. They told her they were there to support her and the family with anything they needed.”

In fact, so many officers were in the room her first reaction was wondering if something bad had happened during her husband’s helicopter ride to the hospital.

The officers stayed with Neagle’s family throughout the day and night.

After about a week in the hospital, Neagle was able to go home to Chico. The support continued with community members bringing meals and helping out in any way they could.

Even school children found a way to brighten Neagle’s day.

“Something that really touched us is we got a large envelope from the Chico third graders,” he said. “A class made cards, personalized handmade cards, so that was pretty cool. I’m from Chico. That’s where my kids went to school. It was really pretty cool to get that from those third grade kids.”

AWARD

Earlier this year, Akin submitted Neagle as a candidate for the Star of Texas Award.

Each September, the Criminal Justice Division of the Office of Texas Governor presents medals to selected honorees and family members of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency first responders who are killed or seriously injured in the line of duty.

About a month ago, Neagle received a letter saying he had been chosen to receive the honor.

“It’s kind of a rough way to get an award,” Neagle said.

He and his family, along with friends and sheriff’s office administrators, will be in Austin on Monday to accept the award at the state Capitol.

The award is nice, but Neagle seems to be just as happy about resuming his work at the sheriff’s office alongside his partner.

“I’m glad we’re back. I enjoy my job,” he said. “I like what I do. I can’t think of doing anything else.”

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