From patrol car to patient: Va. State Trooper relives chase and crash
Senior Trooper Jamie Lawson speaks out for the first time
From his therapy room in Atlanta's Shepherd Center, Virginia State Police Senior Trooper Jamie Lawson wants to send a message -- take nothing for granted.
"When you leave home in the morning, you never know,” says Trooper Jamie Lawson. “When I left home that morning I never thought this would happen to me."
He's talking about April 9, 2013, the day his life changed forever.
Lawson was working a checkpoint in Scott County, Virginia when driver Jason Byrnes approached. As he got closer, Byrnes allegedly turned his car around. Lawson turned on his blue lights and gave chase.
"I thought where I got up on him so quick, he would stop, but he just kept going," says Lawson.
The chase covered 17 miles with speeds between 70 and 130 miles per hour, winding through Scott County, Weber City, and Gate City. Click here to read the original story about it.
Officers several more departments joined in trying to stop Byrnes. "I fell in behind the trooper that was chasing him he came through Gate City very fast right through the town,” says Scott County, Virginia Sheriff John Puckett. “He came out at Daniel Boone and was doing over 100 miles per hour.”
Because of the speed and fear for other drivers, Trooper Lawson says he'd planned to stop the chase if Byrnes crossed into Tennessee.
Investigators say Byrnes' Kia van rammed Lawson's cruiser at least five times and also hit several other patrol cars during the chase.
Lawson's supervisor gave him permission to crash into Byrnes’ vehicle to stop the chase.
It was a moment that changed his life. "My car went to the left from the contact with his vehicle. I had enough time to realize I had to hit the truck instead of the tree,” Lawson says while describing the impact. “I knew the truck would give me some kind of cushion and the tree wouldn't. I jerked the steering wheel as hard as I could to the left. At that point I said 'oh God,' crossed my arms, and the impact occurred. I can't tell you anything else from there, I don't remember."
The next few days remain a blur for Trooper Jamie Lawson. He vaguely remembers talking to his wife in the emergency room at Holston Valley Medical Center. "I talked to my two daughters. I had double vision. I told them I love you both but I can't handle four of you," Lawson jokes.
After undergoing surgery and more than a week in the hospital, he was transferred from Kingsport to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. That hospital specializes in treating patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.
Lawson is primarily confined to wheelchair after a spinal cord injury left him unable to use his left leg and his left hand is numb.
Doctor Anna Elmers says it's Lawson's sense of humor and positive attitude is helping his recovery. "He has been a great patient to deal with” says Elmers. “He is so motivated; he has had great family and friend support, co-workers offering to come down and be with him."
Right now Lawson can't walk on his own, but a wireless device stimulates muscles in his leg to help him regain his strength.
There is progress, but Doctor Elmers tells us it is too early to know just how much progress he will make.
It may be slow right now, but Lawson says he is determined to return home to his family and to the life as he knew it.
That includes putting a trooper's uniform on again. "I'll need a little help, but eventually I will walk on my own," says Lawson
Lawson is a at a loss for words when the name Jason Byrnes comes up. "Whatever made him decide to do that I don't know, but I'm not angry, I don't know the exact word, but I'd like to know why," says Lawson
It's a question that, for now, remains unanswered.
Friends and co-workers are taking turns staying with Lawson for several days at a time while he's undergoing therapy so his wife can return home to work and to stay with their 18-month-old son.
As for Jason Byrnes, he's charged with attempted capital murder and felony evading police.
Click here for photos of the scene of the chase and accident.
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