Casper officers struggle to find normality after shooting
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Before four bullets tore up his insides, before his heart stopped beating on a hospital bed, before his shooting became the story of his adopted town, Officer Jacob Carlson stopped in an east Casper parking lot to share lunch with a friend.
He pulled his Casper Police Department cruiser into the parking lot, and a second squad car driven by Officer Randi Garrett arrived.
The two cops hung out at work and off the job. They and their closest friends from the force held a standing game night on Fridays at Carlson’s home. They’d spend hours playing Cards Against Humanity, What Do You Meme and Pit. Trash talk was a constant, Carlson’s sharp wit delivered in a gentle voice.
On May 6, Carlson and Garrett were back on the street for their first day shift after four nights on and three days off. Garrett didn’t pack a lunch, so she stopped in the Taco Time drive-thru and rode to the Hobby Lobby parking lot about a mile away.
As spring days go, it was the platonic ideal. The sun was out. The temperature would peak at 77. Garrett wore short sleeves.
After Patrol Team Four’s pre-dawn briefing, Carlson headed to area two, which begins by the parking lot where they ate. Garrett, who typically patrolled area two with Carlson, was instead tasked with area one, which stretches across the east side of town from Country Club Road to Hat Six Road.
When five kids rode their bikes around the officers’ patrol cars, Garrett and Carlson got out of their cruisers. The officers showed the cars to the kids, turned on the lights and took photos. In one of the images, Garrett stands alongside her vehicle, smiling with the children, who still wear their bike helmets.
Eventually, the kids moved on, as did Carlson. He had a vehicle theft report to take.
Carlson had just turned in paperwork to dispatch when a juvenile problem call crackled over the radio. Garrett had taken more calls than him that day and the incident was in his patrol area, though it was near the dividing line between the two.
While they drove separately to the scene, the two cops exchanged instant messages on their patrol cars’ mounted laptops. Although Garrett would be first to arrive at an apparent low-stakes call — kids driving a car around the lot — Carlson wanted to take it. It was only fair, he figured. She’d done more work that day.
If nothing else, he’d do the paperwork, he told Garrett.
Garrett arrived at the scene alone and pulled into the paved parking lot sandwiched between a park and Fairdale Avenue. A line of town homes sits east of the lot. To the south is the former home of the Star Lane Center.
North of the paved lot, the land slopes down to a dirt patch bordered farther north by Farnum Street and beyond that a strip mall. A white 2011 Nissan Altima driven by a 3-year-old circled in the dirt. Another child and a 38-year-old man were also inside the car.
Garrett remembers parking and deciding to walk down the hill, unsure if her patrol car would be able to squeeze through a gap in the curb.
The man, later identified as David P. Wolosin, exited the car and pulled out his cellphone.
Until recently, he had lived in a fifth-wheel camper in Clovis, a city of about 40,000 in Curry County, New Mexico, bordered by Cannon Air Force Base.
Of the five people at the lot that afternoon, one is dead, one has a fragmented memory of the day, and two are children whose father did not return calls seeking comment for the story. The fifth is Garrett.
While Wolosin fumbled with his phone, Garrett asked him his name. He stood just out of arm’s reach. She looked him up and down but didn’t see the outline of a gun in his baggy pants.
She told him that although allowing the children to drive is technically a crime, she said she just wanted to run his information through police computers and send him on his way.
Wolosin made a phone call. It was to a family member who is the father of the children in the vehicle, though Garrett didn’t know that at the time. She asked Wolosin for identifying information. He refused to answer.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” she remembers Wolosin saying repeatedly. “Nothing’s wrong here.”
He was agitated and fidgety.
“OK, we’re going to have a problem here,” she thought.
Two minutes had passed and Garrett hadn’t made any progress. “Step it up,” she said into the radio. The dispatcher told her Carlson was arriving.
As the second officer walked down the hill, Garrett heard Wolosin speak into the phone.
“They’re probably gonna shoot me,” he said. “You need to get here.”
Carlson remembers very little from that day. He doesn’t remember driving to the call, pulling into the paved lot or parking his car next to Garrett’s.
He doesn’t recall walking down the hill.
With Carlson on scene, Garrett went to check on the two children in the car. She looked in the window. Behind her, Carlson and Wolosin’s voices began to rise.
Carlson saw Wolosin edge away, as if he were about to take off. Carlson reached for Wolosin’s arm, wanting to cuff him and then figure out his identity.
Garrett, a few steps behind Carlson, took chase. “OK, we’re going hands on,” she thought.
Garrett came around the corner of the car, then heard gunshots and Carlson screaming.
Wolosin had stepped back and pulled a pistol from a holster in his right pocket as Carlson attempted to grab him. Wolosin fired as he backpedaled. Carlson drew his own weapon as he retreated.
“This is not happening,” Garrett thought. “This is just a terrible dream.”
Carlson fell to the ground.
As he dropped, Carlson shot Wolosin in the left thigh. Wolosin scrambled across the lot and came to rest on his left side, propping himself on one elbow, his sandaled feet pointing toward the car. He kept firing. Authorities later found eight bullets lodged in the Nissan.
The officers scrambled for cover behind the wheels of the car.
The two officers remained hidden behind the car’s wheels while Wolosin lay semi-supine. His high-pressure bullets closed the 20 feet separating him from the police, the car and the two children inside even more rapidly than a typical 9 mm round. Carlson, already carrying a bullet in his belly and two more in his vest, scrambled to the front wheel of the car but Garrett shooed him away.
As Wolosin aimed his Glock at Garrett, he tried shooting under the car, the bullets kicking up dirt. He hit the front door twice and the door frame two times more. The children inside screamed, covering their ears.
Carlson reached briefly over the trunk, fired and ducked down.
“I want my mommy,” a child said. “I want my mommy.”
Bullets from Wolosin’s gun struck the car again and again. Another made its way through the trunk.
Carlson stood and raised his pistol — a 9 mm Smith and Wesson M&P that he had chosen for how the grip fit his hand. It didn’t fire. He fell behind the wheel. The cop looked at his gun, assuming debris had jammed it.
“I hate Smith and Wesson,” he thought.
The slide was still locked back. Carlson looked into the gun’s chamber. Everything looked fine. Tunnel vision closed in as he dropped a magazine, trying to make his gun operational again.
It would not fire another shot. One of Wolosin’s bullets had hit Carlson’s gun as it ejected a spent round.
Garrett looked around the Nissan’s front bumper. Wolosin fumbled with his gun, perhaps changing magazines. She stood, fired once, and hit him in the chest. The 9 mm round tore through Wolosin’s heart, esophagus and left lung. It came to rest in the muscles of his back.
Officer Matthew Bowman pulled into the parking lot, having abandoned a traffic stop. He pulled a rifle from the passenger’s seat of his patrol car and told the children’s father — now on scene — to remain in the paved parking lot. He ran down the hill.
Bowman walked gingerly around the car’s front bumper while Garrett took a route past the Nissan’s tail lights.
The two cops stood over Wolosin’s motionless body.
“OK, well, he’s dead,” Garrett thought. “He’s not breathing anymore.”
In the operating room, three surgeons crowded around the cop’s body. Carlson’s heart stopped again. Bowe reached into his chest, a hand on each side of the cop’s heart. The doctor moved his hands like a bellows, manually compressing Carlson’s heart and forcing blood to the officer’s brain. It was an inefficient use of the body’s engine but better than nothing.
They injected more adrenaline into Carlson’s heart and it began to beat again.
When a patient remains in the operating room for too long, his condition can spiral while doctors work to address immediate medical issues. The body undergoes immense stress with every surgery, and a patient’s condition can go from bad to worse from the stress alone.
Carlson needed to get out of the operating room and into intensive care, but first surgeons needed to staple his gut closed and repair the artery that was pouring blood into his abdomen.
A bullet had glanced off the lower back of Carlson’s vest and entered into his buttocks. It shattered his pelvis and either the round itself or broken pieces of the pelvic bone had severed his external iliac artery. The bullet tore across his bowels and punctured them in four places. It stopped on the far side of his stomach.
The external iliac artery carries blood from the heart to the leg. If doctors did not repair the damage to the vessel, every time Carlson’s heartbeat, he would bleed internally until he could bleed no more.
A surgeon clamped the artery above the wound. He took a small plastic tube and used it as a temporary replacement for the torn portion of the blood vessel.
The surgeons temporarily closed the wounds to Carlson’s intestinal tract and sent him to the ICU.
He continued to bleed.
Later that day, doctors reopened Carlson’s abdomen and stuffed a clotting gauze into his pelvis. He continued to receive blood transfusions. Medical staff connected a vacuum to his wound to draw out any blood that made it past the gauze.
His heart stopped again. Bowe worked his heart like a bellows again. Carlson went back to the ICU. Bowe slept in the hospital staff room.
Carlson developed pneumonia. His liver quit working. His kidneys were on the brink of failure.
Three days after the shootout, as Carlson languished in a hospital bed, Casper police detective and chaplain Adrian White led 500 people in a prayer for the wounded officer in a park across the street from Wyoming Medical Center.
Cops, firefighters and paramedics stood alongside private citizens and city officials. The crowd waved, blue ribbons gripped in their hands, to Carlson’s family members standing near a window. They returned the greeting.
The rally was only one reflection of a community’s passion for the injured cop. In the first few days after the shooting, United Blood Services received a flood of donations. On that Wednesday alone, the clinic took in 48 units of blood.
By Friday, Carlson’s liver had not recovered. Every lab run on his liver function came back worse. If his liver failed, he would likely die.
While Carlson’s life hung in the balance, his condition swinging wildly from day to day, the Casper Police Department issued periodic updates on the cop’s medical status via social media. Only the good news made it to the agency’s Facebook feed.
Carlson woke in late May, his chest and abdomen covered with staples and stitches, remnants of the lifesaving operations he had underwent. His liver function had returned.
The cop’s mind remained drowsy from the pain medication coursing through the tubes still connected to his body, paranoid from a dream he’d been kidnapped and tortured by Kanye West with the assistance of police officers. He was surrounded by people he was sure had been torturing him.
Even his wife looked untrustworthy. He told her as much in a high-pitched voice, modulated by the tubes recently removed from his throat.
Thus began his conscious recovery.
On July 23, District Attorney Michael Blonigen sent a letter to the officers’ attorney, DCI and the chief of police stating he would not charge either cop with a crime related to Wolosin’s death.
A week later, McPheeters decorated the two officers with medals of valor and awarded a Purple Heart to Carlson in a Monday night event attended by 1,000 people at David Street Station. The chief said through a microphone that Carlson’s survival was miraculous. He characterized Garrett as acting “selflessly and at great peril to (her) life.”
Carlson stepped to the microphone to address the crowd. He choked up and stopped. People began to call out.
“We love you, Jake.”
The police department’s public relations channels then went quiet. The press releases, Facebook posts and public events dried up.
Carlson and Garrett continued to recover quietly, far from the public eye.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com