San Marcos police, community raising money for officer’s recovery after losing leg

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An employee of Hays Co. Bar-B-Que loads up an order on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 in front of a poster noting the fundraiser happening Thursday night. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — A barbecue fundraiser Thursday evening benefits a San Marcos police officer who lost her leg when a driver hit her on the side of Interstate 35 in May.

Officer Claudia Cormier has been recovering in the hospital ever since, SMPD Chief Chase Stapp told KXAN Wednesday.

“She’s been through probably in the neighborhood of 15-20 surgeries by now,” Stapp said, “and they’re happening every two to three days.”

A portion of sales at Hays Co. Bar-B-Que Thursday evening will go to Cormier’s recovery. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the restaurant’s event space, silent and live auctions will raise money as well. Items up for auction include gift baskets put together by officers, sports memorabilia, and guitars signed by music legends like George Strait.

A separate motorcycle ride fundraiser raised $11,000 for the injured officer.

The events are testaments to the community of officers and others that rally behind the department during painful times, Stapp said. It was “surreal” getting the call about Cormier, and it took a couple hours before he learned she’d even survive.

“An injury that traumatic, you just don’t know until the surgeon comes out and tells you that,” he said. “Longest two hours you can imagine.”

Police arrested Neil Sheehan, accusing him of driving drunk and not slowing down or changing lanes while he tried to pass Cormier, who had gotten out of her cruiser to move debris off the highway.

“We know that the job that we do is a very dangerous job, but there are things we can do to limit that danger,” Stapp said. “And we need the public’s help in doing that.”

An operation by the Austin Police Department this week highlighted just how many people disobey the state’s Move Over law. It requires drivers to move out of the lane closest to a stopped emergency vehicle or slow down to 20 mph below the speed limit.

“There’s zero compliance, pretty much,” said APD Detective Patrick Oborski.

Part of the department’s highway enforcement command, he sat in an unmarked police cruiser Wednesday on the side of I-35, using a radar gun to clock drivers passing a tow truck stopped on the shoulder with its lights flashing.

When a driver failed to move over or slow down to the required 50 mph, he radioed details of the car to 17 officers waiting to pull over violators, “and I’m not stopping for anything less than 70 [mph] because I don’t have [enough] units.”

Officers were constantly pulling people over, with little to no time in between radio calls. Over the course of about six hours, APD pulled over and issued warnings to 238 drivers for violating the Move Over law. “We just can’t keep up with it,” Oborski said. “I mean, if I had 100 officers, I still couldn’t keep up with it.”

Two drivers also got citations for breaking 90 mph in the lane closest to the tow truck. “Even if there wasn’t a tow truck, even if it was just somebody’s on the side of the road, changing a tire, I’d think people would either slow down or move over for them, but they just don’t.”

APD has done the same operation with a police car stopped on the shoulder, and there’s little difference in the number of violators.

The driver’s alleged failure to change lanes in San Marcos on May 18 was a second major blow to SMPD in a year and a half. Officer Kenneth Copeland was shot and killed in ambush-style shooting at the end of 2017. Hays Co. Bar-B-Que, just up the road from police headquarters, rallied for his family as well, and is still selling bracelets in his honor to raise money.

“We’ve had our share of tragedy here at San Marcos PD,” Stapp said, “and it certainly didn’t seem like our number should have come up again.”

Now that Cormier’s recovering, he visits her and her husband — also a San Marcos officer who responded to the crash involving his wife — a couple times a week. “She knows that we’ve got her back.”

It’ll still likely take a few weeks before Cormier is out of the hospital, and then she’ll need rehabilitation to adjust to her new circumstances. But she’s not backing down from the challenge, telling her boss she plans to come back to the force.

“Knowing Claudia the way I do, I think her future’s going to be bright,” Stapp said. “She’s a fighter, she’s strong, she’s determined, and so we’re all excited to see just exactly how her recovery’s going to go.”

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