PBA Member tells compelling story and offers heartfelt thanks to those who saved his life and helped him return to duty

Chad in hospital bed

My name is Chad Penland. I work for the Cary Police Department, assigned to the Traffic Safety Team Motorcycle Unit and I am a motorcycle crash survivor.

On July 15th, 2011, my day started out like any other day on the job as a police officer. However, before this work day would come to a close, my way of life as I had known it for 32 years would be changed forever. On this date, at 4:57 pm, I was involved in an on duty motorcycle crash with a full size pick-up truck. As I was proceeding through an intersection in pursuit of a violator, with my emergency equipment on, the driver of the vehicle turned left in front of me at the intersection of Morrisville Carpenter Rd and NC Hwy 55. I collided with the vehicle and was thrown from my bike. I received major injuries as a result of the collision. Some of those injuries were near fatal. A nurse who was traveling the same route witnessed the accident and immediately came to my aid. She opened my obstructed airway and provided word of comfort until EMS arrived. I remember nothing of the events of that day from the time the accident occurred. My mind ‘woke up’ again four days later when I found myself in Duke University Medical Center. It was only then that I learned I had been involved in a crash and had come within mere minutes of dying on the highway. Over the next twelve days, I underwent numerous surgeries to repair my broken jaw, broken arm and the de-gloving injury received to my right arm.

Before leaving the hospital I was told of the seriousness of my injuries by some of the medical doctors that were treating me. Some of them were also there the day I came into the emergency room by way of ambulance. On the day of the accident my injuries were so severe they immediately called for Duke’s ‘Life Flight’ helicopter to transport me. This plan was changed, however, when it was realized that there was no time to spare. The decision was made to transport me by ambulance. I also learned that upon my arrival to Duke that I was still conscious and asked questions about the seriousness of my injuries. I also wanted to know if I was going to die. According to these doctors, I had about a 90% mortality rate and they were concerned about me living through the night. The force of the collision and the trauma exerted upon my body was nearly equal to me being dropped off a three story building. One doctor told me that had it not been for the nurse that came to my aid that I would have died in less than three minutes. I would have drowned in my own blood due to the severity of my broken jaw and facial injuries. He said he hoped one day I got to meet the woman who was now known as the ‘Angel in Orange’ for the orange shirt she was wearing on the day she saved my life.

Two weeks after being discharged from the hospital, I met the woman who had saved my life that day as I lay dying on the highway. Her name is Jessica Elliott and the events that brought her to me that day are amazing and a true testament to the work of our Lord and Savior. Jessica had left her home in Lynchburg, Virginia on that day as she headed to her brothers home in Cary. Before this day, she had never taken the route that she took on Highway 55. On the day of my accident, she decided to take Highway 55 to try and avoid some of the congestion on I-40. She ended up two cars behind me as the collision in the intersection occurred. She was traveling with her two year old daughter in the vehicle when she left her vehicle to come to my side. By all accounts, her actions saved my life. Even more ironic is the fact that when Jessica was seven years old her dad saved a man’s life that was injured in a motorcycle accident. He left Jessica in his vehicle that day as he went to save that individuals life as well. It is also incredible to note that Jessica’s dad retired as a Virginia State Trooper.

Jessica and I continue to keep in touch and have developed a bond that can’t be broken. Our families are now close and have been woven together as one. Jessica has met many in my police family as well and has attended two ceremonies where our story has been told. I will always be grateful to Jessica because without her I wouldn’t be here to be part of this incredible story.
There are others…so many others that I want to thank. First and foremost, I want to thank the Lord above for guiding the events that day so that I could be here to contribute another day. I want to thank the people who were in the intersection of Morrisville Carpenter Rd and NC Highway 55 that day. These people literally took the shirts off of their backs and ripped them into rags to try and control and stop my bleeding. I want to thank the fifty plus police officers from Cary, Apex, Morrisville, Holly Springs, Wake County Sheriff’s Office, and the NC State Highway Patrol who came to assist that day. I want to thank John Barielle, Christian Hennick and Kevin Pollock who were working with Cary EMS and responded to the scene that day. They were tireless in their efforts as they worked on me all the way to Duke University Medical Center. I want to thank the man I know only by the nickname of ‘Duck’. ‘Duck’ works for the Morrisville Fire Department and drove the EMS unit to the hospital while they attended to me in the back. All of these professionals assured me when they came to see me a few weeks later that my death was never an option for them in the back of that ambulance. I want to thank the of medical doctors at Duke who stayed until 2am the next morning operating on me and doing all they could to save my life.

I want to thank the motor units for the Raleigh Police Department, Morrisville Police Department, UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Police and the NC State Highway Patrol who came to see me on a regular basis and to check on my family. I want to thank everyone in the Cary Police Department who filled the hospital for the entire time I was there and kept reassuring my family that I was strong and a fighter and that everything was going to be ok. I want to thank Lieutenant Tracey Barker, commander of the Traffic Safety Team of the Cary Police Department. Lt. Barker came to see me and my family everyday that I was in the hospital. These visits included multiple visits on the same day. He even came and picked me up on the day I was discharged and took me home. I would like to thank Dr George Edwards Jr., Jo Cullingford and the staff at the Raleigh Hand Center who treated me for seven months of physical therapy for my right arm. They promised to do everything they could do to return my function in my arm to as close to normal as possible. These incredible individuals never gave up on me even during those trying days of self doubt. I want to thank Dr. Jeffrey Jelic and his staff who oversaw the reconstruction of my jaw. Because of their expertise and commitment my jaw has been repaired to the point that it will be normal again. I want to thank Dr. J.D. Smith and his entire staff at Smith Orthodontics. I want to thank Dr. Bruce Howardsby. Dr. Howardsby inspired me to mentally prepare for the challenges ahead and that adversity can be overcome if you focus positively on the task at hand. I want to thank Dr. Samuel DeAngelo who ensured that I got the best possible care for my facial injuries. He has continued to provide me insight and knowledge about my injuries. I would like to thank the members of the Cary Chapter of the NC Police Benevolent Association; especially the Board of Directors. The Cary Chapter’s efforts led to a fund that was set up through the Police Benevolent Foundation. The PBF was able to get immediate financial support to my family as I recovered from my injuries. I would like to thank Randy Byrd who made sure that my family and I had everything we needed even before we could think of it or needed it. I would like to thank Maggie Watkins who was my nurse case manager for workers compensation. Maggie made me a promise in the hospital that if I wanted to return to work she would see that I got the best doctors and surgeons the State of North Carolina had to offer. She said this one day as I was just starting to wake up. After she had made it I remember her saying to someone in the room, “He will probably never remember me being here.” I did remember what she said and I still do. Even though Maggie believed the promise she made me had fallen on deaf ears, she was unwavering in her commitment to keep it. For Maggie, a promise made is a promise kept. Six months later I was able to tell her that I remembered the promise that she had made and that I would always appreciate everything she had done for me. And finally I would like to thank my parents Roger and Linda and my beautiful girlfriend Misty McGee. Not only have they been there to care for me but have supported my decision to return to work and the bike. I am so fortunate to have them in my life.

On February 16, 2012, seven months and one day after the accident, I was released by all my medical doctors to return to full and active duty status with the Cary Police Department. All of my doctors called my recovery nothing short of amazing.

In closing, I wish you knew what it means to me to be able to write this letter that you are reading today. I wish you knew the people I have met along this journey who not only excel in their chosen career, but as human beings. I wish you knew how much people really do care for law enforcement officers and the job that we do. I wish you knew how grateful that I am to be able to return to my chosen profession….to do what I love to do…

*Chad is originally from Burnsville, NC and completed Basic Law Enforcement Training at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College before beginning his law enforcement career with the Burnsville Police Department. He transferred to the Cary Police department in 2003. Chad is currently assigned to the Traffic Safety Team as a motorcycle officer. Chad is a member of the Police Benevolent Association and the Cary chapter.

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