Deputy: Bulletproof vest 'saved my life'

September 2, 2011 5:07:12 PM PDT
A Harris County sheriff's deputy is lucky to be alive after being shot during a routine traffic stop Friday.

The deputy was hit in the chest, but protected by his bulletproof vest and now he's talking about what happened.

Deputy Alan Whitlock has been a patrol officer for seven years and until Friday morning, he had never been shot and never had to shoot.

On Friday afternoon, some 14 hours after that track record changed, Deputy Whitlock was out of the hospital, talking about being pinned down by gunfire.

Deputy Whitlock was conducting a traffic stop just before 2:30am on FM 1960 and Briarcreek. He pulled over a car with at least four people inside. The car had slowed down, but then the deputy says the driver pulled out a rifle and fired. Two shots struck the windshield and another struck Whitlock in the shock plate of his bulletproof vest.

"I just got my vest, the new vest, about two years ago and they started giving the shock plate with the vest that they weren't giving before. So I want to thank them for that and when I needed one, they went ahead and provided it for me. Because I do believe it's the shock plate that saved my life," said Deputy Whitlock.

He has only a bruise to show for it.

"Once it knocked the wind out of me, I knew I was hit. It wasn't that hard at that point," said Deputy Whitlock.

Harris County supplies bulletproof vests for sheriff's officers -- all purchased from Lone Star Uniforms.

"This is what an officer receives when he puts his panels together," said Vernon Fox, owner of Lone Star Uniforms. "This is a joyous occasion when a vest saves an officer."

Fox enjoys outcomes like Friday.

The Sheriff's Office policy is that officers have to wear the vests unless the heat index goes over 100 degrees. That policy may be revisited.

"This creates discussion for my command staff and I, should we have that discretion anymore," said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Deputy Whitlock though doesn't require any convincing -- it was the vest that allowed him to walk away he believes. And he'll put it on again when he returns to the streets but with a new appreciation.

"Once that happens you realize how fragile life is and you still have a job to do and I want to thank my co-workers because they completed where I had to leave off," said Deputy Whitlock.

Two suspects were taken into custody, but two more remain at large.

A search of a nearby neighborhood began late Friday morning for the suspects in the car when deputies discovered the Cadillac. They zeroed in on surrounding houses, including that of Inge Radtke. A deputy then knocked on her door.

"He said he wanted me to get into a back room and stay there, in case they had to come and get me out," she said.

No one else was hurt. Investigators have plenty of questions for the two men now in custody.

We are told the rifle that was used was a .223 caliber. Many bulletproof vests are not designed for rifle bullets, but fortunately this one accommodated it.

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