'I could feel the presence of God,' deputy says
Charleston County Sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey DeGrow lived every law enforcement officer's nightmare -- turning a corner and finding a suspect pointing a handgun at him. But his description of what happened after a bullet tore into his head stunned almost everyone in the courtroom.
Deputy expected to testify today, published 12/15/10
For several dramatic moments Wednesday, DeGrow related being overcome by a spiritual force so powerful that it outweighed even his love for his children.
"My ear was ringing very, very loudly and I fell to the ground," he said, describing the first of six bullet hits the deputy would sustain. "When I fell to my side, everything went white ... and I could feel the presence of God."
The comments came during the third day of a trial for Brandon Simmons, 21, who is accused of shooting DeGrow on Jan. 21 after a lengthy chase near the Grimball Road area of James Island.
Simmons faces two counts of assault and battery with intent to kill and one count of possessing a firearm during a violent crime.
DeGrow had just spoken to the victim of a house burglary when he decided to drive around looking for witnesses and suspects. It was a cold, rainy day and he saw three men walking away, tensing up, he said. As he approached, the trio split and ran. DeGrow followed one of them.
In court Wednesday, the deputy, who wears an eye patch from his wounds, testified that the chase through rural roads and country went on for a while, with him in his car and the suspect on foot. At one point he got close enough that the suspect was caught off guard.
"His eyes got as big as could be," DeGrow said, describing them as deer in the headlights. "It was kind of like an 'oh crap' moment, 'what do I do?' " The suspect changed his direction and kept running, DeGrow said.
Still at the wheel of his cruiser, DeGrow followed the man down a narrow dirt road surrounded by thick forest. The deputy's vehicle got so close to the suspect that "we were side by side to each other."
The chase led to a mobile home in the woods, where DeGrow got out of his car and continued the pursuit on foot, never losing sight of the man while ordering him to stop.
They began a chase around the trailer where every time DeGrow hit a squared-off corner, he would stop and peer around, waiting to see if the coast was clear. He hoped to get within the 21 feet necessary to effectively fire his Taser, he testified.
Then, after reaching the next turn around the home, DeGrow ran into the man, who had stopped and was pointing a gun. When he was hit, DeGrow testified that it felt like a baseball bat had landed on the side of his head. But as he fell, he said he was overcome by a calm, reassuring presence.
"It was only a split-second, but to me everything went in slow motion," he said. Next came "an overwhelming feeling of love that still, to this day, I cannot describe." DeGrow called it "calming and loving."
No words were spoken, but during that moment "it was just understood it wasn't my time yet," he said.
When the firing stopped, DeGrow had been hit six times. The suspect was gone. DeGrow staggered back to his cruiser and radioed in his location, a description of the shooter and that he needed help.
At that time, two strangers approached. DeGrow asked how he looked and how bad his wounds were. "I'm not good with blood," Degrow said one of them told him.
One bullet had struck near an artery in his arm. "I was afraid I was going to bleed out," he said.
A ballistics expert testified that DeGrow's injuries likely came from a .22-caliber gun. He still has fragments in his head from the shots.
DeGrow's testimony dominated most of the day at the Charleston County Judicial Center. Simmons mostly sat and watched the proceedings from the defense table. His lawyer did not ask the deputy a single cross-examination question.
"Thank you for your service. I have no questions for you today," defense attorney Beattie Butler said.
Simmons was arrested a day after the shooting, hiding in a car and wearing different clothes than the mostly black outfit he'd been seen in the day prior, officials said.
DeGrow also testified that while in a hospital, it took only "two seconds" to identify Simmons as the shooter in a photo lineup, saying he never will forget the man who shot him six times. He said he remembers the ordeal "every moment that I'm awake, every day."
Testimony resumes today.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.