Amputee plans to return to duty

With prosthetic leg, he is determined to join police force

May 06, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

Two years ago, Pieter Lucas ran 1.5 miles in less than 12 minutes, 51 seconds and passed the physical test to enter Howard County's police academy.

A few days later, while volunteering as an auxiliary officer at an accident scene on Thanksgiving Eve, Lucas was hit by a Chevrolet Blazer.

The impact threw him against his own sport utility vehicle and shattered his legs. That night, doctors amputated his lower left leg just above the knee.

Now equipped with a prosthetic leg, Lucas, 23, returned to the all-volunteer auxiliary force Friday and said he remains determined to become a police officer.

Months of physical therapy and training lie ahead of him. To achieve his dream, Lucas must again run 1.5 miles in less than 12 minutes, 51 seconds.

"I'm supposed to be able to run with this," Lucas said.

Unlike the wood and heavy plastic prosthetic devices used in the past, Lucas' new leg is light, custom-fitted and has a rather flexible knee joint.

Advances in technology have enabled several above-the-knee amputees to complete Ironman competitions and marathons. One recently ran the New York City Marathon in 4 hours, 20 minutes, a record, according to the New York Daily News.

For now, Lucas will spend a few weeks riding along with another auxiliary officer and then will return to his volunteer duties, which include directing traffic, writing parking tickets and tagging abandoned vehicles for towing.

He informed his mother of his plans Thursday, the day before he returned, she said.

"Of course, I'm worried because of what happened, but this is what he wants to do," Margaretha Lucas said.

"For him, it must feel like he's getting to be his old self."

It's unlikely that Lucas will stop there. His sister, Anna Lucas, told The Sun in November 2005 that as soon as her brother regained consciousness, he began asking whether he could turn in his final police academy application.

He wanted to "continue the process from his hospital bed," she said.

Lucas' recovery spurred the Maryland General Assembly to pass the Officer Pieter Lucas Act, which requires Howard County to obtain workers' compensation insurance for members of its small auxiliary force.

The county's insurance policy for auxiliary officers injured in the line of duty had limited reimbursement for the loss of limbs and proved insufficient to cover Lucas' medical bills.

The River Hill High School graduate's family hired an attorney and applied for workers' compensation benefits.

Favorable ruling

Members of County Executive James N. Robey's administration denied his claim. Lucas, who lives with his parents in Glenwood, appealed, and a state board ruled in his favor.

As a result, collection agencies have stopped calling his parents, Lucas said.

There was no bitterness in his voice as he talked about why he chose to return to the Police Department.

He also has returned to a part-time job at the county's Parks and Recreation Department and does office work at the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Station, where he is a volunteer emergency medical services lieutenant.

Lucas said it is "understandable" that the county wouldn't want to pay his medical bills.

"It wasn't a great feeling, but we won," he said.

Sen. Alan H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican and a former workers' compensation attorney, sponsored the legislation and invited Lucas to the bill-signing ceremony with Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Public servant

"Pieter doesn't look at things and say, `I was treated improperly' or `I'm going to hold a grudge,'" Kittleman said. "It demonstrates that he's a public servant first."

Boredom, it seems, is about the only thing that frustrates Lucas. For several months, he had to live in his family's dining room because he couldn't climb the stairs.

Volunteer firefighters and his parents moved a hospital bed, television, DVD player and video game set into the room, and Lucas purchased a personal digital assistant, similar to ones that Howard County detectives carry, to keep him occupied.

"I got out of the dining room as soon as I could," he said.

Mickey Day, chief of the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, said Lucas has "had bad days and good days" in the months since his accident.

One of Lucas' close friends, fellow West Friendship volunteer firefighter and Montgomery County police officer Luke Timothy Hoffman, 24, was killed in the line of duty two weeks ago when a police car struck him during his foot chase involving a drunken-driving suspect.

Grieving has been "an eye-opener" for Lucas, Day said.

"To have gone through a similarly tragic accident and survived, Pete now knows that he's got a second chance," Day said.

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