JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sgt. Andrew Litzell shows off a 6-inch scar down his neck and a nearly invisible one under his right nostril where he was shot -- evidence of what the Florida Highway Patrol trooper calls a second chance from God.
"What purpose that he has for me I don't know, but I'm very grateful that I'm around to raise my kids," Litzell said.
Last December, three days after Christmas, Litzell had three days left on patrol before being promoted to sergeant, so his wife had told him to stay out of trouble.
He was trying to stop an erratic driver in Palatka on Dec. 28, and that turned into a car chase, then a foot chase near Second and Laurel streets.
One man got away. Litzell chased the other behind restrooms near the city docks.
"That's when I saw the muzzle flash and he had taken the opportunity of the darkness to pull out a .25-caliber handgun from his pocket," Litzell said. "It flashed about 3 feet from my face and I felt the bullet hit me in the face. However, I was close enough to him that i just continued and tackled him."
The two wrestled over the gun on the ground for about 20 seconds. The trooper couldn't see anything but could feel blood pouring into his mouth.
"I wound up face-to-face on the ground on top of him with the gun pinned between our chests," Litzell said. "And I had his arm held with my left arm where he couldn't pull the gun out, but I couldn't sit up because I knew he could turn the gun into me."
At that moment, Litzell knew it was going to be him or the suspect. He managed to pull out his duty weapon and shoot 24-year-old Samorian Wingo in the side.
"When I did that, his arm snatched out and the gun was free and I couldn't get control of it again. So I shot him again in the chest," Litzell said.
Litzell laid on top of Wingo and held down his arm to make sure he didn't move. He said he used his flashlight to get Wingo's gun, quickly turning the light off to make sure the missing suspect didn't see him, and called for backup.
How was he able to do all that while being shot in the face?
"The bullet had gone just below my nose, through my palate, through my tongue and lodged in my neck between my jugular and carotid," Litzell said. "However, I was still able to speak. I had a lot of blood and fluid in my mouth, but I still could breathe and I could still speak somewhat legibly at the time."
Litzell spent four days in the ICU, where surgeons decided to remove the bullet. He took two months to recover and is now back at work as a sergeant in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties.
Litzell's wife teaches forensic science, and she kept the bullet that was lodged in her husband's throat. She plans to base a lesson on it.
Wingo died in the shooting, which was ruled justifiable by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office.
Part of the conclusion came from a homeless man, who was living in the dumpster near the restrooms. He saw a lot of the incident, and his statement to police matched Litzell's.
Litzell recently received the Purple Heart and the highest honor possible presented by the colonel, the Medal of Valor, which he plans to pass down to his kids.
"The most valuable thing that I've taken out of this is (to) prepare as if there's no tomorrow," Litzell said. "None of us are guaranteed it. I was given a second chance, but there have been a lot of officers who have not gotten a second chance."
The second suspect in the incident has not been captured. Anyone with information is asked to call FHP or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS.
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