Atlanta officer still recovering from harrowing car crash

Credit: Casey Sykes

Credit: Casey Sykes

Policeman was helping stranded motorist when another driver struck his patrol car

Atlanta Police Officer Duc Vo spotted a black sedan barreling toward him in the early morning darkness as he sought to help a stranded motorist on Interstate 20. He hoped the driver would switch lanes and avoid him.

Instead, she smashed into the back of Vo’s patrol car that day in June, propelling it at him. The impact knocked him off his feet, dislocated his shoulder, broke his right hand and wrist and bruised his leg. He is still recovering from his injuries and remains on light duty.

“I was scared, but I am glad I made it through,” he said of the incident, while crediting Grady Memorial Hospital for helping him recover.

Vo shared his harrowing story with reporters Tuesday to emphasize the importance of Georgia’s “Move Over Law.” The statute requires motorists to move over a lane or slow down and be prepared to stop when first responders are in the road with their emergency lights flashing.

Vo also warned against drinking and driving. The driver who hit his patrol car was arrested and charged with several traffic offenses, including driving under the influence, reckless driving and failure to yield to law enforcement on the highway. She told police she did not see the vehicles on the interstate, police records show.

Vo is among 203 sworn and civilian Atlanta Police Department employees who have been injured this year, some seriously. Earlier this month, a motorist lost control and slammed into Officer Steven Randerson as he stood in the shoulder of northbound Interstate 75 and investigated a traffic accident.

And in June, Officer Khuong Thai was shot in the face and shoulder as he arrived to investigate a shooting in a Midtown Atlanta apartment building. Randerson and Khuong are still recovering from their injuries.

Most of the 41 U.S. law enforcement officers who were killed by accidents while on duty in 2019 died in traffic crashes, federal figures show. Sixteen of those were on foot when they were killed.

DeKalb County Police Sgt. Daniel Mobley is among the five Georgia law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty this year. On Jan. 2, he was struck by a vehicle on the Downtown Connector and killed while he was responding to a crash involving another officer near the Williams Street exit. Last year, seven officers were killed while serving.

Atlanta police and the local Asian American community have rallied around Vo, said Atlanta Police Capt. Jeff Cantin, who works in the same Zone 4 precinct office in southwest Atlanta.

“For some of us who are older, it brought back memories of other incidents,” Cantin said.

Cantin invoked the name of Atlanta Senior Officer Gail Thomas, who was hit by a drunk driver and killed on an interstate ramp north of downtown Atlanta in 2012. She got out of her patrol car to help another officer who was responding to an earlier accident.

“I was on the scene for Gail Thomas and I will never forget that,” Cantin said.

The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Vo, 29, graduated from Morrow High School. He joined the Atlanta Police Department two years ago determined to change the public’s perception of law enforcement officers.

“I want to build a positive relationship between us and the citizens,” he said.

On Tuesday, he recalled the day he was hit in June. He parked his patrol car behind the stranded motorist on eastbound Interstate 20 near the Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard exit. He flipped on his emergency lights and stepped out of his car to offer help. That’s when he saw the other motorist heading toward him. After Vo regained his feet, he saw his patrol car was destroyed and the radio that was on his belt was missing.

“I could barely move my left leg,” said Vo, who is still undergoing physical therapy. “My right arm… wasn’t moving at all. My stomach was in pain.”

Vo intends to stick with the Atlanta Police Department, though he does not know yet when he will be able to return to full duty.