Injured Duluth police officer’s wife says ‘our dreams were taken away’ by crash

Drunken driver sentenced to 10 years in prison

Credit: WSBTV Videos

Man involved in crash that left Duluth police officer with brain injuries sentenced

A South Georgia man who seriously injured a Duluth police officer in a drunken driving hit-and-run crash last year was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday afternoon.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the officer’s wife said she believes the sentence is fair but can’t heal the damage done to her family.

Rickey Porter was injured in a 2021 crash at the intersection of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Abbotts Bridge Road.

Credit: Duluth Police Department

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Credit: Duluth Police Department

Eduardo Gutierrez, 32, of Americus, pleaded guilty to all six of his charges, including driving under the influence of alcohol and causing an accident resulting in a serious injury, Duluth police spokesman Officer Ted Sadowski said. After serving his prison sentence, Gutierrez also faces 10 years on probation and possible deportation, Sadowski said.

Officer Rickey Porter, whose patrol SUV was hit at the intersection of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Abbotts Bridge Road in August 2021, was critically injured and remains in treatment more than a year later. During Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors pointed out that Porter’s condition was likely worsened by Gutierrez leaving the scene. After the crash, Porter was left sitting in his wrecked patrol vehicle for 16 minutes before anyone called 911, according to the prosecution.

“I’m just glad justice was served,” Kivion Porter, the officer’s wife, said in a phone call with the AJC. “He will have 10 years to think about what he’s done. But at the same time, he still has the ability to remember things. He will still have the opportunity to have a family.”

During the hearing, she told the court that Porter continues to suffer from brain injuries and could not remember the past 15 years of his life. His condition changes on a near-weekly basis, she said, and he has lived at a treatment facility since the wreck, unable to return home.

Sadowski said Gutierrez’s lawyers offered no defense as he pleaded guilty. The defense team admitted the evidence against Gutierrez was overwhelming, Sadowski said. Video footage of the crash shows Guterriez’s truck slamming into the driver’s side of Porter’s patrol vehicle before the defendant ran away. Gutierrez’s fingerprints were later found inside the truck by crime scene investigators, Sadowski said.

“If only he had stayed and gotten my husband help,” Kivion Porter tearfully told the judge during Tuesday’s hearing.

“Those 15 minutes cost us our life of normalcy, and it cost my husband his career,” Porter later told the AJC. “Time was of the essence, especially when there’s oxygen circulation involved.”

Video footage of the proceedings captured by Channel 2 Action News showed Gutierrez breaking down in tears as well.

Many of Porter’s colleagues from the Duluth Police Department attended the hearing in a show of support, Channel 2 reported. Porter’s wife told the news station she was overwhelmed with gratitude for their law enforcement community.

“They’ve been with us from day one, and without them I don’t know where I would be,” she said.

Despite support from colleagues and their community, Porter said the past year had been incredibly difficult for her family.

“Because of this decision that this young man made, it just derailed everything,” she said. “It was like our dreams were taken away from us. ... Our plans, our future was taken away from us.”

Last year’s holiday season was particularly tough, Porter said. The family took Thanksgiving dinner to her husband while he was in treatment, but her mother’s homemade meal had to be pureed “almost ... into the form of baby food so he could enjoy it,” she said.

The family was not able to see the officer on Christmas day due to COVID-19 restrictions, his wife said, adding that she couldn’t even get out of bed that day.

“The holidays were just dismal for us,” Porter said.

Porter said she has returned to work full-time to support her family and that she essentially functions as a single parent. With her birthday and wedding anniversary approaching, along with another holiday season, she expects another difficult, emotional winter.

Porter asked her community to continue praying for her family, “for healing and restoration for my husband.”

Porter said she had been taking inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady who was called “the president’s eyes, ears and legs.”

“I now understand what she means and why she did what she did,” Porter said. “Now I’m having to be my husband’s everything. ... Preserve memories for him, take care of him, speak for him, protect him, advocate for him. I just ask for prayers for the strength to be in that role.”

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