Police Chief Leonard Papania personally thanked Gulfport police officers, firefighters, ambulance and hospital workers and witnesses for helping get Patrol Officer Luis Garcia to safety Monday night after he was seriously injured in a crash.
Papania said Garcia’s car was mangled in the crash, and he is recovering from serious injuries at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. He was struck by a stolen van as the suspect fled from police, leading a family who could have been hit to call him a hero.
As bad as the car looks, it’s a wonder his injuries were not worse than they are, Papania said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Garcia is in stable but critical condition and is expected to recover.
“He has been talking with family and friends,” Papania said, adding that the first thing he asked for was cake, so he got cake.
“He is loved by his fellow workers, he is loved by his administration and he loved by his city,” Papania said.
Papania said Garcia’s patrol car was hit by a van reported as stolen driven by 18-year-old Eli Daniel Bosworth of Gulfport.
Garcia, a 10-year veteran of the police department, received a lifesaving award in 2015 for heroic actions.
Garcia was the lead negotiator who talked a distressed man out of jumping off the Kremer Bridge on Lorraine Road on April 22, 2015. The man had wrapped what looked like a cable around his neck and said he was going to jump.
When Papania went to place the medal on Garcia, he said Garcia jokingly “leaned in real close to my ear and said, ‘Kiss me.’ That personifies who Officer Garcia is.
“He took a hard lick (in the crash), but it didn’t knock his sense of humor out,” Papania said.
Police officials joined Garcia’s family around his bedside Monday night as other officers filled the waiting area at the ER. Papania declined to say what Garcia’s first words were to him, “but it was very funny,” he said.
“I truly don’t understand how he’s in as good a shape as he is in,” Papania said.
Luis Garcia is a ‘hero’
Courtney Brown of Gulfport says Garcia’s quick actions saved her family’s lives.
She saw the Monday evening crash when she was traveling with her mother, boyfriend and 1-year-old daughter to pick up her boyfriend’s truck. They were at the red light at Creosote and Three Rivers roads when it happened.
“We saw a police car go through the red light and then once the light turned green, a second police car stopped in the middle of the road and prevented us from going through, and that’s when the van hit him,” she said.
“The van crashed right into his patrol car and it almost knocked him into us,” Brown said.
“But Officer Garcia put himself between us and the van and he saved our lives — that would have been us had he not stopped when the light turned green.”
“Garcia saved my boyfriend and daughter’s lives. There was no reason for him to have stopped other than to save us.”
Brown posted a tribute to Garcia on her Facebook page that has been shared more than 1,500 times.
Brown said she was a not a friend of Garcia’s, but she’s met him once.
“He’s pulled me over before,” she said.
Brown said she wants Garcia to know how much her family appreciates his bravery.
“This was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I’m eternally grateful for what he did for my family — he’s a true hero.”
Papania said police never know what situation they will find themselves in.
“To know an officer’s actions are being perceived as saving someone’s life, that’s phenomenal,” Papania said.
The crash happened after police responded to a call reporting the theft of a 2014 Chevrolet Express van, Papania said. Police saw the van, owned by Coast Transit Authority, on U.S. 49 at Crossroads Parkway about 6:30 p.m.
An officer tried to stop the van, Papania said, but Bosworth turned east on Creosote and sped up, heading toward Three Rivers Road. A second officer, Garcia, was at the intersection of Three Rivers and Creosote when the van hit the driver’s side of his patrol car.
Police arrested Bosworth on charges of fleeing and theft of a motor vehicle. Judge Melvin Ray set bonds on both felonies at a total of $150,000.
Papania declined to say if Bosworth has shown remorse, but said, “We have young people in this city who are making bad decisions, and so many times we see where there are bad decisions, it leads to terrible events.”
Papania thanked witnesses who came forward and helped with the investigation. He asked that anyone with information about any part of the incident call the Gulfport Police Department at 228-868-5959.
How you can help Luis Garcia
Papania said there has been public interest in how to help Garcia and his family in his time of need.
GCOPS, a nonprofit organization that was formed by friends of the Gulfport Police Department, is taking donations to send to Garcia. The acronym stands for Gulfport Community Organizing Police Support. It also has a Facebook page.
If you want to give, email GCOPS at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail a check to GCOPS, P.O. Box 1269, Gulfport, 39502.
Or you can give a Hancock Bank location near you in the name of GCOPS Benefit Account for Officer Luis Garcia. Donations can also be made online.