Trooper recounts near-death experience

Debbie Coleman-Topi

Brandon Brashear’s mind is a tangle of questions about the night an enraged would-be assassin tried to end his life.

His shooter, Tommy Ray Rollins, 28, has been sentenced to serve two life terms plus an additional 22 years after being found guilty of first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer, armed criminal action, first-degree assault and possession of illegal weapons.

But Brashear's questions seem endless – almost as numerous as the bullet holes that riddled the patrolman’s body.

The number of shots Brashear’s body took that Memorial Day weekend, once the smoke cleared and the shooter finally left him for dead, remain a puzzle.

Doctors and police investigators still disagree about exactly how many bullets entered the Missouri State Highway Patrolman’s body that night, May 28, 2005. Some say 15, while others say 13 and still others, 11. One thing is clear: The shooter continuously pulled the trigger of his weapon, a semi-automatic pistol equipped with a barrel extender and flash suppresser, making the weapon act like a rifle, able to fire at a high rate of speed. He fired perhaps as many as 20 shots.

To Brashear, the shooter’s intent is one of the few issues about that night that don’t end in a question.

“You only use those (guns) for one purpose,” he said. “And it’s not for self-defense or to hunt with. It’s to kill people.”

One more thing is certain. The then 27-year-old sustained multiple gunshot wounds to his left hand, left shoulder, abdomen, back, left hip, right and left legs, right foot, neck and head.

Fast pursuit

Brashear thought he spotted the textbook signs of a driver under the influence when he pulled over a white Monte Carlo Super Sport swerving along Interstate 470 in Lee’s Summit. Once on the highway’s shoulder, he got out of his patrol vehicle only to have the driver take off, leaving the young patrolman scrambling to re-enter his vehicle and radio the dispatcher that he was in pursuit. A chase ensued.

But Brashear soon learned the man he thought to be a typical “driving under the influence” suspect was anything but textbook.

Right away, he noticed Rollins didn’t behave normally. After driving only about a mile at speeds at least 20 miles per hour slower than that of the typical car chase, Rollins suddenly pulled over and stopped. They were northbound on I-470, near the Lakewood Boulevard exit.

Brashear put his patrol vehicle in park and began to step out of his car. A videorecorder captured the next 23 seconds.

Brashear remembers every detail of what happened next. He was halfway out of the car before he spotted feet and a gun exiting the Monte Carlo. True to his training, Brashear yelled “drop it,” and reached for his own gun. But, it was already too late.

The man already had sighted Brashear down the gun’s barrel and was pulling the trigger at rapid-fire speed.

Not like in the movies

Brashear knew he was hit. He later would learn that at least 11 bullets permeated his body, some traveling clear through to exit out his back. Still others, three rounds, were stopped by Brashear’s bullet-proof vest, either being stuck there, hitting the ground or rickashaying off other nearby objects.

He thinks he got off a shot or two back, though the bright spotlight from his vehicle kept Brashear from seeing his target.

Brashear said the shooter, later caught by police at a bar not far from the shooting, was moving closer, shooting as he walked.

According to court documents, prosecutors believe the Grandview man was on his way to take the lives of his former boss Dred Scott, a Raytown School District principal, and his family. Scott had recently fired Rollins from his janitorial job at Eastwood Hills Elementary School.

Although Brashear knew he’d been hit, the impact of bullets striking his body didn’t feel the way he had expected. Brashear said the sensation of being hit mostly felt like someone rapping his body with a rubber mallet. He had yet to feel any real pain. Why? Brashear has since learned a lot about the body and its reaction to trauma.

“If you see somebody come out with what you think is an M-16 (the weapon Brashear thought Rollins was using), your adrenaline goes from nothing to 100 in seconds,” he said.

The adrenaline pumping through Brashear’s body kept him from feeling the impact of those bullets.

“I was just praying and spraying,” Brashear said, using common law enforcement lingo to describe shooting at a target you can’t see.

Brashears was hit with nine shots while standing. Still in survival mode, he tried to get as far from the shooter as possible by stepping behind his car. Along the way, a shot hit his foot, this time causing excruciating pain. He hopped or hobbled a few more feet. That’s when Brashear finally hit the ground.

“You can only get shot so many times,” he said. “I was just done. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Feeling the end is near

Once he hit the ground, Brashear lay, chest-forward in the grass, his head resting on its right side. He still remembers the way the shooter’s feet sounded as he walked through the grass toward the area where Brashear was lying.

Brashear was certain his assassin would deliver the fatal shot. Rollins took his final shots at close range – one between Brashear’s shoulder blades and another to his jaw. Amazingly, the bullet to his face didn’t shatter his jaw. In fact, it rickashayed into a nickel-sized joint, where it lodged near his skull.

“It made a horrible noise,” Brashear remembered.

That’s when Rollins left him for dead. He entered his Monte Carlo and sped away, leaving Brashear with two minutes – the longest of his short life, to think.

He thought briefly of his assassin. He took minor comfort in knowing law enforcement officials soon would apprehend the shooter. His next thought was of his parents and two younger brothers. Always a close family, he worried about how they’d take the news of his death. His heart ached for his parents as he pictured a uniformed highway patrolman breaking the news.

“I just thought it was a matter of time,” he said. “I thought, ‘I don’t know why I’m still alive, but with that many wounds, there must be something bleeding really badly internally.’”

While waiting for help, he remembers feeling intensely lonely. He yearned for someone to talk to during what he thought were his last moments alive. He reached for the microphone fixed to his left shoulder area to call for help. But all he felt was a tangled mess of broken wires. The mic had been shattered by the bullet he took to his left shoulder.

During his last radio contact, about 10 minutes earlier, he told the dispatcher he was pulling over the suspect. He knew officers would soon arrive, looking for him. He hoped he could hang on until then.

Help, at last

His commanding officer, Sgt. Dale Jinkens, arrived and began repeating the same question until Brashear finally caught his breath to answer. “What happened?”

Brashear later learned his commanding officer initially thought he had been struck by a car. But Brashear provided a brief account of the events that left him on the ground, and the officer knew they faced a much graver situation. Brashear had a more pressing need.

“You’ve got to get this off of me,” he said, referring to his bullet-proof vest. The vests are made to fit very snug and the compression was causing Brashear to have trouble breathing. Jinkens used a pair of medical scissors to cut away the vest and uniform from his body. He later told Brashear that with each cut, he discovered more bloody wounds.

Soon after, Brashear saw law enforcement officers circling him where he lay on the ground.

Brashear decided how he would react to his trauma. He’d seen accident victims display their emotions in a variety of ways – from screaming, to cussing to crying. Some even plead with medical personnel to save their lives. Brashear knew he didn’t want to spend his last moments in a hysterical state. His said his determination and his faith in God caused a calmness to sweep over him.

“There’s a kind of peace that comes with that,” said Brashear, whose father is a minister. Although Brashear doesn’t often attend church, he believes in “an interpersonal relationship with God.”

The questions return

“I have no doubt,” he said, “no one survives something like that for no reason.”

He spent two weeks in a medically-induced coma. Throughout the ordeal, doctors gave Brashear’s parents little hope of him surviving. His body needed time to heal and fight the infections from his multiple wounds. Infection was a constant threat. At one point, doctors thought infection would prove fatal. But a very strong antibiotic finally allowed Brashear to turn the corner.

Brashear’s multiple surgeries and 20 months of physical therapy finally led him to return to the highway patrol, first at a desk job, and finally, back in a patrol car.

Some doctors who have no medical answer for Brashear’s survival say it was luck.

“They can only explain it medically so far,” he said. “But, if that’s luck, I got real lucky a lot of times,” he said, referring to the multiple shots that could have pierced internal organs, could have caused him to bleed to death.

Why did the bullet that Rollins thought had delivered the fatal blow get lodged in his joint, not entering his brain? How did the bullet that entered through his abdomen and exited through his back, avoid his spine by only fractions of an inch?     

And the biggest question looms: Why did he survive?

Brashear still wonders. Maybe it was to save the Scotts. Maybe it was to raise the child he and his wife, Francesca, are expecting in November. Perhaps Brashear is supposed to tell his story, acting as a witness to others about the importance of belief in God.

Because to Brashear, the answer always returns to the same guiding principle – one with which he was raised.

“I think if you can listen to this, from start to finish, and say ‘you were just lucky, there’s no God.’ You’re just nuts.”

The Examiner