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Back to Archives | Back to October 2003 Contents 


Anna Knight, Club Administrator, and Ron McBride, Chief of Police (Ret.) and Law Enforcement Consultant

The IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors' Club® pays tribute to those deserving officers who have avoided serious or potentially fatal injuries through the use of any kind of body armor. This column is dedicated to sharing their experiences, in hopes of persuading others to wear their armor. If body armor has helped you or a member of your department survive such an accident or assault, please contact Anna Knight, Club Administrator, IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors' Club®, 5401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Richmond, VA 23234; 804-383-3853; 800-441-2746; fax: 804-383-2477; e-mail: Anna.G.Knight-1@

The Survivors' Club application is also available on the IACP's Web site,, under Awards/Survivors' Club.

Armor Saves New Jersey Police Officer Struck at Traffic Stop

Officer Joseph A. Vena Jr. of the Washington Township, New Jersey, Police Department was patrolling State Highway 42 on an August afternoon when he stopped a motorist for a traffic violation. Vena had activated his emergency warning lights and angled his patrol car some 40 feet behind the violator's vehicle to provide a safe zone for the officer.

He had exited his patrol car and was in conversation with the stopped motorist when a second vehicle, a minivan traveling north, sideswiped Vena's police car as it sat parked on the shoulder of the roadway. The minivan then struck Vena, pinning him against the vehicle parked on the shoulder and dragging him for several feet.

The stopped motorist used Vena's radio to summon help for the critically injured officer. Vena was flown by helicopter to a nearby trauma center. Fortunately for the officer, his leather holster and duty belt and his personal body armor absorbed most of the impact and protected his ribs and internal organs.

Vena returned to active duty following several months of recovery. The motorist who struck him was cited for reckless driving.

The incident involving Vena prompted the New Jersey General Assembly to enact legislation to require motorists to slow down or move over when passing a law enforcement vehicle engaged in a traffic stop.

Florida Motorcycle Officer Saved by Protective Armor

Boynton Beach, Florida, Police Officer John A. Huntington was on motorcycle patrol on a February morning. As he entered a signal-controlled intersection, traveling east, where he had the right of way, Huntington collided with a vehicle that had failed to stop for a red traffic signal while traveling north. Huntington had no opportunity to take evasive action, and his motorcycle slammed into the side of the passenger vehicle. After the collision, the car continued forward until it came to rest on a concrete median.

Huntington was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for injuries to his legs. His head was protected by a helmet and his torso and internal organs were protected by the personal body armor he was wearing under his uniform.

Huntington was hospitalized for a week and later returned to active duty. The motorist was cited for failure to comply with a traffic signal.

Oregon Deputy Sheriff Esacapes Serious Injury in Gun Battle

Several members of the Grant County, Oregon, Sheriff's Office responded to a domestic situation shortly before midnight. Deputy Jason Rehling and Reserve Deputy Sam Bell were asked by a woman to remove her male companion from their residence. The two deputies determined that since there was no violence involved, the woman would need court action to resolve the situation. Rehling and Bell agreed to check on the welfare of the woman's children and determine if the male involved might be willing to leave for the night.

When the deputies approached the residence, they observed through a window a small child on a bed with no sign of life, and became concerned for the welfare of the children. The deputies obtained permission from the female involved in the dispute to make forced entry and determine the welfare of the children. With Bell providing cover, Rehling and Deputy Richard M. Gray entered the residence and found the children were not fully responsive. The deputies did not find the male subject inside the residence and called for an ambulance to provide assistance to the children.

Rehling and Gray went around to the back of the house as the medical crew pulled into the yard. At that time, the subject, identified as 39-year-old Eric Brazleton, emerged from the shadows and fired at the ambulance with a 12-guage double-barreled shotgun. As the deputies responded to protect the ambulance crew, Brazleton shot two more times, striking both deputies. Rehling was struck in the face with a grazing blast that shattered his chin and struck his nose. Gray was shot in the back. Most of the buckshot was stopped by Gray's protective body armor, but he still suffered pellet wounds to the neck and base of the skull.

With Rehling and Gray injured and out of the fight, Bell came around the side of the house where the suspect was firing from and shot Brazleton three times. The suspect died from the wounds received in the gun battle.

Gray spent several weeks recovering from his injuries before returning to active duty. Rehling continues his recovery and faces additional surgery and rehabilitation.

Although manufacturers of bullet-resistant vests engineer their products to meet ballistic standards, history shows that such garments also provide limited protection against other threats, such as club and knife assaults (will not protect against sharp, pointed knives or ice picks), automobile accidents, motorcycle spills, falls, fires, explosions, etc. Nothing offers total protection, but personal body armor will improve the odds of surviving many of the life-threatening incidents constantly facing law officers.


From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 10, October 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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