July 23 06:26 PM

Chief on mend

Raymond Hawks credits 'guardian angels' for rushing to save his life

June 04, 2008
PORT HURON — Chief Ray Hawks says eventually he'd like to talk to Donald Burke, the Capac man accused of trying to kill the Capac cop in a barrage of gunfire outside of Burke's home on April 16.

"I want to know why he did what he did," Hawks said last Wednesday during his first media interview since the shooting that left him seriously injured.

"He might not even know."

Physical therapy is helping Hawks to regain the strength he lost while in a 17-day coma at Port Huron Hospital.
While that 'why' remains to be answered, Hawks says he knows why he's alive even though there's a bullet lodged in his kidney—the neighbors who ran to his aid, "ready to give up their life for me," and protection from a higher being.

"It seemed like God was on my shoulder," Hawks said.

"I said so many prayers on the ground."

The 64 year-old has undergone three surgeries and was in a medically-induced coma for 17 days while the internal injuries to his liver, lung and kidney were healing.

According to Port Huron Hospital spokeswoman Sherry Sheleny, Hawks left the hospital Friday and entered a rehabilitation facility.

After three weeks, he plans to return home where he can sit on his deck, watch the deer run through his corn fields with his canine companion Grace at his side and ultimately, return to work sometime between August and October.

Then there's the boxes of get well cards and letters from across Michigan he wants to read and a pig roast to plan where the family wants to honor all of his 'saviors'—the citizens and emergency personnel who rushed to his aid and hospital staff who've treated him.

"Every day I feel stronger," he said with wife, Vickie, at his side.

"I want to thank everyone who's had me in their prayers."

His memories of that fateful day are still clear. Responding to a reckless driving complaint regarding Burke, Hawks said he met the 50 year-old on the road and had to swerve his patrol car to avoid getting hit. Following Burke to his William G. Drive home, Hawks knocked on the front door, hoping to speak to Burke. He then called for police backup and a wrecker to have Burke's vehicle towed. It was while chatting with tow truck driver Mike Thorpe in Burke's driveway that he heard the ratchet of a shotgun and in the fraction of a second before he was shot, saw Burke standing on his front porch with the weapon aimed at him.

"The first shot was at me and then I heard a bunch of other shooting," Hawks said, thinking Burke still had him in his sights.

According to police, Burke turned his gun on Thorpe and St. Clair County Deputy Tim O'Boyle, the officer responding to Hawks' request for back up. O'Boyle had just turned onto William G. Drive and was stunned when two bullets came through his windshield, one grazing him in the head, leaving him dazed.

"I pushed myself around behind the police car," Hawks said of his attempt to take cover.

Worried that Burke would "come back out and finish me off," Hawks managed to give his gun to Thorpe, who'd run to his side. In the meantime, neighbors who were licensed to carry concealed weapons ran to the scene, which Hawks believes, deterred Burke from firing any more shots. Hawks calls them his 'guardian angels.'

Hawks then asked one of those 'angels' to grab his cellphone from the patrol car and promptly called his wife.

"I wanted to be the one to tell her I loved her and that I was hurt, so she got (the news) from me," he said.

At first, Vickie thought he was joking.

"I said 'this is for real," he recalled with a chuckle.

She managed to race from their home and arrived on scene as neighbors hoisted Hawks onto the back of Thorpe's truck, jumping up to shield her husband's body.

Despite the real danger he was facing, Hawks said amazingly, he was calm.

"I was completely at ease...I was at peace with God," he said.

The pain intensified as his lungs filled with blood and until the specially trained paramedic was able to relieve the pressure, Hawks was beginning to lose consciousness.

"You're losing me, I can't see you," Hawks remembers saying.

When he eventually emerged from his coma in Port Huron Hospital after more than two weeks, Hawks assumed only a day had passed.

"The doctor said, 'Ray, we're into May,'" he said, recalling those shocking words.

He characterizes his recovery at first as being 'very slow' and the tracheotomy tube doctors had used to ventilate his lungs as 'frustrating.'

"My legs and feet feel like they're 2,000 pounds," he said.

Despite that, he's ready to get on the mend and has his family to thank for their love and support.

"My 88 year-old mother has been here every day," Hawks said.

"My wife has been my rock."

Vickie said she was "elated" at her husband's recovery.

"To hear other people talk about how he cared for them...I knew I was blessed," she said to reporters.

And she says she's won't take the little things for granted like saying 'I love you' everyday.

Hawks will testify when Burke stands trial on three counts of attempted murder in St. Clair County Circuit Court later this year. He'll be arraigned on June 16 in Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly's courtroom.

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