Police relief agency benefits from Carry the Load

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on May 21, 2013 at 11:51 PM

DALLAS — It's been seven months, and the scar on Dallas Police Senior Cpl. Matt Wagner's arm is barely visible.

But there's still a bullet lodged near his shoulder.

On Oct. 9, 2012, he was working off-duty as a security officer in a Dallas apartment complex.

"We came in contact with a suspicious individual," he explained. "There was a confrontation, and he was able to fire off two shots. Both shots hit me."

"I know the reality of what could have been," he added. "It wasn't. For that, I'm thankful."

Wagner is moving on, with help from an agency created by people who've been there.

"Everything was going helter-skelter," David Rodriguez recalled. "People were screaming and yelling."

It's been 19 years since he was shot during a drug raid at Walnut Hill Lane and Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas. On January 9, 1994, he took a bullet to his neck. It pierced his spine, and he hasn't walked since.

"From here down, I'm basically history," he said, pointing to his chest. "I'm gone."

Rodriguez is in a wheelchair.

"My life was taken away from me," he said. "You either deal with it by giving up, or you do something."

He did something big.

Rodriguez helped found Assist the Officer (ATO), a non-profit agency that helps Dallas police officers facing any kind of crisis with any need they have. They are there for officers injured in the line of duty, and those hurt off the clock.

"Once you run out of vacation time, sick time, if you're not on the payroll — especially if something happens off-duty — you're left on your own," Rodriguez said. "It's no fault of the city. That's just the way it is for everybody. A lot of officers, they'll be out for weeks on end. At at a certain point, they run out of money."

"We raise about $100,000 a year; we spend about $100,000 a year," he said.

But ATO gives much more than money. They also offer counseling and support.

"I mean, there was constantly 10 people at least at my room, around the clock," Wagner remembered.

This year, Carry the Load will give some of its donations to Assist the Officer. And the more they raise, the more officers get.

Wagner said just knowing someone was there helped ease the stress. They even paid for a plane ticket for his wife's brother to fly in from St. Louis.

"When you've got a family — a wife and children — they go through just as much as you do," he said.

Wagner is now back on the job; a job Rodriguez still misses.

"Oh every day, I mean, even at my age," he said.

But what a legacy he built.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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