It started as a routine traffic stop on Interstate 30, near Oakland Boulevard in east Fort Worth.
Police officer Matt Lesell pulled over a car and approached its driver-side window. Then, at the 10-second mark on Lesell’s dashcam video, another car flew into the picture, crashing into the parked vehicle on the shoulder and flipping Lesell into the air.
Fortunately, Lesell survived. He even managed to walk to the side of the highway, out of the way of oncoming traffic.
“Every time I watch [the video], I’m still surprised it was not worse,” Lesell told the Star-Telegram on Monday. “My job is going to accidents and seeing horrific events, and I’ve seen accidents that don’t look nearly that bad, but there were worse injuries. I’m lucky with how it turned out.”
Lesell, who is recovering from a hyperextended foot and a fractured vertebra, estimated that he’ll be out of work for about another month.
He urged motorists to slow down and move away when driving past traffic stops.
“It’s not hard to change lanes, to move over and give an inch or two,” Lessell said. “It’s not hard for someone to take their foot off the gas and move over.”
‘You don’t feel much’
The crash happened July 7 about 3 a.m. and was a result of a suspected drunken driver, police said.
The suspect’s vehicle struck the parked vehicle first, lessening the blow to Lesell, said officer Jimmy Pollozani, police spokesman.
“If the suspect didn’t hit the other car first, we would have been planning for a funeral instead,” Pollozani said.
Lesell first shared his story with NBC 5 last week, recalling the moment he walked up to the car he pulled over.
“Next thing I knew I was flying through the air,” Lesell told the TV station. “It felt like I was spinning through a washing machine.”
After landing on the ground, Lesell rolled onto his back, rose up on his knees, and then fell back down to the pavement.
Then, knowing he had to get off the highway, he stumbled to the side of the road, seconds before another car passed by.
“Your body goes into trauma mode,” he said. “Pain-wise, you don’t feel much. You just know something bad happened and the body does amazing things to limit the pain. All I knew was that I was hit. I kept spitting, and because it was bloody and I didn’t know where it was coming from, I knew it was bad.”
Driver arrested after crash
Mike Mitchell, 34, was the driver of the car that struck Lesell, according to a police report. Mitchell has been charged with intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury to a police officer, a second-degree felony, according to Tarrant County court records.
The deaths of two Tarrant County police officers — Grapevine’s Darren Medlin in 2004 and Fort Worth’s Dwayne Freeto in 2006 — led to a change in state law enhancing the penalty for drunk drivers who injure or kill police officers and first responders.
In 2007, intoxication manslaughter of a police officer was upgraded from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony, while intoxication assault was upgraded from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.
Medlin was struck and killed by a drunk driver while conducting a traffic stop. Freeto, who was assisting a stranded motorist, was killed when his patrol car burst into flames after getting struck by a drunk driver.
In the Fort Worth department, Lesell said, Freeto’s death is a reminder of the roadway dangers officer face.
“As a first responder, we don’t have an option,” he said. “Our job takes us to the freeways. All we can really do is do our best to prepare for the possibility of things happening.”