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Officer describes breaking his leg during Las Vegas shooting

Updated January 13, 2019 - 11:59 pm

Las Vegas police officer Samuel Wittwer knew immediately that he had injured himself.

It happened less than 10 minutes after he arrived at the back of the Route 91 Harvest music festival to help fleeing concertgoers escape the gunfire on Oct. 1, 2017.

“I felt something pop. Oh, yeah, it’s broken,” the 32-year-old officer can be heard saying on recently released body camera footage from the Metropolitan Police Department.

Throughout the night, he talks about his foot and ankle being broken. He later learned that he had broken two bones in his leg.

Wittwer’s actions were briefly mentioned by Sheriff Joe Lombardo in the aftermath of the mass shooting, but the footage released on Dec. 19 shows the night from his perspective. Wittwer spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday in his first media interview about the events of that night.

Slowed by the injury, Wittwer and officer Ashley Lif stay at the scene, although they retreat from the gates of the festival to provide security for an ambulance at a medical staging area nearby.

“With the situation we had, it was the best thing we could have done,” Wittwer said Friday.

Throughout the video, Wittwer is heard telling fellow officers, medics and concertgoers that he is fine and asking them to continue treating shooting victims first.

After about 90 minutes at the scene, Wittwer ends up in the back of an ambulance, heading to a hospital for treatment.

‘I felt something pop’

Wittwer’s body camera starts recording at 10:06 p.m., one minute after the shooting began, as he sits in the passenger seat of a patrol car.

He and Lif had just begun their shift and were heading toward the Mandalay Bay area to look for some robbery suspects. When the shooting call comes in on the radio, Lif whips the car around and begins driving on Tropicana Avenue toward the festival grounds.

“Keep your eye out,” Wittwer warns Lif as they drive closer to the scene. “People are running.”

When they park and exit the car, what sounds like gunshots can be heard overhead, and the pair is almost immediately approached by two men — one of whom has been shot.

The man explains that it’s just a ricochet wound and says he’s an EMT. Lif gives him something to wrap his wound with before they head off to help other fleeing concertgoers.

As Wittwer jogs toward a group of officers, he trips over what appears to be a curb.

He lets out an expletive.

“I popped it. Of course I did,” he mutters to himself.

On Friday, Wittwer said he wasn’t used to running in so much gear. And with all the chaos going on, he wasn’t even looking at the ground.

“I hit the step just right, and it broke my leg,” he said.

The video shows Lif helping him back to the car, and they briefly discuss going to University Medical Center. They instead park near an ambulance setup, which appears to be stationed near the east side of Koval Lane.

With the passenger door of the patrol car propped open, Wittwer helps give directions to concertgoers.

Lif then comes back to him, trying to figure out what to do.

“OK, we’ll stay here,” she says. “You’re useless, not to be blunt. I’ll handle everything out here.”

Sometimes, even now, Wittwer thinks about that. The officer, who has basic EMT training, remembers looking at injured people near him who needed medical attention.

“That was the hardest thing I had to come to: I couldn’t focus on medically helping people because there were so many people who needed help and not enough paramedics,” he said. “I think that’s what sticks with me the most is trying to deal with that. I wanted to help all the people, and they were looking at me to help them.”

But Wittwer is content now, knowing he helped in other ways, including a potentially dangerous incident with an RV.

RV investigation

While Wittwer is in the car, a man who identifies himself as an off-duty police officer from Los Angeles reports that he saw a suspicious man carrying two black duffel bags into an RV.

Wittwer calls the report in on the radio and then hobbles across a stretch of grass to join a team of officers. He takes a position by a parked firetruck, with his shotgun trained on the RV to provide cover, as other officers detain the man.

The report ended up being a false alarm.

Wittwer said that was the one time he doesn’t remember feeling any pain during the night.

“I had tunnel vision there,” he said. “I forgot about my pain. I knew I just had to focus in on this.”

Shortly after 11 p.m. according to a time stamp on the video, Mike Smith, an officer with Metro’s gang unit, recognizes that Wittwer is in bad shape, wraps his foot, and places an IV catheter in his arm.

Initially, Wittwer doesn’t want to leave the scene, saying he won’t take a spot on an ambulance that could go to a shooting victim.

But Smith gets stern with Wittwer.

“Well here’s the problem, bro,” Smith says. “Sam, God bless you. I love you, but we have to deal with — if we have to provide security for you, we can’t deal with this until we do that.”

Wittwer relents and soon is loaded into an ambulance.

Praise from Lombardo

Off-duty officer Charleston Hartfield, 34, a military veteran, was shot and killed during the festival. Detective Casey Clarkson, who was working overtime at the festival, was shot in the neck. Officer Brady Cook — patrolling the festival grounds during his first shift since graduating from the police academy nine days earlier — caught a bullet below the right shoulder.

In the days after the mass shooting, which killed 58 concertgoers and injured hundreds of others, Lombardo briefly mentioned Wittwer while discussing the heroics of officers that night.

“Samuel Wittwer — excuse me for my emotion — Samuel was laying on his couch with a very intensive wound to his leg,” said the sheriff, who had visited the injured officer at home. “During the melee and his attempt to evacuate victims, he sustained a broken leg, but he stayed on scene and provided security for the medical personnel.”

Wittwer underwent surgery within a few days of his injury. His leg now has two titanium plates and three titanium screws.

Recovery was hard, Wittwer remembers, because the rest of his team was working 12-hour shifts in the aftermath. While occasional physical pain takes him back to memories of the tragedy, Wittwer said he hasn’t wanted to watch his own body-camera footage from that night.

His leg healed enough for him to return to duty in March. In the fall, he transitioned to the gang unit. He’s currently on paternity leave, but he’ll be back in time for his four-year anniversary with Metro in April.

He and his wife welcomed their third child, their first girl, in September. They also have two boys, 7 and 5, who help him bring the whole picture into focus.

“I beat myself up for having a broken leg, and they are proud of my scars,” he said.

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