The long road home

Justin Scott pedals his stationary bike at Big County Rehabilitation as part of his recovery in the wake of the high-speed chase last December that ended his law enforcement career.
Jen Kocher

In his former life, Justin Scott mitigated disasters and saved lives. In his current one, he’s trying to save his own.

The former Converse County undersheriff was a tactician who managed resources and sharply made split-second decisions. He devoted his energy to emergency services, including serving as the head of the volunteer county search and rescue.

As long as he can remember, he’s wanted to be in this life-saving role, beginning as a student at Douglas High when he life guarded to college where he studied forestry and was trained in emergency response. His first job was fighting fires for the US Forest Service. He transitioned to a career in law enforcement.

He was prepared for emergencies. Even at home. The family had a code word, followed by a precise plan to avoid harm. He was prepared everywhere.

Except this time.

One high-speed chase brought his career – and life as he knew it – to a screeching halt.

He’s told the story so many times that he’s pretty much committed it to memory: The wintery cold day last December when his patrol truck collided head-on into John Hankinson’s vehicle as the suspect tried to flee. Typically, Scott wouldn’t have been out that day but he was running errands when he heard the call and jumped into action.

With highway patrol on his tail, Hankinson allegedly raced off I-25 at exit 135 into Douglas, using the on-ramp. As he turned toward Douglas city limits, Scott attempted to ram the suspect from the side but hit a patch of ice. Instead, Scott and the suspect collided head-on.

Scott remembers jumping out of the patrol vehicle and tackling the driver to the ground as fellow law enforcement officers joined him. As more officers descended, Scott stood up and headed toward Sheriff Clint Becker.

His legs crumpled. He collapsed on the snow-covered ground.

Next thing he knew he was being driven by CCSO Investigator Eric Koss to the hospital. All he remembered were the stabs of pain shooting down his back.


Today, nearly seven months later, Scott sits on a stationary bike and pedals at a leisurely pace at Big Country Rehabilitation. He jokes with his therapist who banters back. The staff
here has become like family, and he doubts what he would have done without them. A couple weeks ago this wouldn’t have been possible, he says, which is just one of the
milestones he’s celebrating today.

He’s also ditched the walker, and, most recently the cane, and is finally walking on his own, albeit stiff-jointed baby steps.

But still, it’s earned him back his car keys and solo driving privileges. Up until this point, his wife Kylea had been his primary chauffeur, which given his near daily doctor’s or rehab
appointments, had become a fulltime job.

His hip continues to be a work in progress, but in a few short weeks, he’s already come a long way. Speaking in a halted monotone voice, a ramification of the traumatic brain injury, Justin’s nouns and verbs are precise and measured. During the crash, his right leg was braced on the brake pedal, he explains. His labrum and femur were shattered. He also
sustained vertebrae damage when his spine impacted.

The injuries were severe enough to end his career. In May, he received medical retirement benefits. His job now is to heal.

As he pedals, Scott also taps the screen of his cell phone as he practices vocabulary words as part of his occupational therapy. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but the only way
through it is to stay positive and set small, attainable daily goals, he says. Some days this might mean learning a new word or taking 16 extra steps.

That, and staying positive, which Scott admits is by the far the hardest part.

“It’s real easy in this situation to get negative,” he says, his eyes watery behind the thick lenses as he stares forward, pumping his legs on the pedals with heavy breaths. “It kinda
tears ya up and it’s hard to stay positive every day.”

It helps to stay focused on recovery, he adds, and not compare his life now to that of the past – one in which he was in control and the provider.

The new one means getting use to being dependent on others. It means overcoming acute insomnia. And getting use to how his own words now feel in his mouth as they jumble and get stuck somewhere between his brain and mouth. And feeling vulnerable for the first time in his son’s and daughter’s eyes as they struggle to understand why dad can’t run to the park with them or carry them on his back up a mountain like he used to.

“It’s getting better,” he said, nodding resolutely with his eyes on the handle bars. Now, he’s looking forward to recovery and a new career in human resources. That was his favorite
part on the job at CCSO. He enjoyed helping the deputies sharpen their skills and interests and grow into their preferred roles. He loved keeping up morale in the workplace. That’s the key to success both in business and in life, he believes.

He’s also had to let the disappointments go, the gulf between who he used to be and who he is now. This means learning to forgive the man who led him here. Scott has no interest in following the court case and instead hopes that he finds help to recover and become a better man. Hankinson has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on multiple felonies.

Ultimately, Scott says, it’s out of his hands. Like everything else, he’s just taking it one day at a time.

One man’s actions led him down this road. It’s up to him to find a new path.

“Sometimes you get down, but it’s been quite an experience,” Scott says.


Glenrock Independent

Physical Address:506 W. Birch, Glenrock, WY 82637 Mailing Address: PO Box 109, Douglas, WY 82633 Phone: (307) 436-2211

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