By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (July 7, 2016) – Their mission is simple – to protect and serve. But, in the case a law enforcement official is forced to take a leave of absence due to serious illness or injuries sustained in the line of duty, those roles are reversed. Such has been the case for two officers whose duties include protecting and serving the people of Erath County.
Standing behind those who stand behind them, friends of the Erath County Sheriff’s Department are preparing for an August 6 event benefiting the families of two local law enforcement officials. They have been off the job since April.
It was a difficult month for Erath County Sheriff’s Department.
In a period of just days, the department received a double dose of bad news – Sgt. Cody Keith and Deputy Dustin Paulsen were fighting for their lives. One officer would be out for months, fighting an aggressive late-stage cancer. The other survived a deadly crash, seriously injured and considering an end to his patrol duties.
Immediately, the community – friends, family, neighbors and fellow county employees – rallied behind them. To help ease the burden of the healing process and offset treatment and recovery-related expenses, efforts to raise funds – t-shirt sales, benefit bank accounts and events got underway.
Almost four months after taking leaves of absence, it’s still uncertain when the deputies will return to duty.
Keith was diagnosed with stage 4 Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma. It is a rare type of cancer of the head and neck that has caused damage to his facial nerves, tissues and bones. Doctors are optimistic the sergeant will defeat the disease.
Keith is currently hospitalized, according to his wife, Belinda. She said he was admitted July 1 due to an infection and weakened immune system. But his larger-than-life personality and winning spirit have remained strong.
“Cody has been a true warrior and has finished phase one of this battle,” Belinda said.
Keith has undergone 35 radiation treatments along with weekly rounds of chemotherapy for about two months. Hopes and spirits remain high, but Belinda said the aggressive treatment schedule has left its mark.
“Due to radiation, Cody has severe burns to his throat/neck area and to the inside of his mouth, “Belinda said, adding that he hasn’t consumed fluids or foods by mouth in about two months. “He is receiving nutrition through a feeding tube.”
The family’s battle is far from over.
“These areas have to heal before another scan can be done to see if treatments helped or if more treatment is needed,” Belinda said, adding the scan will not be done for about three months. “Right now we just work on healing and dealing with the side effects left from the treatments he has received thus far.”
Paulsen’s medical journey also continues.
Just after midnight on Friday, April 22, his patrol unit was decimated in a head-on collision. Paulsen was enroute to provide backup to a fellow law enforcement official when the wreck occurred south of Stephenville.
The driver of the vehicle that struck Paulsen’s patrol unit, Luis Alberto Garcia, 30, of Stephenville was pronounced dead at the scene. Garcia’s autopsy confirmed he had recently consumed elicit drugs and officials said his blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit.
The deputy sustained multiple serious injuries, including a crushed foot, compound fracture to his femur, broken pelvis, multiple fractures to his hip, torn ACL, PCL and MCL ligaments in his knee, separated ribs, bruised lungs, a lacerated spleen and more.
While calls to the recovering deputy were not immediately returned, sources close to the case said Paulsen has undergone multiple surgeries, has started physical therapy and will likely undergo additional procedures in the future.
Meanwhile, Judith Riola, office manager at the Erath County Sheriff’s Office is pulling double duty. She’s working regular hours and keeping the office running smoothly while working off the clock as an organizer of the Friends of the Erath County Sheriff’s Department BBQ Dinner Fundraiser, set for Saturday, Aug. 6 at City Hall at City Limits.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Keith and Paulsen families as their treatment and recovery processes continue.
Riola and fellow organizers are calling on community support for the event, which will feature a barbecue dinner at $10 per plate, live music by Mark Trimmier, a raffle and live and silent auctions with an ‘auctioneer entertainer.’
“We are currently in need of table sponsors and larger auction items,” Riola said.
She also said the t-shirts sales continue at the sheriff’s office. The shirts are inscribed with the words, ‘Standing Behind Those Who Stand Behind Us’ and include a black and white American flag displaying a thin blue line as one of the stripes.
They can be purchased at the sheriff’s office, located at 1043 Glen Rose Road in Stephenville or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To pledge extend financial support, donate an auction item, purchase tickets or reserve a table for the August 6 fundraiser, contact Riola at (254) 965-3338.
Monetary contributions may also be made at any First Financial Bank branch, where medical benefit accounts have been established in the names of Cody Keith and Dustin Paulsen.