A Hero in our Midst
We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to stand for something – for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these are things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.
March 1, 1985
We seek Heros to inspire us to excel in life, to help us commit ourselves to achieve and to help us persevere when all seems futile.
We have such a man living in our midst. Such is the man of Dan Walters. For those who don’t know him… the man is an inspiration to many, has been for so long and will always be a Hero among us.
I had the absolute honor of sitting and talking with Dan at his new home in San Diego. His is a story I believe has to be told and never forgotten. Police officers risk their lives each and every day to preserve our liberties, protect the innocent and survive in a world where life and death decisions are made in the blink of an eye. Decisions, which will ultimately be scrutinized, criticized and discussed by many who have never been in such a position.
This is the story of Dan Walters, a Hero, whose life was changed in the blink of an eye. Dan speaks of his life’s accomplishments with modesty, but has achieved what many of us only dream of.
Dan Walters graduated from Santana High School in 1984. While in high school, Dan excelled as a catcher with the school’s baseball team. At 17 years the Houston Astros drafted him in the 5th Round Draft. Within 4 years, Dan made Houston’s Triple-A Team. He played with Houston for five seasons.
In 1989, Dan was traded to the San Diego Padres. He played in the minors in 1989, 1990 and 1991. In 1992, the Padres called him up to the majors and he played with the Padres through 1992 and 1993.
Dan sustained a spinal lumbar injury in 1993 and took the 1994 season to rehabilitate. He returned to baseball as a free agent and went to the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A team for the 1995 season. In 1996, Dan was traded to the Oakland A’s, where he sustained two herniated disks to the spinal lumbar area.
Dan received spinal fusion surgery in the spring of 1997 and was placed in a full-body cast. He underwent a year and a half of rehabilitation before he was able to start training again. Dan recalls having to use ‘an old man walker’ to get around. As it turned out, this injury ended Dan’s baseball career and he was forced to look for a job elsewhere.
Dan said he had always wanted to be a police officer. Although not completely recovered from the spinal surgery, he decided to apply with the San Diego Police Department. He did so in the summer of 1997. While going through the hiring process, he volunteered in the San Diego Police Department’s Street Gant Unit office. He helped sort out and file much of the intelligence data that flowed into the office. He sorted field interviews, reports and other documents to facilitate the documentation of gang members. As Dan says, ”Gang members I later recognized and dealt with while I patrolled the streets in Southeast.”
During the hiring process for police officer, Dan tried to speed up the rehabilitation process. He recalled telling the background investigator to slow down the process so he had time to recover.
The San Diego Police subsequently hired Dan in the summer of 1998. He attended the 42nd Regional Academy. His phase training took him through Northeastern, Northern, Mid-City, Southeastern, Central and Southern Divisions. He requested and was eventually assigned to the Southeastern Division patrol where he worked for five (5) years. Dan said he liked working the ”inner-city areas.”
On November 12, 2003, Dan was working 2nd Watch with Aaron Hildreth, a young new officer just out of phase training. They were covering officers on traffic stops and calls in the area to help Aaron familiarize himself with the community of Shelltown, well known for its gang and drug activities.
After assisting Officer Chris Tivanian on a stop at 43rd and Delta Streets, Dan and Aaron drove north on 43rd Street toward Highway 805. At about 10:30 (P.M.), they approached the narrowed area of 43rd Street. Dan saw a San Diego Police patrol car stopped in the roadway facing south. The patrol car had its overhead lights on but the officer was nowhere to be seen. Dan was driving so he came to a stop in the center median. He looked for the officer again and saw the officer crawling on his hands and knees in an area between parked cars only 15 to 17 feet from his driver’s side window.
Dan said he lost sight of the officer so he threw the car’s shift lever into park and exited the car. He looked left (south) for the officer and quickly looked right. He saw the suspect fast approaching from a position only 10 to 14 feet away.
Dan said, ”The suspect already had a gun in his extended right hand and it was pointed straight at my face.”
Dan said he had absolutely no chance to draw his own firearm before the suspect had the gun within three feet of his face. He saw the suspect coming at him but the suspect did not shoot him. He recalls thinking, ”Somebody shoot him. Somebody shoot him.”
After 2, 3 maybe 5 seconds, he decided to take action. His academy training kicked in and he wasn’t going to allow the suspect to shoot him in the face. He thought to himself, ”I have to act. I have to take action right now. I’m not going to allow him to shot me in the face.”
Dan decided to go for the suspect’s extended right arm. He missed but managed to lunge forward and grab the suspect in a bear hug. He tried driving the suspect backwards and onto the ground. While they struggled in the middle of the southbound lanes, the suspect managed to pull the gun around and place the end of the barrel against Dan’s neck. The suspect fired one shot.
The shot entered Dan’s neck behind the left ear, traveled through the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae and lodged in the right front neck area. Dan said, ”I felt the shot, I looked directly at him and I lost consciousness.”
Dan said he awakened and sensed a lot of chaos. He was motionless, couldn’t move and knew he was in a lot of trouble. He didn’t know that he had fallen to the ground and was struck by a citizen driving south on the 43rdStreet. Officers found him under the car’s undercarriage with only his legs exposed. Dan said he had no idea he had been struck by a car.
In the confusion, officers initially thought he had only been struck by the car. They found out later he had been shot as well.
Dan’s partner, Officer Hildreth, fired several shots and subsequently killed the suspect.
The investigation later revealed that Officer Henry Ingram stopped to investigate why a vehicle was stopped in traffic along the narrow area of southbound 43rd Street. When Officer Ingram approached the driver of the stopped vehicle, he found himself looking down the barrel of a .38 caliber revolver. Officer Ingram had interrupted a domestic dispute between a man and a woman. He too had no chance to draw his firearm before the suspect was on top of him with a gun drawn and pointed directly at his face.
Officer Ingram managed to duck behind cars parked along the road and it was then that Officers Dan Walters and Aaron Hildreth drove up. Officer Ingram later found a bullet had pierced his handcuff case and lodged in his handcuff chain.
Dan Walters survived his wounds. He was sent to Craig Hospital in Colorado, where doctors specialize in spinal cord injury rehabilitation. He was there four (4) months and as Dan says, ”…suffered quite a bit from illnesses that resulted because of my muscle structure and body breakdown as well as my immune system’s failure.”
Dan said he got quite ill in Colorado but they took good care of him. Dan is especially thankful for his close friends who traveled to Colorado to visit him. He gave special thanks to Billy Cahill, Steve Kingkade, Tom Joy, Chris Wilson, and Steve Albreght.
Dan said his mother and father played the most important role. He is grateful for the critical role his mother played in helping him survive. Dan said, ”My mother gave me the will to survive. She refused to let me die.”
Dan is immensely grateful for his mother: Roberta Walters, his father: Darrell Walters and his sister: Tricia Walters.
He returned to San Diego on March 2004 and continued his rehabilitation. The City of San Diego placed him in a hotel for two years while a home was prepared for him. In San Diego, he has enjoyed the support of his police family during some very trying rehabilitation periods. He is regaining use of his arms and cheerfully showed me how he could move the toes of his left foot. However, Dan remains confined to a motorized wheelchair. Dan said he required assistance 24 hours of a day, 7 days a week. With the help of close friends, he moved into a home in Mid-March. He has been trying to adjust to changes in his care and every day is a challenge.
Dan is looking forward to making the house his home. He has a room set aside as his “Sports Room” where he will place his memorabilia. In this room, he will have the equipment he uses in his therapy.
Those who know Dan know he will continue to strive toward recovery. He will work hard on his treatment and is not one to give up easily. Dan enjoys visits from his police family, although there are times when he needs his privacy and time alone. I expect every officer knows Dan Walters for the Giant of a Man that he is.
Throughout his career as a baseball player, Dan was a model of optimism, giving hope to young athletes who aspired to a career in a professional team. Dan had his ups and downs during his baseball career and he strived to achieve his best in the face of adversity. As a police officer, Dan is a Cop’s Cop. Like the Marine who never gives up his Title, Dan is still a Cop to the core. One need only see the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face as we discuss police issues. As a Police Officer, Dan has worked hard, provided leadership and aspired to make life safer for citizens living within the “inner-city.”
Today, Dan is a symbol of great strength, determination and perseverance. Yet he is as humble and modest a Man as you will ever meet.
Professional Baseball Player
San Diego Police Officer
For all you have done; for all you symbolize; and for all your sacrifices; The International Latino Gang Investigator’s Association (ILGIA), in its 4th Annual Gang Conference in San Diego, recognizes you as a Hero In Our Midst