DALLAS -- A Dallas police officer was recovering in the intensive-care unit Friday after he lost control of his squad car while trying to avoid an accident and crashed into an iron fence in west Oak Cliff. An iron rod from the fence broke the front windshield and struck his chest.
Officer Keith Ashley, who joined the department in 2002, was being treated for a "bruised heart" at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, a police report said. His bulletproof vest is credited with stopping the rod and saving his life.
He is expected to recover and was awake and speaking with friends and family, said Deputy Chief Rick Watson. Officials were awaiting the results of tests to make sure that there was no serious damage to his heart.
"He's doing very well," said his wife, Kelie Ashley. "He's doing well, and we are very relieved."
Juvenal Avila, 30, who was driving the Chevy Tahoe that police say caused the accident, was being held in the Dallas County Jail on suspicion of intoxication assault. An immigration hold has been placed on Mr. Avila, and the Dallas County Jail Web site indicated that he was in the country illegally.
According to police, Officer Ashley and Officer Davey Bass were nearing the end of their shift and were returning to the southwest patrol station. Both were headed southbound in the 800 block of South Westmoreland Road about 11:30 p.m., with Officer Ashley in the rear car.
That's when Mr. Avila's Tahoe turned in front of Officer Bass' squad car, crashing into the front of it and causing it to spin counterclockwise and into the path of Officer Ashley's squad car.
Officer Ashley swerved to miss the crash but lost control, jumping the curb and hitting an iron fence and some trees at a residence in the 3300 block of Burlingdell Avenue.
The iron rod hit the center plate of Officer Ashley's bulletproof vest, breaking the rod. "There is no doubt in my mind that it saved his life," said Chief Watson.
"It's a wonderful piece of equipment, I'm telling you," his wife added.
In 2006, Officer Ashley was severely injured during a foot chase with a drug suspect in southeast Oak Cliff. According to news accounts, the suspect jumped a chain-link fence, the officer caught him in midair, and the two crashed to the ground. The fall injured Officer Ashley's back, and he later had to undergo surgery and was unable to work for months.
"When I was up there this morning, he was like, 'Chief, I want to go,'" Chief Watson said. "He was in good spirits. He's an outstanding officer. He's a go-getter. I wish all of them were like him."