Officer James Kuzak and his girlfriend Chris Okulanis on a promotional poster for the documentary "Heroes Beyond the Badge: Sacrifice & Survival."
By Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Today marks the third anniversary when a Clairton police officer was shot and paralyzed while responding to an armed break-in and the fifth anniversary of the day three Pittsburgh police officers were killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Stanton Heights.
The Pittsburgh police bureau will mark the somber anniversary in a private ceremony at the Zone 5 police station in Highland Park, an event open only to officers, a few public officials and the family members of the fallen officers -- Eric G. Kelly, Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo Jr.
Both occasions, organizers hope, will be remembered at a screening Saturday of "Heroes Behind the Badge: Sacrifice & Survival," a movie featuring Clairton Officer James Kuzak and others who were wounded or killed in the line of duty. Proceeds from the screening benefit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Officer Kuzak said he met the film's executive producer, William Erfuth, while attending a screening in Bethel Park for the first movie in the series.
Over the course of four days last year, Officer Kuzak, his girlfriend and family members met with Mr. Erfuth and recounted their memories of April 4, 2011, the day he was shot while responding to a call on Miller Avenue.
Officer Kuzak said it was the first time he had returned to the shooting scene, except maybe for a brief visit with Allegheny County homicide detectives who led the investigation into his shooting. Reliving that day, he said, was an emotional experience.
"They are asking you what went through your head and you literally are sitting there looking at the last place that I walked," he said. "You don't know [that] when you go to your call."
The film also includes scenes of Officer Kuzak at various therapy treatments, including using a machine called an AutoAmbulator that suspends him while he learns to walk, and interviews with several people close to him.
Officer Kuzak said he and his girlfriend, Cris Okulanis, watched the movie with some friends earlier this year.
"You cried," he said. "You're surprised at how it was done."
Officer Kuzak said he hopes sharing his story will help highlight for others the challenges police officers face each day. He said he talks about his experience in part because he knows others can't.
"I'm fortunate enough I survived," he said.
Local promoter Brian Drusky began organizing the screening after he spoke with Pittsburgh police Officer Keith Stover about Officer Kuzak's upcoming movie and about the impending shooting anniversaries.
Tickets for the screening at 7 p.m. in Hyundai West Club at Heinz Field cost $10 and are available at the door or in advance at ticketfly.com or 1-877-4fly-tix.
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published April 3, 2014 11:23 PM
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