Paralyzed Clairton police Officer Kuzak testifies in trial of alleged assailants
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A few jurors dabbed tears from their eyes this morning as Clairton police Officer James Kuzak described responding to the April 2011 home invasion that would end with his paralysis from a gunshot wound.
Officer Kuzak took the witness stand in the trial of Emilio Rivera, 27, of McKees Rocks and Marcus Andrejco, 19, of Rankin, who prosecutors say robbed a couple at a home on Miller Avenue and shot the officer, who was among the first to respond.
Officer Kuzak said he parked a way down the road from the house, believing at least one gunman was still inside.
While other officers went to the front door, Officer Kuzak went to the back and saw a partially opened door that slammed shut as he announced his presence.
He tried to kick open the door, but it wouldn't budge.
That's when he said he saw the first muzzle flash. His adrenaline rushed and his fight-or-flight reflexes kicked in, he said.
But something was wrong.
"I know something is not happening, and I am questioning why I am not returning fire," the officer testified. "I know I'm still being fired upon."
He was on the ground.
"I realized I didn't have my gun in my hand, and I didn't know why," he said.
Officer Kuzak had been shot but he still didn't quite understand. What he did know, he said, was that he had to get out alive.
He noticed a pair of legs dart over him, which he believed belonged to the man who shot him. He feared the man would return.
"In my mind I thought, this is the person who shot me," he said. "... I will prepare myself to die."
He spoke of seeing images of his loved ones flashing through his mind and of hitting his legs -- and realizing that he could not feel them. He described struggling to scream out for help and losing his breath.
"I could feel it getting worse," he said.
But he kept talking and yelling and promising himself he would not die.
Another officer pulled him to the safety of a waiting ambulance, where he got his first glimpse into what the future would hold.
A paramedic told him to pick up his leg.
"I remember saying, but I'm paralyzed, and him saying, 'Wow, you really are."
Officer Kuzak's testimony lasted about an hour and was the first time he had described the incident in detail to a room full of strangers.
The trial will continue later this afternoon.
First Published July 30, 2012 1:43 pm