racy Sheets isn't a big fan of routines. So it was nice that each day in her career as a police officer was just a bit different.
Tracy has lived in the Bryan-College Station area since about 1986. She attended Texas A&M but ended up getting her criminal justice degree from Sam Houston State University. She started as an officer with the College Station Police Department in 1993.
"It was more than a career," Tracy says. "Much like being in the military, law enforcement becomes a lot of who you are -- it's in the blood."
Tracy worked on patrol and crime scene investigations, so she was able to interact with the community -- to be out on the streets, helping businesses, helping people. But she also had a chance to do the detail-oriented, scientific areas of the job -- collecting evidence and being involved in more serious cases. "I really got the best of both worlds," she says.
Tracy's career in law enforcement was a way for her to help people, to make a difference. She spent time as a community policing officer and tells about meeting a struggling mother with two young children. Tracy saw their living conditions and gave her own childhood bedroom furniture to the family. She says it led to one of the best feelings she's ever had.
"Little things you do can mean so much to people," Tracy says.
racy Sheets was a College Station police officer for 17 years. And it's a good bet that she would still be on the beat -- if it weren't for the crash.
It happened about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2010. Tracy was working an overnight shift when a call came in that some cars were possibly racing or mudding on her beat -- around Barron Road in south College Station. Tracy went to check it out, driving westbound on Eagle Avenue. She was going about 15 mph.
She says she saw headlights coming toward her; she started to think that they were moving really fast. And they were. So fast, in fact, that Tracy didn't even have time to finish her thought before she was experiencing the worst pain she had ever felt. "It felt like every bone in my ankle and my foot were being crushed. And then I was just dazed for a little bit," she says. Even though she registered pain, she didn't realize exactly what had happened.
Tracy's patrol car had just been destroyed by a drunk driver going more than 80 mph. The car that had crashed into her was a Maserati with four people inside. The driver was a 21-year-old woman whose blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. The passengers had yelled out. They had seen Tracy's patrol car. But the driver, under the influence, could not respond in time and could not negotiate a curve in the road. She hit Tracy's vehicle head-on, just on Tracy's side of center.
As Tracy's mind began to clear, she tried to get out of her car and realized that she couldn't move. Nothing in the car was where it was supposed to be. She used the radio on her belt to let dispatch know what had happened, and she says she heard voices asking if she was okay.
"And I couldn't figure out where they came from," she says. "I don't remember seeing anything."
But Tracy was a police officer. And despite her injuries, she tried to stay on top of the situation. She asked if the occupants of the other vehicle were okay. And she told the people trying to help her to stop: In her pinned situation, trying to get her out of her car at that moment would have only led to more injury. "I'm just trying to stay calm ... because it's my job," she says. "I'm trying to find out if the other people are hurt. But I couldn't be the patient."
hen the emergency responders arrived, they had to cut Tracy out of her car -- such was the destruction caused by the crash. She remembers going to College Station Medical Center, and she remembers being put on a helicopter to be flown to Temple. But she doesn't remember the flight.
Tracy's injuries were numerous. A hip and her pelvis were broken; all of her ribs on her right side were fractured; the ACL in her left knee was damaged. But worst of all was her right ankle. It had more breaks than she could count. "They said the only time they've seen that particular set of fractures is in airline crashes, because of the sheer forces involved due to the speeds," Tracy says.
And so began her struggle through surgeries and rehab -- a struggle that would eventually end her career as a police officer.
Tracy had an initial surgery in which her hip was put in traction, and then a second surgery in which doctors pinned her hip and put pins in her ankle. She began rehab and had to learn how to negotiate a wheelchair.
Tracy's family is in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and her sister is a nurse, so she initially moved there to continue her rehab. She said it was very difficult: There she was, 40 years old and very independent, but now forced to rely on others to do everything. She couldn't take a shower or use the bathroom without help. "All dignity is gone," she says. And her family's life was turned upside down as well. "That was hard. To know that you're causing all of that in people's lives."
She was approved to begin using crutches in May 2010, but she had to start with parallel bars because her brain and her feet weren't yet on the same page. It was a struggle, she says, but once she was able to use crutches, it was time to go home. At the end of May 2010, she moved back to College Station.
She went back to work at the police department on light-duty jobs, but her ankle wasn't healing correctly. The screws were backing out -- through her skin -- so she had to have surgery to remove them. Things didn't get better from there. Her ankle would have to be fused, which meant there would be no up and down motion in it. And that meant she couldn't be an officer.
Tracy went through two ankle-fusion surgeries; she went through two rounds of rehab. Finally she was taken off work. "And I finally had to admit that they were right and I wasn't going to be able to be an officer. Which was a hard thing to come to," she says.
t had been a very difficult two years for Tracy. Her workman's comp benefits were coming to an end, and she was faced with tough choices about what she was going to do with her life. She had moved to a civilian position working with evidence at the police department, but she says she had trouble adjusting to that new role, and lingering cognitive issues from the crash made it even harder. She decided to retire from the police department so she could retain her health insurance and have a little bit of income. This would allow her to focus on her rehab.
In May 2012, she retired while healing from her second ankle-fusion surgery. One year later, that surgery was deemed a success, but she still has arthritis and pain in her ankle. And she has no padding between the bones in her foot and the ground -- just skin. The way she describes it, she is always healing and in rehab.
Today, Tracy does a lot of speaking for MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and she is a volunteer victim advocate. She hopes to be admitted to graduate school in the fall to pursue her master's degree in victim advocacy. She has found her second career.
She also goes to schools and talks with students about decision-making. She tells her story. "How it applies not just to drinking and driving, but any decision. That they don't live in a bubble. And it's a ripple effect," she says. "Any decision they make has consequences good and bad, and that those decisions affect people."
Tracy talks to the cadets at the police academy when they have their DWI training. She tells them how to react if something like this happens to them: Know your streets. Know how to let someone know where you are. And always have a survivor mindset.
She says that through all of this, she has become more empathetic. "I think that my character is stronger. I've become a better person. I take things more in stride. And my faith has gotten stronger ... that's just gone kind of above and beyond now through this experience," she says. "I don't know how you could go through something like this and not experience a change, whether it be good or bad. And I'm just fortunate, I guess, because the way I was raised, I looked at things in a positive manner, and so my change has been for the good in that way. And so that relationship with God has gotten a lot stronger. And so that's been a huge positive."
And, she says, the fact that she can still make a difference and help people is a really good thing. "To know I've been able to continue to do that and make positive difference in other ways ... has meant a lot," she says.
he driver of the Maserati that hit Tracy's patrol car was convicted of intoxication assault of a public servant with a deadly weapon -- the car being the deadly weapon -- and was sentenced to six years in prison. She will have to serve a minimum of three years before she is eligible for parole. All of her appeals have been denied.
Tracy says it comes down to making good decisions. "I'm not telling anybody not to drink. As long as you're of legal age, have a few drinks. I'm not telling people not to do that. That would be hypocritical," she says. "I drank when I was in college. I had a really good group of friends. We always planned ahead. We knew whose turn it was to drive."
She says it's better to spend a few dollars on a taxi than to kill someone or get killed because you've been drinking and driving.
"The girl that hit me, she had some physical consequences, and luckily she's going to be fine from that. But now she's in TDC, her family is without her for this time, so they're suffering consequences of that," she says. "Her friends were affected by it. This whole community was affected by it. My friends, my family. There's so many people who are affected by something like this."