HOUSTON – Houston police Officer Chase Cormier remembers a few things from the night the helicopter he piloted crashed while searching for a body in Greens Bayou.
Cormier, 35, remembers steering the helicopter away from an occupied apartment building to a vacant one. He can also recall not feeling his legs after the crash and asking about whether they’d been severed once firefighters arrived to remove him and his partner, Officer Jason Knox, from the wreckage.
Those details about run the course of Cormier’s memory from the night that forever changed his life. He said he was conscious, asking and answering questions, but only bits and pieces shape his recollection.
That includes his most painful memory.
“The only other thing I remember was being told about Jason that night and that was probably the most difficult thing,” Cormier said.
Knox, 35, was killed in the crash in May. Cormier suffered nine spinal fractures, including a burst fracture, severed nerves, and paralysis in both legs, he said. Still, losing his partner in many ways hurt him more.
“I’m still trying to figure that out," Cormier said. "Jason was a guy that -- he was kind of like a saint. He was always happy. He always came to work just in a good mood and uplifted everyone around him. He was just a great guy. I know a lot of people say that about people when they pass, but Jason was legitimately just a great man. A great father. A great husband and he was a great police officer.”
The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the cause of the crash.
Police arrested Josue Claros-Trajedo, 19, in May. He is accused of firing shots into the air, striking two helicopters. Claros-Trajedo has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault of a public servant and tampering with evidence.
Since his hospital release, Cormier’s focus has been set on putting mind over matter. The recovery hasn’t been easy for Cormier and his family -- the cost alone for what will be extensive treatment is a burden many have vowed to relieve.
A benefit barbecue was held Friday at the Houston Police Officer’s Union to support both officers. Cormier’s smile never wavered as he caught up with colleagues who came to show their support. The family of Knox attended the benefit, as well, including his wife, Keira, and father, Houston City Councilman Mike Knox.
“We’ve suffered a devastating blow to our family," Councilman Knox said. "You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You just have to go through it and we are going through it one day at a time.”
Taking it one day at a time includes keeping Jason’s cherished relics: his two refurbished classic HPD squad units were parked at the benefit.
“People don’t really know this but Jason was sort of a historian," Councilman Knox said. "He loved history of all kinds -- state history, national history, HPD history.”
In fact, both officers shared a love for HPD, as well as aviation.
“It didn’t feel like we were working when we would go fly the helicopters for the City of Houston every day,” Cormier said.
While flying seemed to come naturally to him, Cormier said he didn’t take lessons until after the military, inspired by friends who flew. Cormier did two tours of duty, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was hooked after a discovery flight and developed a passion that remains today. Eventually, he joined HPD, received his pilot’s license, trained, and was accepted into HPD’s elite Air and Marine Division - Air Support Unit.
He hopes to fly again.
“It feels like there’s a piece of me missing, you know? Obviously, with Jason, there’s a piece of me missing but with aviation, there’s definitely a piece of me missing,” he said.
A piece Cormier fights to find.
“It’s an unknown. There’s a lot of unknown factors that are still there," Cormier said. "I know in my soul that I’ll walk again, but there’s still a lot of unknown factors of what that will look like and what I’ll be able to recover with. It’s out of my hands but I trust in God’s hands and he’s been great and he’s blessed me so far.”
A GoFundMe page has been established to help the Cormier family with medical and other expenses, including toward building a home compliant with guidelines set in the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the post.