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Deputy Mark Harris returns to Minkler after shootout

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Two months ago a search warrant served on Minkler resident Rick Liles in rural Fresno County turned into a deadly shootout.

When the long gun battle ended, Fresno County Sheriff's Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier and Reedley Police Officer Javier Bejar lost their lives.

Deputy Mark Harris was injured when bullet fragments became lodged in his eye, face, arms and torso.

Deputy Mark Harris is back on patrol in Eastern Fresno County just eight weeks after he came dangerously close to losing his own life.

Harris had no idea how fortunate he was that day until crime scene collectors took his gear as evidence.

"You could see through my gear that a bullet went along my vest and went into my handcuff case. Hit my handcuff case and bounced out. So it's like an act, it could have gone both ways, but it went away from me instead of into me. So I got real lucky," said Deputy Harris.

He returned to work less than a month after the February 25th shooting following surgery to remove shrapnel from his right eye. During the shootout bullet fragments struck the white portion of his eye, just missing the iris and cornea.

Deputy Harris said, "It was like slow motion and things just spattered out towards me. And next thing I know I had my right eye I couldn't really see out of and I had blood coming down my face and I went down and I think I was dizzy or knocked silly if you want to use that term for a bit. I just remember getting up and I was angry. You got fight or flight."

Instead of running away, Harris ran back into the hot zone until another deputy dragged him out.

"I couldn't really see, I was trying to get back in there. The sergeant was yelling at me "get the heck out of there" and uh I wanted to go back to get my A.R. Because I ran out of ammunition and I didn't have any ammo though left," said Deputy Harris.

That helpless feeling of running out of bullets is the reason Harris carries this fanny pack in his patrol car now. It's filled with ammunition. Training helped Harris know how to react in that type of shootout but there's nothing like actually being caught in a barrage of bullets.

Deputy Harris explains, "You go to the range and you hear all the bullets that are loud and the sound it's deafening. In an actually gunfight, all I heard was light pops. I don't remember hearing anything loud. So it's, it was different."

He says the entire team of Calfire investigators and sheriff's deputies acted with bravery.

"We went in as a group and we came out as a group," said Deputy Harris. "I got injured but I was a team player. Everybody, everybody did their part there. Nobody short of their duty. Nobody said no, nobody hesitated."

Days after the shooting Harris returned to the property where the violence unfolded. Different emotions surface each visit.

"Coming back out, most stuff's been torn down. And it's just memories, lost a good friend here. "The first time I came back, it was a little eerie you know cause you could see the images in your mind and see it. You could almost hear the sounds of people yelling and screaming," said Deputy Harris.

The outpouring of love and support from the community has helped Harris begin to heal. He and several homicide detectives were honored three weeks ago with a standing ovation on opening day of baseball at Grizzlies Stadium. Harris got to throw out the first pitch.

Cards and posters from all over the Valley are helping Harris recover from emotional wounds. Notes from school children have been especially uplifting.

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crimetracker, fresno county, shooting, fresno county sheriff department, local, sontaya rose
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