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Trooper Steen's Road To Recovery

April 14, 2014, 10:11 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Trooper Steen's Road To Recovery

In uniform and behind the wheel, South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Andrew Steen has returned to the job he left 18 months ago after he was seriously hurt in the line of duty.

"I worked pretty hard to get back from what people were thinking I was going to. I'm not living in a nursing home, which they thought," Steen said.

On October 17, 2012, Steen was on patrol when he tried to pull over repeat drunk driver Rachel Coleman. She tried to outrun officers and the chase made it to the parking lot of The Bridges at 57th and Western.  Steen got out of his car to stop Coleman, but she ran him over. His leg was severely injured and Steen suffered a traumatic brain injury.

"I'm no medical doctor but I remember as the numbers came in that related to the pressure on his skull. They gave certain numbers of where this becomes life threatening and he reached those numbers," South Dakota Highway Patrol Captain Alan Welsh said.

Part of Steen's skull had to be removed to relieve that pressure. You can still see the scar today. Welsh is Steen's supervisor and made many visits during Steen's two-month hospital stay.

"At that time, the concern was not about will he return to work clearly during those first hours or days, the concern is is he going to live," Welsh said.

Steen doesn't remember much about the crash or his hospital stay, yet his turnaround has been remarkable.

"He recovered. I don't know how you could describe it other than miraculously," Welsh said.

Steen does remember the day he left the hospital - the day he walked out dressed in his Highway Patrol uniform after refusing to leave the hospital in a wheelchair.

"I know there were going to be a couple troopers there, but then when I came around the corner and there was like a couple hundred people there I wasn't expecting it," Steen said.

"What sticks out in my mind the most was the hospital staff cheering and clapping and they were up in that balcony area and everybody was clapping and everybody there knew the story," Welsh said.

A story that was only just beginning. When Steen left the hospital that December day, he was just starting the physical therapy and mental evaluations needed to get back to work.

"It was like being a trooper with one day on again," Steen said.

Steen no longer can hear in one ear and he's lost his sense of smell. He returned to light duty about a year ago doing desk work at the Sioux Falls Highway Patrol office while he worked toward passing the ten-week course to get back on the road.

"It was good for a week. I'm not a guy who just likes to sit around and do nothing, so sitting behind a desk wasn't fun for me. But it was great that they gave it to me so I wasn't just sitting on the couch all day," Steen said.

Getting out from behind a desk was just part of Steen's motivation to get back on patrol.

"He was just passionate about it. He quite frankly was just happy to be in the car and in field training and I was real happy with the way he worked toward returning to work," Welsh said.

In February, Steen passed all the tests necessary to go back to full duty behind the wheel. Because his story of recovery touched so many South Dakotans, he says he continues to be recognized even now when he's back on the road.

Steen: "I've actually stopped one of the nurses and I don't remember her but…"
Ben Dunsmoor: Did you give her a ticket?
Steen: "No. No, she was only five over or something like that."

"When you see him walking in the halls or getting out of his car in uniform and walking you just think that's amazing that he's here doing these things," Welsh said.

It is amazing. Yet Steen insists he wasn't going to let that October 2012 crash end his career.

"I didn't want this reason to be what ruined my career. It kind of helped motivate me that I didn't want that to be the reason that I can't do what I want to do. I wanted it to be my choice than someone else's choice," Steen said.

And Steen has taken a road many thought he would never patrol again.

"It was a long ordeal so it's good to be finally back," Steen said.

Since his release from the hospital Steen and his fiance Kristen got married and the couple is expecting a baby girl in July.


After shooting this story with KELOLAND News Steen found out he has a stress fracture in his foot and will likely have to return to light duty again until it's healed.

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