Outside the Milam County Sheriff’s Office these days, there’s an empty parking spot.
Some seven weeks after being shot in the line of duty, Milam County Chief Deputy Sam Ferguson knows he’s fortunate to be alive.
“This jaw, so there’s a big gaping hole over here. Most of this is gone,” Ferguson says, pointing to his wired jaw. “The bullet hit right up here. It’s actually still in my face. They’ll either take it out when they put the jaw in, or just leave it.”
Ferguson is the county's dedicated mental health officer.
In October, while helping a mobile crisis outreach team do a checkup near Rockdale, he was shot twice.
He recently sat down with 25 News anchor Todd Unger to talk about the near-death experience, and his unique insight into the growing mental health crisis.
“I had met the guy before,” says Ferguson. “He was in a mental health crisis. We went out there to help him, to get him treatment.”
He still can’t discuss specifics of the investigation, but at some point Ferguson was shot once in the stomach area, and once through the head.
The bullet to the abdomen was blocked by a vest. The one through his head shattered his jaw.
“I knew immediately my jaw was gone. It was like getting hit with a baseball bat,” he said.
Despite the severe injuries, Ferguson was able to react quickly, shooting and killing the subject.
First responders and fellow deputies rushed to the scene, including Sam Ferguson V, the chief deputy’s own son.
“He was sticking his hands in my mouth. Throwing chunks out. There was a lot of stuff in there. When there was a chunk he’d pull it out, and when there was a lot of blood he’d suck it out,” Ferguson recall.
The chief deputy was life flighted to Baylor Scott and White in Temple, staying alert and conscious the entire time.
“I remember it clearly,” said Ferguson. “I can remember trying to talk, and then they said we need to put him under, and I woke up four days later.”
He still can’t have solid food, and a partial titanium jaw will be put in by a team in Houston. Both of his shoulders are hurt, and he knows there are months of recovery down the road.
The community's overwhelming response toward the veteran lawman provides strength, though.
“The kindness of people in Milam County, and even beyond, has been absolutely heartwarming,” said Ferguson.
The father and husband thanks his family for standing by his side every minute of every day. He knows there’s a risk every time a cop puts on a uniform, but as a mental health specialist he wants to make one thing clear about the seconds, and the person, that nearly cost him his life.
“I hold absolutely no animosity in my heart towards him, his family, his mother, to anyone. This was sad, sad situation that’s heartbreaking. It was a heartbreaking ending to somebody who was ill,” says Ferguson.
When he's well enough to return to work, Ferguson wants to expand the county’s mental health training and resources.
“I genuinely feel for people who suffer mental illness. I genuinely feel for them.”
Anyone suffering from a mental health crisis can always text 741741.
The crisis outreach team can be reached at 1-888-522-8262.