Cedar City officer recalls surviving shooting in 2007, training with Sgt. Wride

Published: Monday, Feb. 3 2014 7:49 p.m. MST

Cedar City police officer Jason Thomas was shot in January 2007 when he stopped to help a motorist who was stuck in a snowbank. The man shot him in the chest with a shotgun, but he was wearing a bulletproof vest and survived.

Stace Hall, Deseret News

CEDAR CITY — When Jason Thomas heard Thursday that two officers had been shot in Utah County, the reports sounded terrifyingly familiar.

A car on the side of the road. An officer stopping to help. Out of nowhere, gunfire.

Every day he reports to work, Thomas, a K-9 officer with the Cedar City Police Department, remembers the night he was shot.

"January 5, 2007, at 7:02 in the evening," he said. "You remember the time, you remember what you were doing, you remember the smell, you remember the environment."

Thomas was saved by the bulletproof vest he was wearing, part of the department's mandatory procedures for patrols.

Memories from Thomas' shooting are fresh and painful as law enforcers across the state mourn the death of Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride, who was shot twice while sitting in his patrol car Thursday after stopping to help a man he believed was a stranded motorist.

The gunman, 27-year-old Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, fled south in a 50-mile run from the law, shooting and wounding Utah County sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood in Santaquin and eventually starting a gunfight with officers south of Nephi, where he was fatally wounded.

In a tragically similar scenario, Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson was killed in September when he came across a car parked in a Draper neighborhood and was shot multiple times.

Timothy Troy Walker, 35, who is also accused of shooting and wounding the woman who was with him before turning the gun on himself, faces charges of aggravated murder.

Traffic stops and motorist assists can be some of the most dangerous things an officer can do, but they're also one of their most common tasks, Thomas said.

"All the officers out there are doing the same things those officers were doing," he said. "It hits pretty close to us, so we really have the mentality of, 'It could be me.' In my case, it was me."

Like Wride and Johnson, Thomas had pulled over on that January night seven years ago to try to help a driver in trouble. A pickup truck, driven by Bryan Featherhat, now 37, was stuck in a snow bank on the wrong side of the road, and drivers in a second vehicle were trying to help push it out.

Thomas asked for identification from Featherhat and another man who was in the truck with him. But when Featherhat reached into the truck, he pulled out a shotgun and blasted the officer in the chest.

When the first shot rang out, Thomas' mind turned to years of training. He remembers the next moments clearly and methodically.

He couldn't return fire, surrounded by homes in the Cedar City neighborhood and with bystanders standing near the truck. Instead, he fell back toward his vehicle.

Featherhat shot again, this time hitting him in the side where the vest wasn't protecting him, and taking out the mirror and windshield on the police vehicle. Thomas dived behind a snow bank, where Featherhat shot again, peppering him and the house across the street before stealing a bystander's car at gunpoint and fleeing.

Featherhat was found and arrested the next day. In 2009, he was convicted of attempted aggravated murder. He is currently serving a sentence in the Utah State Prison.

The best chance of survival

Seven years later, Thomas continues to emphasize the importance of wearing a protective vest.

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