DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — A Marine officer said Friday he reacted as he was trained to do by chasing two men who stole a gold necklace he thought they were buying, and then using his fingers to plug bullet holes in his body when one of them opened fire.
Lt. Col. Karl Trenker, a 29-year Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, demonstrated at a hospital news conference how he stuck his fingers on his left hand into two holes in his left chest and another finger from his right hand where a .22-caliber bullet entered his abdomen. His doctor said the move helped staunch the flow of blood.
"I'm a Marine and I'm not going to run from a fight," Trenker said. "You wouldn't want a Marine to run from a fight. Call me crazy, call me stupid. I got shot once and it just angered me more. I wanted to get this guy. I got shot twice, and I re-evaluated that decision. I decided I need to stay alive."
As for the use of his fingers, Trenker said, "I improvised."
Trenker, 48, was shot multiple times Dec. 21. He had driven with four of his children to meet a man who responded to a Craigslist ad for the necklace. Two suspects are jailed on attempted murder and robbery charges.
Trenker, who was released Friday from North Broward Medical Center, will be left with one slug lodged in his pelvis but otherwise should make a full recovery, said Dr. Igor Nichiporenko. The doctor credited Trenker's military training and fitness for his rapid recovery — as well as his use of fingers to plug the bullet holes.
"I think he did the right thing," Nichiporenko said. "It's amazing. He's going to be fine."
The 18-inch necklace was put on Craigslist by Trenker's fiancÉe, Tanya Saiz, who initially planned to meet the man and make the deal herself. The idea, she said, was to get a little extra cash for a surprise Christmas present for Trenker. But Trenker said he'd go instead, thinking that there could be a little danger involved. He figured he'd take the kids on to the beach afterward.
Even though he met the men in broad daylight at a busy apartment complex, one of them grabbed the necklace and ran off. After Trenker chased them and was shot, he made his way back to his truck — where his four young boys were — and called Saiz on his cell phone to tell her he'd been shot.
"I stopped for a minute, and was waiting for the punch line," she said. "I think I went into shock. It was the scariest moment of my life."
Nichiporenko said Trenker was bleeding internally and externally when he arrived at the hospital and was immediately taken into surgery. The gunshot to his abdomen required removal of a portion of one intestine, the doctor said.
Meanwhile, a Broward Sheriff's Office report said Trenker's 12-year-old son gave a detailed description of the assailants, who were quickly apprehended nearby. The men, James Flounory and Jeff Steele, both 20, are being held without bail; court records Friday did not indicate whether either man had a lawyer. A third man is charged with attempting to hide the gun.
Trenker said he intends to have a good holiday meal, get started on physical therapy and eventually return to active duty at the Marine Corps unit attached to the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command. His job there involves operations planning for counternarcotics and counterterrorism missions, one of which recently resulted in seizure of a 4,400-pound cocaine load off Honduras worth some $245 million.
"I believe according to my faith that somebody was watching over me. It could have been a lot worse," he said. "I feel extremely lucky."
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