By Danny Schrafel
A ray of light has pierced the darkness of late Wednesday night, when Suffolk County Police Officer Mark Collins was shot twice outside a Mercer Court home near East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station following a pursuit.
That ray of light was his beaming smile.
Collins, 35, a member of the Second Precinct’s Crime Section anti-gang unit, was wheeled out of Stony Brook University Medical Center shortly after noon today before he stood up, climbed into the passenger seat of a Ford Edge SUV and headed home to North Bellmore after three and a half days of in-patient care.
The officer has already asked when he can come back to work, said Second Precinct Inspector Edward Brady.
“It just goes to show the kind of man that Mark Collins is and the kind of police officer he is,” Brady said.
The Suffolk County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band, playing “God Bless America” greeted Collins on his way out of the hospital, coupled with a flyover by Suffolk County Police helicopters.
On the ground, elected officials and top police brass applauded as Collins emerged. Detective Nicholas Guerrero, another Second Precinct officer who was nearly killed six months ago when he was hit by a stolen 2014 Ford Explorer in Huntington, led the welcome.
County Executive Steve Bellone said it was a “great day for the Suffolk County Police Department.”
“When I came here just a few nights ago… I had the worst thoughts in my mind. Now to be here today and have him walking out of the hospital – it’s an amazing feeling,” he said.
Collins was shot once in the neck and once in the hip after a traffic stop near East Jericho Turnpike and Mercer Court shortly before midnight Wednesday, March 11.
Sheldon Leftenant, 22, who is listed with addresses in Huntington Station and Mastic Beach, was arraigned March 12, accused in the attempted aggravated murder of a police officer. He faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted.
During a post-arraignment courthouse press conference March 12, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said police pulled over a vehicle containing Leftenant and three other occupants because they had passed the unmarked car and were swerving in and out of lanes of traffic at high speed.
During the traffic stop, as the driver turned over his license and registration, the two back-seat passengers were “fidgety, nervous, moving their hands in and out of their pockets,” Spota said.
The incident escalated when Leftenant is said to have bolted from the back seat and ran across Jericho Turnpike. Collins and another officer ran after him.
As Collins closed in, Leftenant – whom Collins later said he believed he had hit with a Taser – opened fire, said Spota. Another officer found Collins lying in the street, “bleeding profusely” from his neck, Spota continued.
The bullet that pierced Collins’ neck missed “vital structures in his neck” by an inch, said Dr. James Vosswinkel, the surgeon at Stony Brook Hospital who treated Collins. Despite his wounds, Spota said, Collins was able to identify Leftenant as his assailant to officers who came to his aid.
Leftenant was arrested about a block away from the incident, discovered hiding in a shed. He pleaded not guilty and is due back in court Tuesday, March 17.
Immediate care on the scene by police paramedics and the Huntington Community First Aid Squad were crucial in Collins’ survival, Vosswinkel said. Paired with top-notch care at Stony Brook, his strength and fighting spirit made all the difference.
“His attitude, his energy, his caring about the community truly helped him recover the way he did,” Vosswinkel said.
Stony Brook will provide “intense rehabilitation and outpatient services” as part of his post-discharge care regimen, Vosswinkel said.
Collins is a decorated officer in the Second Precinct Crime Section’s anti-gang unit and a recent past recipient of the department’s Officer of the Year honor in 2008, as well as a Bravery Gold Medal for rescuing a man from a house fire in Huntington Station in 2008.
Collins was on the front lines of the anti-violence efforts in Huntington Station, serving as part of the precinct’s Huntington Station Violence Task Force. In an email last week, Brady said the task force has yielded 724 arrests and nabbed 91 gang members as of March 12.
His work is something residents should take some degree of comfort in, Bellone said.
“While what happened was awful and we’re so happy that he’s OK and the perpetrator is behind bars, it should also be a reminder that these officers are out there and are working, largely unseen and unknown to most of us,” Bellone said. “That should give some comfort to people that these officers are doing their work every night, which is what Officer Collins was doing the night he was injured.”
And if all goes well, he’ll be back on the front lines before too long.
“We truly were blessed… with the outcome,” Brady said. “Absolutely incredible. I gotta tell you – we were scared. We were really scared.”