ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — In early October of last year, Rochester police officer Denny Wright was attacked while responding to a call on Peck Street.
Officer Wright, a 23-year veteran of the Rochester Police Department, suffered injuries that left him blind in both eyes. Three weeks after treatment when he was released from the hospital he was surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones.
Since then, News 8 anchor Adam Chodak has stayed in touch with Wright, and in all their talks and conversations since, Adam has not heard the officer complain one single time.
Officer Wright agreed to do a sit down interview with News 8 — not to talk about the attack, but what’s happened since, and what happens next — for both himself and his family.
Below you’ll find the interview transcript and the full interview with Wright’s wife, Sonia, a Rochester city school teacher.
Adam Chodak: All things considered, how have you been doing?
Denny Wright: I’ve been doing exceptional considering the circumstance that I’m currently in, it’s a big learning curve to all-of-the-sudden-loss of eyesight, but it is a doable situation and I’m moving forward and learning every day.
AC: No big anxiety, no nightmares? This is trauma …
DW: I have not had any difficulties with nightmares or sweats at night, I’ve been sleeping through the night. Every now and then I’ll get a wave of anxiety, think about things you can’t do anymore, or things you may miss. I obviously can’t see so that can get a little disturbing and I will get a wave of anxiety, but they’re getting farther and farther apart and they’re not debilitating.
AC: A lot of people are going to see this, and, see you and they have their own challenges and wonder how you’re getting through it so well. Is that just your personality, your family, something else, or a combination?
DW: It’s a combination. And I spent a long time solving problems and currently I have one and I’m just trying to figure out how to do this the best that I can, I’m trying to keep as positive of an attitude as I can and move forward and learn.
AC: One thing that I’ve taken away from talking to you is I don’t sense a lot of anger on your part.
DW: That would be wasted energy on my part. I have to focus my energy on my family and how I’m going to function and how I’m going to learn how to be blind and how I’m going to be more independent. I really don’t have time for negativity and so I just focus on going forward.
AC: One of the aspects of you that I clung to even before this happened was how accessible you were to the community. We talk about police-community relations. You were that before that term even became big, where did that come from?
DW: I guess some of that comes from my wife and the fact that she teaches and I go into her classroom and meet children in particular and read in a pre-school and her kindergarten class and I like to engage everyone, it doesn’t matter how old they are.
AC: Most police officers when they reach your age aren’t actually on the street anymore and yet you chose to. Why?
DW: So I didn’t get hired until I was 31. I always wanted to be a police officer and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every second, every minute of the career that I had and I would continue if I could. I never wanted to be in charge of the police officers, I wanted to be the one in the car coming to the house and going to help people if that was possible.
AC: And you did that despite knowing the risks…
DW: There’s always risks, no matter what you do, that’s not something you dwell on. We were trained very well and that helped get me through this assault that I sustained.
I won’t argue that it’s not difficult, but at the end of the day as terrible as this incident was, I’m alive and I need to learn how to be productive and how to be independent and continue to do what I did before in whatever manner I find. There’s a reason that I got through what I got through and I need to find what the next chapter of my life is.
AC: Just the little things, you were the cook of the family…
DW: So I haven’t burned the house down yet. I’ve tried a few simple things but I’ll continue to try to advance as I can.
AC: What message do you think the community should take away from this in addition to what happened to Officer Cala?
DW: I think the community should know that there are plenty of officers like myself and officer Cala who are out there and dedicate our lives to helping others and they’re there and you might not hear about them and you might not see them, but that would be the majority of the people I work with are exceptional people.
There was an exceptional bunch of police officers, civilians and medical personnel who in fact worked together and saved my life, it’s an amazing thing to have happen and everything that has happened since has been overwhelming to me, the support from the community, from the city from the police department, and from strangers and from everybody, it’s unbelievable, the outpouring and love and support I’ve received.
AC: Some of those Good Samaritans came in an helped after you had already restrained unbelievably the suspect. What are your thoughts about them getting involved?
DW: The fact they got involved is amazing to me and there are plenty of civilians and people out there who would do the same. I certainly appreciate it and I appreciate more than I could ever relay to them.
AC: How was this changed or influenced your appreciation of family?
DW: I have to say that I’m the luckiest man alive to steal that from somebody. The hardest thing for me as been actually is that my family has had to go through such a traumatic event, but the strength that my wife has shown, without that, it probably wouldn’t be possible to be as positive as I am.
AC: I think know what Sonia is going to say, but we have you, and that isn’t the case for some officers when this kind of incident occurs…
DW: I worked with Daryl and Manny and I’m very lucky that I wasn’t added to a list of officers that have passed away so I will take full advantage that I am still here and I will be the best person, or even a better person than I was before. I believe I’m stronger now than I was before.
AC: Do you think you’ll have some involvement in the law enforcement community after this?
DW: I hope that I will. I’ll certainly try the best that I can and I want to share what happened to me with new officers. I have the best job in the world. I would trade it for nothing.
Interview with Officer Wright’s wife Sonia
AC: I’ll start with the same question. How are you doing?
Sonia Lagares-Wright: I live each day, day by day. It’s my new motto. Someone told me at the hospital you have to take it moment by moment. I couldn’t handle that. That’s not in my personality so I decided to go with day by day. I get a lot of strength from my friends and from my teaching family and from my family and from Denny. Denny is very positive so when I’m feeling down he’ll boost me up. And when he’s feeling down I boost him up.
AC: How did you find out about this?
SW: I was in the classroom teaching and my iWatch kept on going off and I thought that was kind of strange because my family knows when I’m work not to call me and for the most part doctors offices don’t call me, but just leave a message at the office, but it just kept on going off and something didn’t feel right so I asked my coworker if she could monitor the kids when I stepped out and checked and I called the number back and I had an officer on the other line and the officer said to me that Denny was hurt and I said, ‘Well, I’ll meet you there.’
I still didn’t think anything was wrong because of the fact that there’s protocol and I expected someone else to be calling me and that’s what Denny has always said to me, that his friend Brian would be the one calling me letting me know and since it wasn’t the phone call from Brian, I just thought, you know he got hurt at work, let me go see where he’s at.
It was until I started talking to him more when he said ‘I’m at your house, I’m coming to get you’ that’s when I realized something was not right.
It was touch-and-go initially and I remember following along especially when I heard the name and at first it was, well, he might lose eyesight into one eye then it was both. The emotion attached to this progression…
It was very difficult. Emotions were at a peak, at a low. It felt like I was in this bad dream and I just wanted to get out of it and the sadness that I saw in my children in their faces and the sadness that I saw from our friends and coworkers. It was very difficult, very, very difficult.
AC: People look at you, a remarkable teacher, and Denny, a remarkable public servant, why them? Why the good ones? Why would this happen? Do you suffer from the why question?
SW: No, I focus more on the good and I try day by day to focus on the good and out of all of this the community and the friends, the goodness of people helped us a lot, I can’t spend my energy on the evil, I can’t spend my energy thinking about what happened because I wouldn’t be able to function each day and I focus on, like I said, one day at a time.
AC: What do you tell Denny when he starts to feel bad about leaning on you too much or having to depend on you?
SW: When Denny leans on me it’s because I know he needs to lean on me. He tries hard to keep a lot of it inside to spare me, but when he leans on me, I tell him it’s OK, we’re going to be OK.and he tells me the same thing.
AC: In a way, I suppose this could strengthen a marriage.
SW: It’s made me appreciate my husband more, it’s made me appreciate my children, my friends, my family, not that I didn’t appreciate them before but it’s at a very different level, a higher level.
AC: You had trouble going back to school, I know you wanted to stay here, you finally did, what’s that like being back?
SW: Everyone has been very supportive. I love where I work, they’re my second family. It’s difficult because I left right at the beginning of October and so walking back in, it feels to me like September, the time has gone by and I have to learn to let go of some things I used to do, that others have done for me and let it be.
AC: Where does this strength come from from you? I asked Denny the same question, I’m just curious and I think a lot of people will be.
SW: I think a lot my strength comes from, ya know, work hard and from being with Denny and just standards, Denny has very high standards and there’s no excuses and if you’ve got a problem, you’ve got to try to fix it, you got to to try to fix it and so I think a lot of my strength comes from my mom and my dad, my siblings, my friends and Denny.