Deputy, honored for his actions, had no idea he had been shot by wanted suspect
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BLACKFOOT — Bingham County Sheriff Sgt. Todd Howell says it took his breath away. He thought he had slipped on something before falling to the ground and hurting his hip.
He had no idea that he had just been shot and could have died.
Howell is sharing details about the Sept. 21 incident as he was honored by the American Red Cross of Greater Idaho last week as one of 11 East Idaho Real Heroes.
He clearly remembers that autumn evening. Howell typically works the night shift and around 7 p.m., dispatchers received a call.
“We got a call of a vehicle driving down the road that had fired some shots out of a window,” Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland tells EastIdahoNews.com.
The man allegedly shooting the gun was 22-year-old Juan Santos-Quintero.
Investigators say he ran from the vehicle and barricaded himself inside a home as dozens of officers and deputies converged on the scene.
“He started to come out the back of the house and that’s when the whole situation happened,” Rowland recalls.
Santos-Quintero is accused of firing a gun from the home with one of the bullets striking Howell.
“I didn’t feel it,” Howell says. “I heard the first shot and when I fell on the ground, I thought I might have hit some concrete – that maybe there had been some debris on the ground.”
Howell figured he had just slipped but his hip and lower back hurt so he was loaded into an ambulance.
It wasn’t until he got to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center that he learned things were very serious.
“The bullet entered my left side below my vest, went through my left kidney, struck my spine, went through my right kidney and lodged in the abdominal wall just underneath my skin on the right side,” Howell says.
Howell has been with the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office for 19 years and is the first deputy in decades to be shot while on the job.
Even though the bullet punctured so many organs, doctors were able to remove it in one piece and invasive surgery was not required.
“Had it been a centimeter to the front, I would have bled out,” Howell says. “Had it been a centimeter to the back, I’d be paralyzed.”
Just three days after being shot, Howell was released from the hospital and went home with a police escort.
“The day he got out of the hospital was a great day,” Rowland says. “The fact he didn’t have to have surgery and the fact that his internal organs are ok and he’s able to do what he needs to do.”
Santos-Quintero is in jail facing multiple charges.
Howell returned to work on office duty until mid-February when he was officially cleared by his doctors to return to the night shift and go back on patrol.
“He can be out there with his people and his coworkers and be a supervisor,” Rowland says. “That’s what he wants to be. He wants to be out there with his men and his fellow officers and just do his job.”
Howell doesn’t feel like a hero and is pretty shy when it comes to being honored. As he accepted his award Thursday, everyone in the room at the Waterfront in Idaho Falls rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.
Howell says he’s just glad he can do his job serving and protecting his community.
“There’s always a ‘what if’ but it wasn’t my time so I’m here and I’m going to continue to do the job I love to do,” Howell says.