JEROME — After an Idaho State Police trooper was critically injured in the line of duty over a year ago, he hoped to return to work. Although it didn’t happen after being medically retired, he stays positive.
Sgt. Mike Wendler, 41, with Idaho State Police District 4 in Jerome, has been a trooper for 17 years. He and his family’s lives were forever changed when he was hit by a vehicle.
A doctor told EastIdahoNews.com last year that there was a “high likelihood that it may not be survivable.”
However, Wendler made it through and has had remarkable improvements.
“It’s a miracle that I survived that, and I am so incredibly thankful to be here, to be a husband and a father,” Wendler told EastIdahoNews.com.
On Dec. 1, troopers from his district and across the state came together to celebrate and wish him well in his retirement.
“The doctors have told me I cannot be in law enforcement anymore. It’s certainly bittersweet. It’s of course, hard on the heart that I can’t continue in the career that I loved so much,” Wendler said.
At his retirement party, Wendler was awarded certificates, a milepost with his badge number 562, a flag flown over the United States Capitol, and an Idaho State Police Purple Heart, among other accolades.
His wife, Amy Wendler, was given a certificate of appreciation for the adversity she and her family has faced. She was told there was no better person than her to handle the trials.
Gov. Brad Little was present, echoing the sentiments made about Amy, and added that she is incredible.
“There’s a lot of great things about Idaho but you cannot deny the magnitude of the professionalism of the law enforcement community and Mike and Amy epitomize that. They will serve as an example for generations for the professionalism,” Little said.
Amy unpinned Mike’s badge, signifying his retirement. They both hugged while exchanging a few words and smiles. Mike dabbed his eyes with a tissue.
Mike’s best friend and coworker, Cpl. Mike Hausauer, said he is going to be missed, and there will be a big hole left behind.
“He was caring, loving, and compassionate. He loved serving people. This man bleeds ISP. Very intelligent and very articulate,” Hausauer said.
He is grateful his friend is alive and says he is doing so much better than he was a year ago.
“I just wish the best in his retirement. I know it’s going to be hard stepping away from this. Over 17 years of service to the State of Idaho, to the people of District 4, thank you,” Hausauer said about Mike.
Pictures hung on the walls at the district’s office that shared some fun memories of Mike. There were cupcakes that said, “Time to give it arrest.”
On the morning of Sept. 8, 2022, Mike responded to a vehicle fire on Interstate 84 in Jerome County. He was hit by a vehicle while directing traffic and suffered critical injuries.
For 22 minutes, emergency personnel administered life-saving care to him before he was airlifted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
Hausauer was in the air ambulance with him.
“The ride itself was smooth, but it was the longest flight of my life. (I was) scared and praying,” Hausauer said. “I figured we would land in Idaho Falls, and he would be dead.”
EastIdahoNews.com had previously interviewed Amy while Mike was recovering in the hospital. She said he suffered a traumatic brain injury. His skin was ripped off his right hand, and he had to get stitches. He had a jaw fracture, and his teeth were knocked out.
He spent 22 days at EIRMC.
No memory of the day
Mike does not remember responding to the crash or what happened.
“So one day, I was kayaking with the family on the river, and the next day, I woke up in the hospital, and there was a post-it note that said, ‘You’ve been hit by a car. You are at EIRMC.’ I remember going, ‘What?! I am so confused!” he recalls.
He had zero memories of the hospital but was told by Amy later that he didn’t remember who she was. The two have four children together.
“It was really sad to watch when he was saying he didn’t know who we were,” Amy told EastIdahoNews.com.
His family put pictures on the wall of his hospital room of who each person was with their names so he could try and remember.
Mike had to relearn letters, numbers, and colors too.
“(Doctors) described it as being born again like an infant and growing up again,” Mike said.
He was released from the hospital in early October 2022. Watch his release here.
Over the course of the last year, it has not been easy. He has had to rebuild his motor and cognitive skills. He continues to recover. However, through it all, Amy has encouraged Mike, and they try to keep a positive attitude.
“There’s been hundreds, if not thousands, of appointments. It’s been insane and we had a motto about it because I survived,” Mike said. “We always say, ‘We don’t have to, we get to.'”
He says the love and support from the community, friends, and family has kept his family afloat.
Mike works hard on his mental health due to his brain injury. He’s learning strategies to cope with different situations he faces.
“The recovery from a brain injury, I have been told, is two to five years. We are a year in and we are working through that process,” Mike said. “I have the motivation and encouragement of my wife, and it’s amazing. It keeps me focused and it keeps me moving forward.”
Amy said Mike has to wear dark glasses and headphones at times. It’s hard to go to many places and events with a lot of people due to overstimulation but he has come far.
“The other day I thought back a year from today, and I was overwhelmed with how far we have come. Now, I think the biggest stressors are his emotional extremes from the overstimulation. He will start laughing hysterically or start sobbing, or he will get angry,” she said.
“Mike’s always been very even keel and always very kind. So we are working through that,” Amy added. “There’s always the little glimpse of the old personality coming back and it’s just really cool.”
There will be upcoming appointments, too, to check on the progress of his jaw and hand. He doesn’t have full movement in two of his fingers.
As for the driver
The driver who hit Mike, Emina Hukic, 23, of Jerome, was charged with misdemeanors, including reckless driving and driving without privileges.
She was sentenced in June to three days of work detail in Jerome County and a year of probation.
“We don’t feel the legal consequences were enough, but not forgiving her is not going to help him heal,” Amy said. “If we were all honest with ourselves, it could have been any one of us at some point. I look at her and see one of my daughters, and it breaks my heart for her, too.”
Mike said he doesn’t want anyone to be hateful towards her.
“I don’t think there is anything that can happen to her that would be worse than the accountability and the guilt she feels internally,” Mike said. “This was a mistake…but she has very much learned from it.”
Mike and Amy want to ask for stricter penalties when drivers cause significant injuries to people. They are coordinating with local legislators, stakeholders and the governor’s office to draft legislation so it can be presented at the next session.
According to the Idaho statute for distracted driving, a violation for a first offense can cost $75, and $150 for a second offense within a three-year period. For each subsequent offense within a three-year period, the offender can be punished by a fine of $300. Click here for more information.
“Try to remember to stay off your phone. Driving is one of the most dangerous things any of us do on any given day,” Mike said. “A big thing we can do is don’t drive distracted, don’t drive impaired and wear our seatbelts.”
Remembering being a trooper
In a video posted in November on social media, Mike is seen radioing dispatch and says, “After nearly two decades of dedicated service, it is with mixed emotions that I bid ISP farewell. Serving alongside such a remarkable team has been an honor and a privilege.”
He cries and is told on the radio, “562 out of service.”
“I’ve always felt led to live a life of service,” Mike explained when choosing to be a trooper years ago.
He loves being able to help people and be there for them in their time of need.
“…helping people that were unfortunately contemplating terrible life decisions such as harming themselves. I loved having those conversations and trying to talk them out of that and give them hope,” he said.
Mike worked with impaired drivers many times too, and they often thanked him.
“I always thought, ‘Why are you thanking me?’ And they would say, ‘Thank you for being kind and respectful and for the conversations we had,'” he recalls.
“I can’t be in high-stress situations, even medium-stress situations, but it doesn’t mean I can never do anything in the future,” Mike said.
Mike and Amy have started a nonprofit called Wendler Warriors. Click here to learn more.
“We are hoping to grow that and be able to support first responders that are involved in critical incidents or are injured. We want to help serve the community and pay it forward for what we have received,” Mike said.
Though he’s uncertain of what the future holds, he knows he’s here for a reason.
“I don’t know what God has for me or where he’s taking us, but we’ll see the way eventually. I know he’s got something, or I wouldn’t be here anymore, that’s for sure,” Mike said.