WILKES COUNTY, N.C. - Wilkes County Deputy Sergeant Steven Russell is out of the hospital and back at home after being shot outside Jonesville on Monday. However, without the help of his fellow deputy -- who was sitting next to Sergeant Russell when he was hit -- he may not have been so lucky.
FOX8 has learned that Sergeant Russell was in an SUV driven by Wilkes County Sheriff Chris Shew when they responded to the scene on North River Ridge Road shortly before 6 a.m. Monday. Deputy Sheriff Chuck Brinegar was in the seat beside Sergeant Russell.
“We didn’t expect him at all when he opened fire on the vehicle,” said Deputy Sheriff Brinegar.
The front seat of the SUV had been left open, because the sheriff and his two deputies were planning on getting residents inside a home -- a home which they say was eventually set on fire by suspect James Monroe Barrett -- out to safety.
When they pulled up, they say Barrett began firing at them with a military-grade high-powered rifle.
“The concussion, the sound, the noise, the feeling, you could just feel the bullet’s impact and feel the power of that weapon,” Brinegar said.
Sheriff Shew then floored it in an attempt to get the trio to safety, but one bullet came through his windshield, hit the headrest of the unoccupied front passenger seat, and fragments struck Sergeant Russell in the shoulder.
“He said ‘I’m hit, I’m hit;’ I wasn’t sure who was hit at that time,” said Brinegar of Sergeant Russell.
Sheriff Shew says another bullet hit the AR-15 Sergeant Russell was holding and fragments from that round were likely those which hit Russell in the eye; causing him to have surgery.
“We didn’t know where he was at, we couldn’t see him, we had no idea where the rounds were coming from,” said Brinegar. “That was the worst part of that for me, is just a feeling of being very helpless and hoping that I get through it.”
Deputy Sheriff Brinegar says that Barrett continued to fire at their SUV as Sheriff Shew drove them to safety.
“I ran around the vehicle and got Sergeant Russell out of the vehicle and did what I could to treat his wounds,” Brinegar said. “Applied direct pressure, wrapped his head and keep him calm. I also used the quick clot gauze on his wounds.”
Deputy Sheriff Brinegar and Sheriff Shew told FOX8 they believe Barrett would have tried to kill anyone he came across.
“He shot at civilians, he shot at us in marked cars, he shot at us in the sheriff’s vehicle -- which was an unmarked vehicle -- then he shot at the AirCare helicopter,” Brinegar said.
Once the helicopter touched down, Deputy Sheriff Brinegar shifted his focus towards making sure Barrett wasn’t coming their way.
“When they touched down, I left Sergeant Russell, because I told him ‘as soon as they hit the ground I’m going to leave you because he’s going to know where we’re at,’” Brinegar said.
Sergeant Russell was then airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
While assessing the damage, Sheriff Shew noticed a bullet which had fractured next to his head and the fragments came to rest in the roof above.
“When you realize how close we all came to being killed, we’re very fortunate to be here,” Brinegar said.
Two other men also became victims of Barrett’s violent spree. Kent Suddreth, who lived at the home which officials say Barrett set on fire, was shot by a flare gun. He sustained a wound to his torso area.
Zach Myers was also shot by Barrett’s firearm. His father says he was shot in the neck and the bullet traveled up towards the back of his head. As of Tuesday, Myers was still in the hospital -- and his father did not know when he would be released -- but he is expected to recover.
Barrett was killed at the scene. Deputies confirmed to FOX8 that he died as a result of being shot by law enforcement officials.