Veteran DPS officer survives shooting, hails rookie officer as hero

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DPS Officer Ernie Meeske, left, his son, DPS Officer Seth Meeske, and DPS Officer Robert Derango at a Thursday news conference. (Source: CBS 5 News) DPS Officer Ernie Meeske, left, his son, DPS Officer Seth Meeske, and DPS Officer Robert Derango at a Thursday news conference. (Source: CBS 5 News)

It could have been a scene out of a CBS police show, only it was all too real for the people involved.

An Arizona Department of Public Safety officer was shot three times during a traffic stop the night of Sept. 21 and had to drive himself to a hospital emergency room in order to survive.

And a rookie DPS officer, alone on patrol for the first time, tracked down the alleged shooter before the suspect died in a gun battle.

DPS Officer Seth Meeske described the night of Sept. 21 as one of the most surreal of his life.

It was just after 10:30 p.m. when the 14-year veteran officer pulled over a speeding white car a few miles south of Payson.

"I was able to see one individual inside and a dog. Nothing seemed out of the normal," he said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

But everything changed when Meeske approached the passenger side of the car and tapped on the window.

The call he made to the dispatch center described what happened next:

"I've been shot. A white vehicle, shot through the passenger window, I didn't get a plate."

Meeske was shot in the arm, leg and back of his bulletproof vest, and the suspect took off, leaving the DPS officer for dead.

"I knew that I'd been hit, I felt no pain at the time," Meeske said Thursday, the first time he talked publicly about the shooting.

"I thought that maybe I'd taken a round in the face," he said. "I was blinded by the glass. I thought that my teeth were shattered. But I later learned that was the glass in my mouth."

Meeske was able to provide a vehicle description over the radio and then drove himself two miles to the hospital.

"I was steering with my left knee," Meeske said.

Officer Robert Derango, who was a few miles away in downtown Payson, spotted the car with the suspect, later identified as Cody Archuleta.

"I was not prepared for it at all," he said.

It was Derango's first night on patrol alone, having just finished 10 months of training.

"I'm not sure how long the pursuit was, but 40 miles is a long stretch of highway to be pursuing a subject," Derango said.

Several officers joined in the chase and trailed Derango before the Archuleta finally stopped. Gunfire broke out and Archuleta was dead.

"We train for this. We mentally prepare for this," Meeske said. "But (we) hope and pray it never comes."

The shooting remains under investigation, but DPS officials said they believe Archuleta killed himself that night. As for Meeske, he's expected to make a full recovery.

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