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Recovery continues for South Portland officer injured by distracted driver

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Recovery continues for South Portland officer injured by distracted driver

SOUTH PORTLAND — As a former collegiate football player, Rocco Navarro has taken his fair share of hits.

And as a police officer, he stands ready to attack dangerous situations head-on.

But nothing could have prepared him for the dangerous hit he sustained on Nov. 1, 2010 – a blow the 28-year-old is still struggling to overcome before he can return to his job.

Navarro had just pulled his cruiser up behind a Kia that was broken down in the left-hand lane on the Casco Bay Bridge, where the speed limit is 40 mph.

After speaking with the driver, Navarro volunteered to wait in his cruiser, with the emergency lights flashing, for a wrecker to arrive to tow away the vehicle.

Shortly after returning to his cruiser, Navarro's car was rear-ended by a pick-up truck travelling at least 45 mph.

"I heard a big bang, my head snapped back and then everything went black," Navarro said this week, noting the impact was so great it snapped the head rest off the seat.

After regaining consciousness in the mangled cruiser, Navarro said he had to kick the cruiser door open to get out.

"I knew I had to get out for fear of explosion," he said.

Navarro said he had injuries to his head, neck and back, although he wouldn't provide details. When woke up in the hospital wearing a neck brace, he said, he could only think of one thing.

"My first thought was when can I be back," he said. "I love my job and I didn't want it taken from me like that."

Police Chief Edward Googins said he is grateful the injuries weren't worse.

"I'm very grateful he wasn't killed," Googins said. "It's very trying to see him. He wants to come back in the worst way."

Navarro, who is single and lives in Portland, couldn't move much for the first month. He urinated blood, had bouts of dizziness and difficulty with his short-term memory. He was nursed back to health by his father and step-mother. 

But now, it seems those memory and mobility problems are gradually going away, and Navarro, who has lost about 13 pounds from his immobility, is at least able to drive again.

"I still get nervous driving over the bridge," he said.

The driver of the pick-up truck, 40-year-old South Portland resident David Zografos, reportedly admitted to using his cell phone at the time of the crash. He was issued a summons on a charge of failure to maintain a motor vehicle.

Navarro, who expects to make a full recovery, said he is looking forward to speaking publicly about the dangers of distracted driving when he is able to return to light desk duty, which he plans to do as soon as he is cleared by his doctor.

He said he hopes that by telling students his story he will be able to discourage people from distracted driving, especially the dangers of texting while driving.

"I hope some good comes from this," he said. "My message is: all it takes is a few seconds, but the results can be disastrous.

"No text message is worth another person's life," he added. "I just wish people would take it more seriously."

Although he still struggles to overcome his injuries, Navarro said he doesn't have any animosity towards Zografos. But he knows that if his cruiser hadn't been parked behind the Kia, that driver may have died.

"I'm at peace knowing that," he said.

 Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net