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W.Va. Trooper Hit by Alleged Shoplifter Recovers

The State Police sergeant who suffered a serious head injury while trying to stop a woman shoplifting from a St. Albans clothing store is out of the hospital and recovering at home.

Sgt. Aaron Nichols was released from Charleston Area Medical Center's General Hospital Tuesday morning, three weeks after he was struck by a vehicle in the parking lot of Goody's at the St. Albans mall, State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said.

His first stop upon being sprung from the hospital? His office at State Police headquarters.

Nichols and his wife, Kyla, stopped by the South Charleston office Tuesday morning, where surprised but excited co-workers greeted them. Baylous spotted Nichols' wife first, and then saw Nichols surrounded by colleagues, smiling and telling stories.

"It was good to see him down there," Baylous said. "Good to see him up and about and good to see him finally heading home."

Nichols, a 15-year-veteran of the State Police, suffered some memory loss, Baylous said, but recognized all of the officers he spoke with at headquarters and even brought up one of the cases he was working on before the New Year's Eve incident.

"It was clear from the way he was discussing it that he could remember what he'd been working on," Baylous said.

Nichols, who works in the planning and research division, was off duty and shopping the evening of Dec. 31 when store alarms at Goody's started going off. Store employees told police later that a woman identified as Jennifer Elaine Garretson, 34, of St. Albans, had run out of the store with stolen goods.

Nichols identified himself as an officer and chased her from the store. He was still running after her when she got to her car, a 1993 Honda accord.

Witnesses said Garretson nearly struck Nichols with the car and he jumped onto the trunk to minimize impact. She then accelerated, trying to throw him from the car. One witness said Garretson "drove recklessly in a circle until Sgt. Nichols was thrown from the vehicle resulting in blunt force trauma to his head," according to a criminal complaint.

Garretson then fled east on U.S. 60. Police searched the area for the woman and her vehicle. Troopers found her car along Miracle Drive that night and reached her with a cellphone number provided by her boyfriend.

Troopers tried to talk her into turning herself in via text message and she replied that she would after she had a day to say goodbye to her two children.

Garretson was arrested Jan. 2 and charged with malicious wounding. Kanawha Magistrate Mike Sisson transferred the case to circuit court after a preliminary hearing earlier this month. She remains at South Central Regional Jail on $150,000 bond.

Nichols was rushed to CAMC General where he remained in the intensive care unit for several days. Doctors started to wean him from a ventilator five days after the incident.

"It was just a dramatic change from New Year's," Baylous said. "He's up and moving around, still dealing with some issues here and there."

Nichols suffered a broken wrist but it wasn't discovered until about a week ago, Baylous said. Now he sports a cast on that arm while it mends.

The trooper will continue his recovery at home with his wife and daughter, Baylous said.

"Such a remarkable difference," Baylous said. "He was in good hands down there at the hospital and, more importantly, good hands from his father above."

The sergeant said Nichols' wife wanted to thank members of the public for their prayers and support. He said she told him they could "feel the prayers" and it meant a lot to her and their family.

Baylous wouldn't comment on Nichols' recovery process but said he was a fighter.

"Knowing what I know about him, he doesn't give up," he said. "He's a fighter and he'll recover as much as he's able to recover. He'll just keep getting stronger."

file photo

State Police Sgt. Aaron Nichols was injured while trying to stop a woman accused of shoplifting in December.

Copyright 2013 Charleston Newspapers