Former Jacksonville Officer Mark Larson, his wife, Erica, and their son, Christian.
Photo credit: Family Photo
A Good Samaritan ensured that Erica and Mark Larson remained inseparable until the former Jacksonville police officer, who kept his zest for life despite losing a forearm on duty 21 years ago, died in late March.
Larson’s wife was spending her third day at her husband’s hospice bedside on March 24 when she left to get their young son a bite to eat and her a coffee at a nearby shopping strip. Before she could return to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, her vehicle had a flat tire.
A stranger fixed the flat, allowing Larson to rejoin her son and one of her husband’s closet friends, retired Jacksonville cop Gary Oliveras. Ten minutes later, Mark Larson died.
The man who frustrated friends by learning to beat them at golf one-handed, loved coaching his boy in T-ball and deeply missed working beat 112, turned 50 just five days earlier.
Erica Larson said she is thankful to the stranger who helped her get back in time. She described watching her husband die as bittersweet after he spent years of battling his injuries from the on-duty incident when he was 28 and other medical complications.
“It was hard that my best friend was gone,” said a teary-eyed Larson, 37. “But I was happy I was there. I was glad that he was peaceful.”
Larson’s wife and friends believe his death was linked to the injuries from the on-duty incident. Autopsy results are pending.
Larson had been a cop for 4 1/2 years in January 1993 and was patrolling one morning when he crossed paths with career criminal Willie Murphy, 30, Larson told the Times-Union in 2004.
Murphy had been with a man and woman smoking crack hours earlier. The man left Murphy’s car and the woman ran when Murphy accused her of stealing his drugs. She spotted Larson’s nearby patrol car at Edgewood Avenue West and Avenue B and lied about Murphy trying to kidnap her.
Larson stopped Murphy’s car as it drove by, but Murphy wouldn’t show his license and refused to get out. Larson opened the driver’s side door, grabbed Murphy’s shoulder and the car sped off. Larson jumped on the door runner and hung onto the open door with his left hand and the roof’s edge with his right. Murphy tried to sideswipe the door into oncoming traffic.
Larson freed one hand and fired four shots, hitting Murphy three times. Larson fell, skidded along the road and flipped into a drainage ditch after being dragged for nearly 100 yards.
Murphy, who crashed into a tree, died almost instantly. Larson came close.
He lost most of his blood during 27 hours of surgery to repair his nearly severed elbow, broken legs and broken hip. Officers and citizens gave blood as his family and friends kept vigil. Complications caused doctors to amputate his arm five days later. Larson would eventually wake from a medically induced coma to find his life changed forever.
“It was shocking. I figured they’d be able to fix it,” Larson told the Times-Union in the 2004 interview. “I had one bad day when I thought, ‘Why did this have to happen to me? Why did I have to be there at that moment?’ I cried but told myself I just needed to push forward. I just said I’m alive and there’s plenty left to do in my life.”
Larson went through years of physical therapy, relearning tasks the left-hander took for granted, such as opening a jar and writing. He reluctantly retired with a medical disability in 1996, longing for his days on the beat and going through a divorce related to stress from his recovery.
“I loved the job. It meant everything to me,” Larson said. “He [Murphy] stripped me of my career, of my health, really my entire life changed.”
About four years after losing his arm, doctors diagnosed Larson with aplastic anemia, a disease where his bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red and white blood cells and the platelets needed for blood-clotting. He was repeatedly in and out of hospitals and doctor’s offices, received hundreds of blood transfusions and other treatments that left him physically and mentally drained.
Erica Larson said when they met in 2002, it was love at first sight. They were married in February 2004 and just recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
“From the first meeting, I just knew something was special,” she said. “We were just inseparable.”
Larson maintained a strong will to live.
“I don’t sit around the house and feel sorry for myself, otherwise it would drive me crazy,” Larson said in 2004. “In order for me to heal, I have to forget about what he did and get on with my life.”
Erica Larson said her husband’s continued recovery had plenty of good and difficult days, but he never complained or blamed her for the rough times.“He treated me like I was everything,” she said. “That never stopped.”
A highlight in their marriage came about eight years ago when they adopted Christian just after his birth to Erica’s sister. Larson and his son were best buddies over the years, enjoying everything from playing video games to baseball.
Larson’s life became more complicated a year ago when he contracted meningitis and nearly died. The disease left him deaf and in a wheelchair. Infections left him weaker and weaker, though his spirits remained high until he couldn’t fight anymore.
“He always had this sense of optimism,” said Oliveras, 51, his close friend and fellow officer. “It was incredible. It’s just his body betrayed him.”
Larson’s wife said she was proud of her husband’s strength, even when he wasn’t coherent. She believes when he’d squeeze her hand at his bedside near the end, he knew she was there.
“I think his body was just tired,” she said.
Mark Larson was buried with full honors.
The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service