Secret Service agent hopes to raise opioid awareness after near-fatal crash

BOSTON — U.S. Secret Service agent Garrett FitzGerald remembers everything about the crash that left him paralyzed.

"It was just a cold snowy night, nothing special. We were going slow, taking it easy," said FitzGerald.

It was Dec, 29, 2015. His team had just finished scouting locations for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, when a Mercury Sable crossed the center lane on Route 16 in Wakefield, N.H., directly into the path of their Ford Taurus.

"I opened my eyes immediately after. I immediately noticed I couldn't move most of my body. Anything from the upper shoulders down," he said.

FitzGerald, who had graduated the Secret Service Academy earlier that year, managed to get to his phone.

"He said 'Joan, I need you to know I love you, there's been an accident, please know that I love you,'" his fiancée at the time Joan said.

Police say Bruce Danforth was behind the wheel of this car and was driving on a suspended license. He died at the scene, and the two passengers with him were seriously injured.

FitzGerald and three other federal agents were sent to Frisbee Memorial Hospital in Rochester. He was the only one not discharged from the hospital that day.

Soon, he would be sent to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he would spend the next two weeks in Intensive Care.

A week after the crash, Joan and Garrett were married in the ICU at Mass General.

"There was more love in that room than a cathedral can hold. It still is the best day of my life," she said.

Months had passed before the couple learned that Danforth was high on heroin that night. Joan said she was initially angry when he heard the news.

"He was just coming home from work. That's not fair," she said.

Col. Christopher Wagner of New Hampshire State Police said the opioid epidemic has hit the Granite State hard.

"It's devastating. It's devastating to the community, devastating to the families, and it is a crisis here," he said.

NHSP have seen an increase in crashes involving opioid-impaired drivers. Last year, 10 of those crashes were fatal.

Wagner said he and other members of law enforcement are worried that it's hard to predict when drivers using opioids will be on the roads.

"Any time of the day, and that's certainly the concern," said Wagner.

It's something that also concerns Jon DeLena, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the DEA in Northern New England.

"This is a challenge that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People that are driving under the influence of opioids, whether it's prescription pills, heroin or fentanyl, it could be 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., and it could be any day of the week," he said.

DeLena help launched the DEA 360 outreach program in Manchester to help educate the community about the opioid epidemic. He said he met FitzGerald when he was speaking about his crash to a group of law enforcement officers in New Hampshire.

It's why FitzGerald and his now-wife Joan bravely share their story today, in hopes they can prevent someone else from making a bad decision.

"Your decisions do not just impact yourself. They impact everyone," he said.

Almost a year after his accident, they tell FOX25 they've both forgiven Danforth. The road to recovery has been long for Garrett, but he's determined to walk again, even though he currently only has limited use of his right arm.

Every Monday through Thursday, he splits his time between Journey Forward rehab in Canton, Mass., and an experimental rowing program at Spaulding Rehab in Cambridge.

Where his muscles fail him, Joan is there emotionally every step of the way.

"I think the first step to the solution is awareness," he said.

Awareness of consequences -- consequences that Garret FitzGerald is determined to overcome.

FitzGerald's friends set up a GoFundMe account to help Garrett and Joan with the vast expenses associated with his rehabilitation. They're almost at their goal of $400,000. They named it #GarrettStrong.

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