Call him Superman, or lucky, but officer overcomes crash

Wallace Britton is a buff man.

His arms are thicker than goalposts. Trying to fit his legs into skinny jeans would be like trying to stuff baseball bats into pencil sharpeners.

And if he didn’t have such a stocky build, the 33-year-old Baton Rouge police officer might not be alive today.

Around 3:30 a.m. July 20, Britton was standing in the parking lot of an apartment complex on Prescott Road, investigating a vehicular burglary and talking with the woman who owned the car.

Britton began to fingerprint an item inside the car.

“I went to pull a second fingerprint off, and I woke up in the hospital,” Britton said.

He doesn’t remember a 1997 Dodge Caravan that unexpectedly veered off the road and barreled straight toward him, nor does he remember being struck by the minivan, an impact that sent him flying across the parking lot and into the door of another van nearly 50 feet away.

Britton’s first memory following the hit-and-run occurred in a hospital room where he was surrounded by family, friends and police officers.

“I knew I was on a bed or something like that, and I kept trying to sit up. And officers were holding me down and they were saying, ‘Stay down, you’re hurt.’ And I kept trying to get up,” Britton said.

He remembers hearing the voices of his wife, Marisa Britton, and son, Jalen, 13.

“I remember my son was crying. And I sat up and I looked at him and I told him, ‘I’m OK.’ I said, ‘I need you to be strong. This is just a setback. I’m going to get out of this. I’m going to be fine.’

“And I laid back down, and I don’t remember anything after that,” Britton said.

Police soon identified Ronald Milton Byrd, 37, as the driver of the van that struck Britton, the burglary victim Britton was interviewing and at least four other vehicles in the parking lot that morning.

Byrd surrendered a day after fleeing the scene of the hit-and-run, and prosecutors recently charged him with two counts of felony hit-and-run resulting in serious injury or death, court documents show.

Britton, known to friends and colleagues as ‘Superman,’ had been severely injured. He suffered a broken tibial plateau in his left leg, three torn ligaments in his right knee, bruised lungs, a fractured neck and a number of face lacerations.

The van that Britton — a roughly 5-foot-9, 225-pound projectile — struck midflight came out damaged too. The driver’s-side door looked like it had been “T-boned.”

“I had never broken a bone in my life before this, and I’m just glad I didn’t feel it,” Britton said.

It’s not like Britton has lived his life in a silicon bubble. In fact, he’s a two-time world champion kickboxer who has trained in some form of martial arts practically his whole life.

“This guy can do a jump-spin-kick and kick two men in the face as he does it,” said Craig Michelet, a close friend and former student of Britton’s when Britton worked as a taekwondo instructor.

“He is a true man of character with some God-given skills that he will share with anyone,” Michelet said. “And he’s also a guy with these physical abilities that you want protecting your community.”

“Now that he’s flown 50 feet in the air and survived, he’s officially ‘Superman,’ ” Michelet added.

Britton refers to his wife as Wonder Woman.

“She’s held it together,” Britton said of his wife. “She’s been great through this whole ordeal.”

Marisa Britton stayed with her husband as often as she could during his roughly monthlong hospital stay.

Now, when she’s not working, Wallace Britton said, she’s shuttling him to various doctor’s appointments and using a binder several inches thick to keep track of everything related to her husband’s medical visits.

Michelet, too, visited Britton almost every day he was in the hospital, only skipping a visit to set up a fundraiser to cover some of Britton’s medical expenses. It was one of several put on by the 4th Sunday Riders, a motorcycle group led by Michelet.

“Everybody’s done something,” Britton said. His mother flew in for a month from Colorado, where Britton grew up.

Fellow police officers occasionally come by his house to keep the lawn from turning into an overgrown weed haven.

His in-laws, his friends and classmates he hasn’t spoken to in years have showered him with sympathy and care to keep him motivated during the physically and emotionally trying recovery period, Britton said.

Since the night of the crash, Britton has undergone two surgeries on his left leg and has at least one more surgery still to come on his right leg.

The bloody gashes on his face healed long ago, leaving behind scars above his forehead, on the left side of his nose and just above his upper lip.

Britton still expects to make a full recovery.

He was back inside a weight room before he even got crutches — with his doctor’s permission — wheeling around and cranking out various upper body exercises, trying to gain back the muscle mass he’s lost since the crash.

“Every day I try to do something to progress,” Britton said. “It’s a test of patience.”