Revved Up to Return

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has been less than a year since a devastating off-road motorcycle accident nearly killed Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Moore.

On Oct. 20, 1997, he was rushed to a hospital in Simi Valley, where doctors fought to repair a punctured right lung and to release fluid that collected around his brain. His right eye socket was shattered. He suffered a broken shoulder, shattered left wrist, cracked pelvis, bruised liver and tear in his small and large intestines.

Doctors weren't sure he would make it. They called a priest.

While he clung to life over the next several nights, doctors warned that Moore would never be able to return to the rigorous demands of police work--if he lived at all.

Today, just finished with an afternoon on patrol in Thousand Oaks, Moore smiles at the thought of the grim predictions.

"To me, it was always a matter of when--not if--I would return to work," he said.

After months of rehabilitation--plus extra workout hours spent in a home gym--Moore, 29, received a clean bill of health from doctors Sept. 1. He started work Sept. 6.

"I was shocked" to see him back on the job, said Sgt. Randy Pentis, Moore's supervisor at the time of the accident and one of the first to see the deputy after his arrival at Simi Valley Hospital. "He fought back, and you have to hand it to him. . . . Most people couldn't have done this, gone literally from their deathbed back to full duty."

How the accident happened still isn't clear to Moore, whose memories of the event are hazy.

He remembers a hot afternoon when he and his wife, Melissa, along with fellow Deputy Jeff Kenney and Kenney's wife, drove to a motocross park in Piru for an afternoon of play.

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Back then, much of Moore's down time was spent on the bright blue Yamaha YZ 250 he bought in February 1997. It was a gift to himself for graduating from the sheriff's academy and finishing his probation period with the department.

"I had wanted a bike of my own," Moore said. "So, I thought, now is the time. What do I have to lose?"

"It was an obsession," Melissa Moore recalled. "Every minute he had off he was out riding. It got to the point that I thought, 'Well, if I'm going to see him, I better start doing this, too.' " It was about 10 a.m. when Jeff Moore and Kenney rode their bikes over dirt hills and valleys, kicking up dust.

They were accustomed to clearing the periodic steep hills that peppered the tracks, so Moore didn't give much thought to the hefty mound of dirt looming ahead of him about 2 p.m. He raced over the top, leaping into the air, but landed unsteadily.

A second, smaller hill forced him into the air again and Moore was propelled about 15 feet skyward toward the side of a mountain. The bike cleared the jump, landing safely at the top. Moore, however, did not.

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"As he was flying through the air--it was like watching in slow-motion," Melissa Moore said. "We all just started running towards him."

They found Moore slumped at the bottom of the hill. His face was already swelling beneath the cracked helmet fastened about his head. A punctured lung forced him to gulp furiously for air. A Ventura County sheriff's helicopter airlifted Moore to the hospital. Word quickly spread throughout the department that deputies had been called out to rescue one of their own.

"I just got chills when I heard," said Pentis, who rushed to the hospital. "When I got to the emergency entrance, there was a priest outside of his room. I had to take a moment to compose myself."

By the time Melissa Moore made it to the hospital, doctors were not optimistic.

"We didn't have much hope," Moore said. "Every doctor, all they would say is, 'He is a very sick guy. We're going to do the best we can, but he is a very sick guy. . . .' "

Fellow deputies crowded outside Moore's room. With the passing days, he stabilized and was moved to UCLA's intensive care unit, where he lingered for a month. Doctors there felt he would recover, but warned of possible brain damage.

"He could talk," his wife said. "But he spoke real slowly. He said things that didn't make sense."

Rehabilitation began at the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where three times a week he had speech therapy and worked to rebuild muscles in his arms and shoulders. An avid bodybuilder before, regularly bench-pressing about 235 pounds, Moore now struggled to lift the 45-pound bar that once held his heavy weights.

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With months of exercise and therapy, Moore managed to rebuild his strength--only to be told this might not be enough to return him to work.

For Moore, this was the darkest time: the day in April when a doctor said he might never again be able to raise his right arm above shoulder level.

With such a limitation, he could not return to the department, which required a doctor's certification that he suffered no lingering physical restrictions.

"You can't print what I had to say when the doctor told me that," Moore said. "I got so tired of all that negativity. I just thought, with all the medical technology today, there had to be something out there for me."

So Moore returned to UCLA, where a new doctor advised him of an operation that would shave off a restricting bone growth to the shoulder. He underwent surgery in May and followed up with rigorous workouts in his home gym to rebuild withered arm muscles.

By September, his arm had healed and doctors gave him the news he had waited 11 months to hear.

"He called me from UCLA just screaming," said a chuckling Pentis. "He was yelling so much I didn't even know who it was. Then he said he was coming back to work. I was amazed."

Less surprised by his return to work was Melissa Moore, who is five months pregnant with the couple's first child.

"He is the most determined person on earth," Moore said. "Any other person wouldn't have recovered this much. But he's a strong guy. He's superman."

As for his prized blue bike:

"Well," Moore said, "I sold it."

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