Gilbert police officer nearly killed in 60-foot fall retires from force
PHOENIX — After she fell 60 feet from a Valley freeway nearly two decades ago, doctors felt Stephanie Ameiss would be lucky to not lose her arm, let alone walk again.
Not only did she walk again, she joined the Gilbert Police Department just four years later. She retired this year.
“I kept saying, ‘I’m going to be back,'” she said.
Ameiss’ story began in 1999, when she was a Tempe police academy cadet driving westbound on the Loop 202.
“I was coming home from a friend’s house and I saw an accident,” she said.
Ameiss said she saw a Phoenix police officer jump over a wall to help the crash victims. As Ameiss went to help, another driver attempting to avoid the crash site veered in her direction.
She jumped over the retaining wall. On the other side was a 60-foot drop.
She landed in the riverbed of the Salt River. The Phoenix officer thought Ameiss was dead.
“He reported me as a fatality,” she said. “Lucky for me, a few people looked over a few minutes later and saw that I was moving.”
Ameiss suffered a staggering number of injuries. She broke her skull, jaw, teeth, right shoulder, right elbow, both wrists, ribs and her right hip.
“My worst external injury was my right elbow, which snapped in half,” she said.
She also lost half of her colon and liver.
Ameiss was put in a medically-induced coma for a month. She spent four months in the hospital.
Her Tempe coworkers donated their time off for her recovery and she promised them she’d return to become a sworn officer.
Ameiss underwent years of physical therapy, during which she learned to walk and talk again. She’s also had more than 30 surgeries.
“It was pretty frustrating,” she said. “I was an athlete and pretty active.”
Ameiss credited much of her recovery to Desert Hands Therapy physical therapist Chris Reynolds, who she said helped her through the mental challenge of her recovery in addition to helping repair her body.
“He helped. He was so positive and, in my life at that time, he was a friend and helped,” she said. “Any of the negative that came in, he would take away.”
Four years after her fall, Ameiss was sworn in by Gilbert police. She retired and has taken a job as a lead investigator for Understanding the Threat, a law enforcement consultation group.
She said her faith and family helped her heal and achieve her dreams after nearly falling to her death. She said it changed her outlook on the world.
“It made the little things super special and family so important,” she said. “I was a patriot before but I can say that I realize how amazing family is, our country is.”
KTAR News’ Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.
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