Over the last 14 months, Lopez endured multiple surgeries, 12 weeks in the hospital, and countless hours in physical therapy. On Monday, he made his remarkable return to serve and protect.
“Tying my shoes again, I was like, 'Alright this is it. Let's go,” Lopez recalled while getting ready for his day Monday morning.
Lopez credits his 13-year-old son for pushing him through his recovery.
“[Doing] pushups, he was the one that said, 'You’re not doing it right,” Lopez jokingly recalled. "He made it look so easy. Doing it with one hand. I was like, 'Dang it.'”
The road to recovery for Lopez wasn't easy. On July 4, 2020, Lopez, then a 2-year veteran of the force, was investigating a crash on I-485. Shortly after stepping out of his cruiser, the police vehicle was rear-ended, causing his vehicle to slam into him.
North Carolina State Highway Patrol charged the driver with a felony for failure to move over.
Troopers were investigating a crash that killed five people.
“Ribs broken. Jawline. I lost my hearing on the right,” he explained. “Rehab was more like learning about yourself again."
Lopez had to relearn tasks as simple as raising his arm but throughout his recovery, he knew he wanted to return to the job he loved.
“It was just trying to convince my body," Lopez explained Monday. "My mind was set to come back. It was just my body that needed to regain the strength to come back."
For the first time in 14 months, Lopez got behind the wheel of a cruiser when he began his shift Monday with the North Carolina Highway Patrol Troop H in Union County.
“I just got to go one day at a time. One day at a time -- and like I said earlier -- I am proud to be here and I am proud to serve,” Lopez, who said he chose to return because he loves serving his community, said. “Talking to people. Helping people. It’s just something I enjoy doing."
Lopez’s story is exactly why North Carolina’s ‘Move Over Law’ exists. The law requires drivers to move over a lane when approaching any law enforcement or other emergency vehicle that is on the side of the highway.
Lopez said he is thankful not only that he can walk, but that he’s alive.