Here’s the Alexandria hero today…
By James Cullum
ALEXANDRIA, VA – It happened in the blink of an eye, and the next thing Peter Laboy knew he was waking up in Medstar Washington Hospital Center. His wife, Suzanne, was at his bedside, and so was then-Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and then-Police Chief Earl Cook. Laboy, the motorcycle cop who was shot in the head by a deranged 27-year-old cab driver in 2013, opened his eyes and his wife asked if he recognized who Euille was. He weakly gave a thumbs up and said, “The mayor.”
“You can see the scar at my temple. That’s where the bullet went through,” Laboy told The Zebra. “And I still have the bullet in my head. It’s a hollow-point 9-millimeter. The doctor said that if he tried to get it out, he would do a lot more damage.”
The life of a hero isn’t always what you imagine. Laboy retired as a police officer, got a divorce and for the last several years has been a stay-at-home dad in a constant state of self-improvement. For 17 years he was a member of the Alexandria Police Department, the last seven of which were as a motorcycle cop. It’s been three years since he had his last seizure, and he is now trying to get his driver’s license. He wakes up most days in his apartment full of medals and commendations at around 6:30 in the morning in his apartment and visits friends at the Alexandria Detention Center, plays softball once a week with former neighbors and participates in group therapy sessions.
To this day, Laboy, 51, will drive around with his best friend, Alexandria Sheriff’s Deputy Victor Ignacio, and a call will come out on Ignacio’s radio. Laboy instinctively wants to answer the call but remembers the reality of his situation.
“I’m getting ready to grab it, but I can’t,” Laboy said. “I have to be patient. I still have to go to the hospital two or three times week, I do group therapy, brain injury therapy and every other week I see a psychologist. Every two or three months I see a brain injury specialist and a neurologist, and he prescribes all of my medications. I have to take 10 to 12 pills in the morning; there’s four pills to prevent seizures, there’s three more that are to keep me awake all day, there’s fish oil and vitamin D and then at night there is the same, but I take two pills to help me go to sleep and melatonin.”
Ignacio is Laboy’s best friend. He’s more like a brother, really, and talks to Laboy nearly every day. Their families have been on vacations together, and Ignacio’s wife is Laboy’s ex-wife’s cousin. Ignacio and he still hang out all the time, has him over for dinner and spends holidays and special occasions with him.
“Peter’s always been the kind of guy who gets along with everybody,” Ignacio said. “This incident has changed many lives – Peter’s life, his kids’ lives, his personal life. When you hear the statement that it takes a village, well the village came together for Peter, but we also knew that his recovery was going to be a marathon and not a sprint.”
Born to Ride
Laboy was born in Costa Rica and moved to the Dominican Republic at an early age. When he was 20 he moved to Guatemala, Puerto Rico and then to North Carolina to be with his brother, Pedro, who was finishing a stint in the U.S. Army at Ft. Bragg. After bouncing around the country, he decided to move to the Washington, D.C. area and worked for years at National Tire and Battery near Potomac Yard before joining the APD.
“All the time I would watch the TV show “COPS”, and I wanted to be a police officer. I knew that it was what I wanted to do,” he said. “I started riding motorcycles when I was 12 years old in the Dominican Republic. There was a motorcycle racing track by my house, and I started riding and competing, and then when I moved to Guatemala the riders were more advanced and I did it there. I did the same thing in Puerto Rico.”
What Happened on February 27, 2013
Laboy still has a good memory and recalls everything that happened up until he stopped his motorcycle near Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy. On the morning of Feb. 27, he had to cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to a repair shop in Fort Washington and drop off an APD motorcycle, pick up his own bike with brand new tires and then head back to the city.
“When I was coming back across the bridge, halfway across there was an Officer Powers, and he got a call of a suspicious person and he got on the radio and he said that he would take the call because he was there two days ago, and he needed help stopping this car,” Laboy said. “And when he did that, he gave the license plate and the cab number, and he said that it was a Yellow Cab minivan and you could see it a mile away. I said I was close, and I was going to go help.”
The driver of the cab was Kashif Bashir, a Woodbridge resident who was stalking a woman in Old Town. Laboy quickly made shortcuts to get to the cab and was about 20 feet away from it when he made the traffic stop. Before he stepped off his bike, though, a shot rang out. It was a lucky shot, for sure, and Laboy was even luckier that he was still wearing his helmet. It saved his life.
“I don’t even remember looking at the cab,” Laboy said.
Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille had just finished a meeting at City Hall when he noticed the overwhelming sound of a police emergency. At first, he thought a presidential motorcade was driving through the city but made a few calls and within moments was at the scene.
“It was not a good day for Alexandria,” Euille said. “When Peter eventually woke up in the hospital and recognized me, everyone was in tears. It was a very good sign.”
Ignacio, who at the time was an Alexandria Police officer (before he joined the Sheriff’s Department), was just finishing a polygraph when he turned his phone on and it immediately rang. On the other end was a fellow officer, who cried, “Peter’s been hurt! Peter’s been hurt!”
“I didn’t know where he was or what happened, I just ran out and jumped in the car and drove out the gate and started following the line of cruisers,” Ignacio said. “We initially thought that he got hit by a car. Even when they were chasing the taxi driver, they weren’t aware that he fired a weapon. As a matter of fact, we learned from one of the sergeants at the hospital that he got shot. And the Fairfax County Police knew when he crashed and stepped out of the car, and that he had dropped the gun, but even they did not know that it was a shooting. The fact that he is here is a miracle.”
Bashir would later be found not guilty by reason of insanity of malicious wounding of a police officer and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. He claimed that voices told him to shoot Laboy, and five years later Alexandria Circuit Court Judge James C. Clark determined that Bashir was no longer a threat to society and issued his conditional release. The conditions were that he could never again enter Alexandria, never legally drive, was required to attend therapy sessions three times a week and stay within short proximity of his home in Woodbridge.
Bashir broke those rules and was arrested earlier this year for setting two homes and a car on fire in Bristol and Manassas. Investigators later discovered that he legally obtained two handguns, and also owned two silencers. The Virginia State Police later admitted to a clerical error, namely not including Bashir’s last name in a list of prohibited gun buyers. Bashir will stand trial in Prince William County this summer.
“I always had the feeling like he was going to go back to jail. I knew he was going to do something again,” Laboy said. “He’s a little guy, too, no taller than 5-foot-1 and weighing about 85 pounds, but he had a gun.”
Laboy’s recovery was deemed miraculous and he underwent months of physical therapy. Fundraisers and benefits were held in his honor, and then-Vice President Joe Biden himself even dropped off donuts at APD headquarters and invited Laboy and his family to the White House for a private meeting and to view the 4th of July fireworks near the Washington Monument. One thing was clear, though – his career as an APD officer was over, and in 2014 he officially left the department. In honor of his service, the motor unit officially retired his number – Motor 8.
Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown checks up on Laboy through his staff, and occasionally takes him out to lunch. He said that Laboy is a great example of the sacrifice that the best officers are willing to take.
“The ultimate sacrifice, obviously, is represented on our Memorial Wall outside of headquarters,” Brown said. “But we also have people whose lives are changed forever, like Peter’s, because they just did their job, and something happened. There’s not a lot of professions that call for that from their employers, so it takes a special person. In order to do this job and do it well you have to have a certain level of heart and commitment to the people you serve and yourself, but you also recognize that every time you go to work there’s a possibility you may not come home, and certainly Peter did not come home the same way in which he left. He’s a living reminder of us in the profession of courage and sacrifice.”
For Laboy, life might not always be fair, but incredibly he doesn’t do a lot of complaining. The fanfare has died down, the phone calls are fewer and so many people he knows are busy and have moved on with their lives. Laboy’s life also now goes at a much slower pace.
“You have to give it your all,” he said. “That’s one thing that hasn’t changed about me. Even today I’m still giving it my all.”