ORANGE — Anaheim Police Officer Thomas "Kasey" Geary, shot point-blank in the face, got a fleeting glimpse of death and brushed it aside.
"I remember lying there, looking up the stars. I remember reaching for my radio," he said haltingly. "I decided not to give up. I decided I was not going to lie there and die."
Geary, 39, a Medal of Valor recipient, was assisted by a guardian angel of sorts that night: Long Beach park ranger Carlos Ortiz, who stopped to help the wounded officer seconds after he was shot.
On Friday, Geary recounted bits and pieces of the incident during a news conference before leaving UC Irvine Medical Center to finish his recovery at home.
He also met with Ortiz for the first time since the attack, and the two men talked about that July 10 night.
"I feel like he truly saved my life," Geary said.
Ortiz said he "did what I thought was best. I had no second thoughts." He took off his shirt and applied pressure to the wound until another officer with paramedic training arrived.
"In my heart, I knew he was going to be OK," said Ortiz, a park ranger for 14 years. " . . . It looked bad, but I knew we could help him."
Geary, an 18-year veteran, said he is eager to return to work, but doctors said he faces weeks of physical rehabilitation. Except for noticeable stiffness and a slow gait, though, Geary did not look like a man who was shot near the jaw with a large-caliber handgun.
Dr. John Kusske, a member of a team of doctors who treated Geary at the medical center, attributed his recovery to his indomitable spirit.
"He showed a lot of courage and persistence in hanging in there in a very difficult situation," Kusske said.
Doctors decided to leave two major bullet fragments in Geary's neck, close to his spinal cord, Kusske said.
Although plastic surgery left only a barely discernible scar below his left cheekbone, Geary has limited mobility and strength in his left arm. He has trouble turning to his left, too.
Ortiz has said he was driving east on Ball Road when he saw Geary stop a sport utility vehicle on the onramp to the Costa Mesa Freeway at about 1:50 a.m.
Sensing that something was wrong with the police stop, he made an illegal U-turn and returned to the scene just as the sport utility vehicle was speeding off.
Two days later, police arrested Juan Carlos Alcaraz, 25, who was charged with attempted murder of a police officer. Alcaraz, who police say is a Santa Ana gang member, is scheduled to be arraigned next week.
Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez said Friday that investigators are also looking for a woman believed to have been in the sport utility vehicle with Alcaraz, but they do not know her identity. He also said there may have been others in the vehicle.
On Friday, Geary thanked the hundreds of well-wishers who sent cards and flowers to the hospital during his stay.
"I'm glad to be here and anxious to get to work," he said. " . . . This is my life. I'm anxious to get back in the [patrol] car."
He and Ortiz said they would remain friends for the rest of their lives.