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His Recovery Called Miraculous, Wildlife Agent Is Moving Ahead

Bruce Toloski's skull was partly crushed after he came to the aid of a stranded motorist. He's looking forward to returning to work.

August 16, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 16 months after Bruce Toloski's skull was partly crushed, his speedy recovery is being hailed as miraculous as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent looks forward to returning to work and awaits the birth of twins.

The 37-year-old was injured in April 2003 when a metal bumper struck his head after a drunken driver crashed into the overturned Jeep Toloski was pulling a man out of.

Doctors inserted a plate into Toloski's head, and he was plagued by slurred speech, uncooperative eyesight and seizures after emerging from a six-week coma. The man in the Jeep also survived, and the drunken driver was convicted in June.

Last week, Toloski, who lives in Torrance, received the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn.'s 2003 Heroism Award at a ceremony in Redondo Beach.

"He didn't have to stop, this was late at night," said Chris Brong, a resident agent in charge for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Law enforcement "officers pull over every day to help people.... Unfortunately, he paid a price for it."

After waking from the coma, Toloski had to relearn how to speak, eat and walk. "My right hand -- and I'm right-handed -- didn't work for a while," he said, opening and closing his fingers.

The day he was released from the hospital after a four-month stay, Toloski wore a white helmet. The helmet protected the part of his skull that doctors removed to relieve pressure on his brain.

Toloski's speech has improved with the help of intensive therapy. But he still speaks slowly and with careful enunciation, occasionally slurring a word.

He says doctors, family and friends have all been surprised by his recovery. Because he was healing rapidly, he and his wife, Lisa, began trying to have a baby earlier this year. They had tried unsuccessfully for years, and at the time of the accident were in the process of adopting.

"One more try and now we got two," Lisa Toloski said, rubbing her abdomen.

His recovery hasn't always been smooth. In May and June, Toloski suffered about six seizures. He said they may have been triggered in part by the stress of the June trial of Patrick Daniel Roberts.

Roberts, 22 at the time of the accident, was sentenced to five years in state prison for drunken driving and the injuries he caused Toloski. Roberts' first drunken driving accident was at age 17, when he injured a friend. A couple of years later, he was arrested for drunken driving and placed on probation.

Roberts said nothing at his sentencing, but he did turn and salute his family and friends, Toloski said. The man in the Jeep testified, but he did not acknowledge Toloski. The agent and his family said they were puzzled by the cold reception.

But Toloski's story did garner attention and support.

Two of his fellow churchgoers are paying to adopt a pelican in his name from the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro. The center is giving a second bird to the couple in honor of the upcoming births.

Toloski was working with the center on a pelican case at the time of the accident. Someone was killing pelicans in San Pedro. Birds were found with broken wings and gunshot wounds.

"He was so close to solving the case," Lisa Toloski said. It was reassigned, but has not yet been solved.

Toloski said he was grateful for the outpouring of support, and that he would have done the same thing again.

"I guess I did something I'd always done in the past," he said, "but this time I was hurt."

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