In Loving Memory of
Handle: Officer J.J..
reliving struggle, mourns loss of K-9 companion
By Kathleen Sweeney
Times-Union staff writer
The shooting plays
continuously in Jacksonville police Officer J.J. Thurne's mind:
Releasing his K-9 partner Quanto to chase after an armed robbery
suspect. Quanto tiring as the suspect beat him with his hands and legs.
The numbness in his hand, not realizing part of his trigger finger had
been torn away after a shot was fired. Quanto lying on his side and not
moving after a nudge. The 21-year Jacksonville Sheriff's Office veteran
remembers it vividly each time he tells the story since he was shot last
week by a robbery suspect who had escaped from jail. It's a story he's
told many officers who have stopped him in the hallway at the Police
Memorial Building, where he returned to work part time yesterday. ''You
look back and wonder what you could have done to prevent this or make it
come out in a different light,'' he said. ''If I could trade a finger
for the dog, there wouldn't be a question. The dog is the hardest thing
to deal with.'' After a week of grieving, planning a memorial service
for his partner of two years and meeting with doctors, Thurne, 41, is
learning to be a ''lefty'' and looking forward to meeting his new
partner. But Thurne knows the new dog won't be able to replace the one
he lost in the shooting. Gary Lee Neil, 22, who is accused of
shooting Thurne and killing Quanto, is being held at the Duval County
jail. He is charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer,
killing a police dog and escape. Police are still searching for the
driver of the dark blue Chevrolet that Neil jumped from that night.
Thurne said an officer never knows whom he will encounter on the street.
That night, he didn't know it was the same man he and Quanto helped
arrest in January after a shooting at a Burger King restaurant on San
Pablo Road and chase with police. He remembers struggling with him then.
It wasn't any different last week, Thurne said. The man continued to
fight even after Quanto bit him on the leg for the third time. Thurne
grabbed the man and started applying pressure around his neck when the
suspect reached back to grab his gun. It was then they struggled for the
weapon and the gun fired. Thurne felt his hand go numb, but he didn't
realize he or Quanto had been shot. The bullet plunged through the
middle knuckle of his right index finger and came out above the top
knuckle. The struggle continued as Thurne tried to get control of the
gun. Before they went to the ground, the man tried pointing the gun
toward his chest. ''I knew I was in trouble,'' he said. Though Thurne
was tiring, he kept fighting, '''cause I know I was going to die if I
didn't,'' he said. Thurne tried to fire as the suspect dashed into
nearby woods until he noticed his finger was nearly torn away. By the
time he switched hands, the man was gone. Other officers found him
hiding in a garage a few blocks away. Thurne, a father of three children
ages 12, 10 and 6, didn't tell his youngest what happened for days. The
others took the news hard. ''He [Quanto] was big and mean, but you knew
when his feelings were hurt,'' Thurne said. ''He's just like a child.
With the exception of the dog, I feel I came out smelling like roses
considering the alternatives.'' Thurne's been shot at before, he said.
But he now thinks there may be other alternatives to handling dangerous
situations and isn't sure how he'll react the next time he's faced with
sending his dog after a suspect. For now, he is working administrative
duties until he recovers and has another surgery to replace the bone in
his right index finger. He hopes to regain use of his finger. Quanto, 4,
will remain at the city morgue until his burial, which could be in a few
months. Thurne said they are waiting for the new police academy to open
to bury him on site. ''He was a pretty amazing dog,'' he said, proudly.
''Quanto was doing his job. He was getting tired. He ultimately saved my