Community Impact – The Chris Gonzales Story

by Sandra Lee Buxton

Chris GonzalesFamily pictures, we all have and love them. It is a reminder of those who are important in our lives, of happy times and a record of our journey through life.

Some people carry pictures in their wallet, on their phone, their desk at work or maybe even in the car. Wherever they are they bring a smile when we see them. One such photo meant a great deal and I’ll share that with you shortly.

Chris is described as a super husband and dad by his wife, always available for his family. Raising two sons and a daughter is his pride and joy. He and his wife ingrained family values along with responsible behaviors into their daily lives. The goal was clear cut, ensuring that their children would become productive adults living lives of integrity.

Chris enjoys sports and sharing that time with his own children. A supporter of the well-being of children in general he participated in youth activities and endorses the “keep fit” mentality. One such endeavor was with the Pop Warner Youth football team where he volunteered for seven years, he also worked with Wounded Warriors and as a Police Explorer volunteer and coach. A role that was very meaningful was working alongside of other volunteers freshening up homes for members of the military and widows of the Sheriff’s Office(CCSO).

All of this brings us to another passion in Chris’s life which is Law Enforcement. He began his career in 1993 with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and has held a variety of leadership roles within the department, all with increasing responsibility.

crashed sheriff vehicleIn the recent past he was the Administrative Sergeant with the Safety and Traffic Enforcement Bureau. Currently he is the Interim Director of the Communications Center. Chris has college degrees in Criminal Justice, Management and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Those of you who have lived in Collier County long enough remember the juvenile residential commitment program, D.R.I.L.L will understand the value of what was accomplished there. Chris was selected to assist with the development and implementation of that important program and found it very rewarding.

He has pages of awards and recognition’s for his outstanding work with the CCSO and the Collier community in general. Too numerous to name all of them, I’ll mention a few which represent his career that continues to be exemplary. The “Gallantry Star” was awarded after he entered a burning apartment building along with his partner to evacuate residents living there, authoring five successful award submissions to the Fl and IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Challenges, winning first place for the CCSO. He successfully submitted an FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) Aggressive Driving grant worth $110,000 and a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Grant worth $37,000.

crashed sheriff vehicle2Chris has been recognized as Law Enforcement Deputy of the Quarter and nominated a second time for this honor by his subordinates. The National Sheriff’s Association and National Highway Safety Administration awarded Chris the J. Stannard Baker Award for outstanding achievements in highway safety, the Nation’s highest traffic safety honor.

Traffic safety and removing impaired drivers from the road had become more personal following his accident where he was hit and nearly killed by a severely impaired driver. This is where the significance of a family picture comes in. The accident was so intense and happened so quickly that Chris literally did not know what hit him. Falling in and out of consciousness he could not process what had and what was happening. His focus however was on a photo of his family which he kept on the sun visor in the patrol car. He could not comprehend the accident but he did know that he needed to be there for his family. While first responders took care of managing the traffic, his rescue and stabilization of physical injuries, the entire accident remained a blur. That family photo was the only sensible thought that he could hold onto and he automatically went into survival mode.

The car was so mangled that he and his trainee had to be cut from the patrol vehicle and rushed in critical condition to the hospital. Recovery was a long process of multiple reconstructive surgeries and months of intense physical therapy. When he was able to return to work, he received extensive specialized training in various traffic related areas including DUI, motor officer and traffic crash investigation. Chris was adamant that he spare others the horrific experience that nearly took his life.

How do you measure the cost of tragedies involving impaired drivers? Medically it can be tens of thousands and literally go on for a life time, is it the pain and suffering, the psychological trauma, or is it the loss of functionality temporary or permanent? I don’t know how you measure that cost but I do know that the price is too high.

Thank you Chris Gonzalez CCSO, for your service to others, Naples and Collier County are safer because of your dedication and selfless acts of courage.

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