Sunday, July 20, 2003

The family of Deputy P.J. Reinert needs a hand

Peter Bronson

When I reached Patrolman Steve Hoerst on his cell phone, he said he had to call me back in a few minutes. He was chasing down a bad guy wanted for a shooting.

"He kept saying he wasn't the guy," he told me after the arrest. "He was the guy."

The 19-year-old suspect wanted in an assault shooting already had 37 arrests, all in the past year, Hoerst said.

This is what cops face on the street every day. This time, the cop made the arrest, and the suspect did not shoot back.

But what happens to cops who get injured when they lay their lives on the line for the rest of us? The answer can be surprising and sad.

For Deana Reinert of Harrison, it sounds like this: "It just means we're going to have to cut back on a whole lot of stuff. I hope we don't lose our house. We've worked so hard to get it and I really don't want to pull my children out of the school they're in."

Her husband, Hamilton County Sheriff's Deputy Paul J. Reinert, was nearly killed last Sept. 3 when he was chasing a speeder and lost control of his patrol car at 100 mph. He spun out, crossed the median on I-275, and ran into a semi.

What happened since then is the other half of the story that we seldom hear. The dust settles. The accident wreckage is hauled away. The rest of us move on. And the family is left to pick up the pieces of a life as shattered as the windshield of Reinert's cruiser.

Reinert, known to friends as "P.J.," now lives in Illinois, where he gets 24-hour supervision and therapy for permanent brain injuries, his wife said. She is allowed to visit him once a month.

"Some days he's aware of his deficits, and some days he's not," she said. "On Saturday he was crying, 'Why do you want to be married to someone like me who has all these problems?'

"Some people think he's home and everything's fine. That's not it at all. He will never be able to go back to work at the sheriff's department at all."

Nobody pays for her trips to see him. The medical bills are covered by worker's compensation. But after Sept. 1, when P.J.'s sick pay runs out and he retires from the Sheriff's Department, the family will have to get by on a 40 percent disability income and they will lose their health care insurance for Deana and her children.

Deana is going to nursing school to get a job to support the family. But it won't be easy. The Reinerts have a boy, 9, and a boy and a girl who are twins, 6.

Someone who gets a twisted knee or a psychological discharge can collect 80 percent of pay, she said. But for P.J., injured in the line of duty, the modest income of a deputy will be cut by more than half.

The state of Ohio should do better.

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to help can donate to the Paul J. Reinert Family Fund at any Fifth Third Bank, or at the Cincinnati Police Federal Credit Union.

And Hoerst said local police and sheriff's deputies are holding a fund-raiser for the Reinerts and other police causes next Thursday at Japp's on Main Street downtown, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The speeder chased by Reinert that day was never caught. Instead, P.J. Reinert and his family are paying the penalty. That's just wrong.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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