Dayton officer who lost leg: Body was damaged, mind and spirit flourished

Dayton police officer Byron Branch holds his Officer of the Year Award. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Dayton police officer Byron Branch holds his Officer of the Year Award. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

An officer who lost his leg and nearly died after being crushed by a vehicle on Interstate 75 is the recipient of the Dayton Police Department’s highest honor.

Officer Byron Branch, who returned to duty late last year, was presented with the Officer of the Year Award on Thursday at the department’s annual award ceremony.

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On Dec. 16, 2016, Branch was outside of his police cruiser checking on an accident on I-75 during treacherous conditions because of freezing rain.

A vehicle lost control, struck Branch’s cruiser and pinned him to the guardrail. He had been a full-time officer for only eight months at the time.

Branch suffered a head injury and drifted in and out of consciousness at the scene. A tourniquet was put on his leg to help stop the bleeding. Medics rushed him to Miami Valley Hospital for treatment.

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Branch had an open fracture to his right leg, including a broken tibia and fibula. Doctors determined the damage was so extensive that the lower part of his leg had to be amputated.

Despite the severity of his injuries, Branch remained upbeat.

In a video played during the awards ceremony, Branch said he is pragmatic and decided right away that he would focus on what he can do instead of what he cannot.

“What I can do is recover and get back to work,” he said. “I really know who I am and what I’m capable of. For that reason, I didn’t ever see there being a problem with me being able to be right back where I was prior to being injured.”

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After the crash that nearly took his life, Branch’s first concerns were not for himself but for the other parties involved in the accident, and then his focus turned to how he could continue to be a police officer and take care of his wife and daughter, said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl.

“While his body was damaged, his mind and spirit flourished,” Biehl said.

Branch was determined to return to street patrol. After seven months, he was back on light duty at the police academy, assisting staff and learning how to use a state-of-the-art prosthetic, Biehl said.

A year after the crash, Branch finally returned to the job he wanted, working police patrol in the East Patrol Operations Division.