Kan. LEO recalls fight for life after being shot in face with rifle
"I was in my own head, like trying to stay alive to get back home to my family," said Officer Kyle Mellard
By Matthew Kelly
The Wichita Eagle
WICHITA, Kan. — Wichita police officer Kyle Mellard sprung into action when he heard his sister's voice come over the radio. He was at the south Wichita home in minutes.
"It happened to be my sister that was on that call. She's a cop too, so she was out there and she came on the radio screaming, 'Shots fired,'" Mellard said.
It was just after 10:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, 2021. Police had responded to a welfare check in the 500 block of West Carlyle. They suspected a possible domestic violence situation. What they found was a man in the shed, clutching an AR-15 style assault rifle.
In bodycam footage from that night, officers can be heard telling Tyler Hodge twice to put down the weapon. Instead, he opened fire.
"My throat was in my stomach, you know? Just like a sinking feeling," Mellard said. "It would have been that way if it had been any officer, but then on top of that, it's my sister."
When Mellard arrived on the scene, he checked on his sister and told her to stay behind cover. No one knew exactly where the suspect had fled.
Officers were already stationed on the west side of the house. Mellard took off on foot to secure the perimeter.
"I'm trying to walk around the east side of the house so we have opposing corners," he said.
"When I step out from the alleyway between houses and I look up, that's when I can see a silhouette of a man pointing a rifle at me. I hear the first gunshot and I get hit in my left leg. And I jump back and yell out to the other guys on the scene that I'm in contact with this guy."
From 30 yards away, Mellard knew he was outgunned.
"He had a rifle, obviously. So he had the advantage of distance and I only had my handgun, so I was fighting a losing battle, but I was going to be in the fight," he said.
Mellard was already wounded in the left leg. Another shot shattered bone in his right, bringing him to the ground. As he fell, a bullet ripped through his face.
"It broke my jaw into like three big pieces and took all my teeth out and went into my spine," Mellard said.
He blacked out momentarily.
"A few seconds, I was back conscious and you know, the first thing that popped back into my head was my daughters, my two little girls and my wife," Mellard said.
His youngest daughter was a month old at the time. Just weeks earlier, he had returned from paternity leave.
"I knew I was in trouble and I had to get out of there to get home to them," Mellard said. "It wasn't anymore about there. I was in my own head, like trying to stay alive to get back home to my family."
He tried calling for help, but he couldn't make the words come out.
Help was already on its way. Other officers dragged him out of the street as the suspect continued to shoot.
"These are the real heroes," Mellard said.
"They risked their lives to come and pull me out of the street, and they loaded me into a cop car because it was too dangerous for an ambulance to come because the guy continued to shoot at other officers after he had shot me."
Officials say Hodge fired a total of 18 bullets at officers before he was shot and killed by police.
'One little miracle'
On his way to the hospital, Mellard could tell his situation was dire. As the adrenaline waned, the pain took over.
"I could feel my boots filling up with blood, so I knew I had to get tourniquets on my leg," Mellard said. "I had one on my duty belt so I took it out, and I couldn't talk to that sheriff's deputy who was in the back with me, so I took it out and like shook it at him and was pointing at my leg and had him put one on."
The deputy found another tourniquet to stop the bleeding in his left leg. At the hospital, Mellard was rushed into the trauma bay for emergency surgery.
"They try and lay you on your back to try and work on you and I remember fighting with them to try and lean over because I was bleeding and [my throat] was filling up so I couldn't breathe," Mellard said.
After a series of surgeries and procedures, he began to stabilize.
Doctors told him the very bullet that had severed his vertebral artery also stopped the internal bleeding.
"Luckily, the bullet was so hot that it cauterized that artery, and that's what basically saved my life," Mellard said.
Still unable to speak, Mellard turned to a pen and paper to communicate.
The first thing he wrote was "I'm alive." Then, to his wife, "I love you."
It wasn't until three weeks into his month-long hospital stay that Mellard began to regain his voice. Up to that point, he had been intubated.
"It got to the point where they could take me off of the tube because I could breathe on my own through that tube, so I would just hold my finger over the tube that was coming out so I had the pressure to come up through my vocal cords," Mellard said.
"It was crazy. I remember being able to surprise like my dad and my wife with them walking in and thinking I couldn't talk and I would just be like, 'Hey.'"
He said the traumatic injury has given him "a whole new outlook on life."
"Essentially, I have a second chance. I should have died that night," Mellard said.
"One little miracle of a bullet being so hot that it cauterizes an artery that it severs — it saves my life."
"This is all bonus time now, so I'm going to live as good a life as I can, you know, for my daughters and my wife."
A six-year veteran of the police force, Mellard said he's on track to return to his job with the department. It's his calling to protect and serve, he said, and not even a near-death experience can change that.
"It's not my personality to let something scare me off. You could call me stubborn," Mellard said with a chuckle. "But I'm not going to let that guy take the career I love from me."
(c)2022 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)