HUGO, Colo — The vast views of the Eastern Plains hide the patch of dirt where Lincoln County came millimeters away from tragedy.
Now, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hutton is sharing his story for the first time.
For months since he was ambushed and shot three times in May, Hutton has been recovering at home and going to physical therapy to regain his strength. Now he’s back in uniform and thanking the people who saved his life.
"I had probably milliseconds to think, if that, and I knew I was about to get shot. I could see the gun," Hutton said. "I knew what he was doing. I knew what was going to happen. And then it happened."
It was a routine call for a theft in progress. Hutton was the only deputy in Lincoln County on duty around 3:30 a.m. on May 20.
It was only about 30 seconds before a man with a gun hiding inside the back of a truck started shooting. It was an ambush, with the man firing nine shots before running into a nearby field. Deputies later found the suspect dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"As soon as I got shot, the first words out of my mouth through the radio were 'shots fired, shots fired. Officer down.' I knew I was about to go down. I wasn’t down yet, but I was about to," Hutton said. "I tell myself, you can hear it, 'well, here we go Mike.' That’s me just mentally preparing myself to possibly die. It was that quick that I knew I was hurt enough that that’s what was going to happen."
Deputy Abby Johnson was on the other end of Hutton’s cries for help. She was working dispatch when the call came in.
"I was doing my best to let him know that it’s going to be okay. I’m here, we’re here. You’re not alone anymore," Johnson said. "At one point when he does tell me that he thinks he’s going to lose it, he’s losing a lot of blood, that’s when I tell him it’s going to be okay."
As Hutton lay on the ground pleading for help, he had come to terms that this could be his last call.
"In those moments, I absolutely thought I was going to die. I had made peace with that. I was going to die," Hutton said.
That morning in May was so foggy that when deputies first arrived on scene, they couldn’t find Hutton laying on the side of the road. The bullet hit his lung so he couldn’t yell. He radioed to his colleagues that he would fire his weapon into the ground so they could find where he was, and deputies finally were able to locate him.
In a county with just a couple thousand people, Lisa Carter and Lauren Stang knew they’d recognize the deputy shot when they responded to the call with the Limon Ambulance Service.
"Seeing his face, knowing him, it’s like your heart just sinks. That was the hard part," Carter said. "It was, as we would call it, a load-and-go situation. There was not time to mess around and chit chat, that’s for sure."
Carter was working on Hutton in the back of the ambulance while Stang raced to the nearest hospital in Hugo.
"We took a look at him and we looked at each other and said 'we need to leave now. Time is of the essence right now,'" Stang, who was an EMT student at the time, said. "The worst thought in my mind was, if I don’t get here fast enough, he’s going to die back there. That’s what was going through my mind: I need to get there fast but safely."
If it weren’t for the team of deputies and paramedics and doctors and nurses, Hutton wouldn’t be here talking today.
"Thankful is an understatement," Hutton said. "When all was done and said I had lost between 60% and 80% of my own blood."
Now he's recovering from three gunshot wounds to the hand, arm and chest--millimeters away from leaving him dead.
"One of the bullets did go directly through my thumb. As you can imagine, a bullet versus a thumb, there’s not going to be a whole lot left of that," Hutton said.
The surgeries are over, hopefully. But the therapy continues.
Every agonizing stretch gets him one step closer to returning to full duty. He’s back at work now, mostly in the office.
"Oh, miserable," Hutton said as he sat in a physical therapy office in Hugo. "Miserable."
The pain is brutal. Yet Hutton wouldn’t change a thing.
"That’s what I do. That’s why I’m here, to try and keep the peace. Try and be that protector when the time comes," Hutton said. "If anybody is going to take a bullet, then it should be me."
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