TAMPA — The bullet pierced the right side of Deputy Miguel Galarza's neck, tore through muscle and came out the left side, just missing his spine.
Hit at a slightly different angle, he might not have lived to testify Tuesday about the dangers of breaking up a home invasion.
But there he sat, scars at his collar, gulping down tears.
"I was down on the floor and I opened my eyes," he said. "My arms are shaking. My feet are going every which way, and I can't control it.
"And I think I'm dead."
Galarza is a key witness in the trial of Miguel Angel Serrano, accused, among other felony charges, of trying to kill the Hillsborough County deputy. If convicted, Serrano, 29, could get life in prison.
As the trial opened in Hillsborough circuit court, harrowing testimony came from the deputy who survived.
Galarza got the dispatch call about 11 p.m. Oct. 13, 2009. He knew someone had called 911 from a Town 'N Country apartment and not said anything.
A woman had left the line open just before she and her boyfriend were bound by robbers, prosecutors said. But Galarza didn't know those details then.
He had no idea the man who poked his head out of the apartment door was, according to prosecutors, holding the couple hostage.
Galarza began to ask if someone had called for deputies, but Serrano interrupted.
"Nah, man, we're fine," the deputy remembers Serrano saying, before slamming the door shut.
"10-94," Galarza called into his radio. He needed backup. And "10-18," he added — as soon as possible. The deputy drew his weapon, banged on the door and shouted, "Sheriff's Office!"
A few seconds passed. Then he heard the door unlock. It opened, and he saw Serrano take a couple of steps back and raise his hands. "It's fine," he remembers Serrano saying.
Galarza heard a noise from a back room. It sounded like a woman sobbing. He watched Serrano look in that direction and say, "It's my brother. It's fine."
But Galarza suspected Serrano had done something to her.
"Get to the ground," the deputy told him. Serrano did. Galarza wanted to get to the woman, but first, he needed to handcuff the man on the floor. And he needed to holster his handgun to do it.
The deputy said Serrano's eyes were trained on him. When he reached for Serrano's hand, he felt the man push up from under him. Galarza jumped onto Serrano's back with his knee. But the man wouldn't stop fighting.
Galarza got a sick feeling about the back room. Maybe it was a setup. He needed to get himself and the man out of the apartment.
He put his arm around Serrano's neck, pulled him up and started walking him backward when, he said, Serrano grabbed the deputy's arm, holding him close.
The deputy could see him doing something else, he said: digging into a pocket. The man had a gun, the deputy realized. Galarza fought to break free, finally did, and got his own gun out of his holster, but tripped over a couch.
Serrano grabbed for the deputy's gun, which was close to the deputy's head. Galarza said he could feel Serrano's elbow on his face. The deputy knew his own finger wasn't on the trigger. But Serrano's hand was there.
He's got me, the deputy thought to himself. I have no control of my gun. He could do whatever he wants. …
He's gonna shoot me.
The gun fired.
"I saw a flash of light," Galarza said. "Like when you get hit with a punch. I saw the bright light."
The deputy lost consciousness.
Moments later, he opened his eyes to discover his arms and legs shaking. It took him a little time, but he regained control.
"10-18!" he said he radioed again. "I've been shot!"
He went looking for the gunman, but felt weak and had to get down on a knee.
When deputies arrived, they would surround Galarza and hide him behind a squad car. He would end up in an emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital.
They would find Serrano in a neighbor's car, hiding under clothes. He would end up in jail.
But before any of that, as his neck bled and backup was on the way, Galarza waited with his gun drawn.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.