WESLEY CHAPEL — Darren Hill wishes he could remember the crash.
In the 40 days of his recovery, people have shown him photos of his mangled police cruiser. The scars that criss-cross his legs are a constant reminder, as is the delicate way he hoists himself, on his elbows, out of bed and into his wheelchair every morning.
He remembers he was a half-hour from ending his shift, driving down a dark road in the early hours of New Year's Day, then it cuts out.
He doesn't remember the bright red pickup truck which, deputies say, crossed the center line and destroyed his patrol car. Or the moment when his leg was shattered into fragments.
Or when the other driver, according to reports, fled.
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Hill, 29, woke up in severe pain as doctors in the St. Joseph's Hospital emergency room stretched his limp right leg in an attempt to realign some of the fragments.
"That is a whole new definition of pain," Hill said last week.
Doctors put him on pain meds as he drifted in and out of consciousness. The rest of the day brought glimmers of visiting family members, deputies and Sheriff Chris Nocco.
Hill's mother, Cathy Pollard, got the call 718 miles away in Kingsport, Tenn.
Hills older brother, David, told his mother about the wreck. He said everything was okay and her son was up and speaking. She was in tears but comforted.
Pollard couldn't book a flight to Tampa in time. She and her husband rented a car. An emergency room nurse, she called her son's nurses to talk shop about his injuries. Knowing made her calm.
"I can't be there," she remembers thinking. "I can't see. I can't touch. Though, I believe what I'm told."
She thought about the boy she called her "joy child" because he was laid back and always pleasant.
As a toddler, he made color-coordinated geometric designs from his toy blocks. By fourth-grade, he was taking typing classes. At 16, he was designing video games.
His first glimpse of law enforcement life was as a police explorer in Zephyrhills during his middle school years.
A college degree in production management led him toward video games and eventually to a job at an electronics company in California.
Sounds of sirens outside the office brought back memories of ride-alongs with officers and seeing the people they helped.
"It just kept eating at me," he said.
Then in 2011, his brother David called. He said he was going into the police academy and Darren should come.
He quit his job, borrowed money from his dad and signed up at Hillsborough Community College's police academy.
"I can't be law enforcement on the side and be a professional in the video game industry," Hill said. "But I can be a professional in law enforcement and do video games on the side, so it's the way it had to work out."
They graduated that September.
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The sheriff's office hired Darren Hill as a patrol deputy in January 2012. David is in the agency's hiring process now.
Pollard knew her son's job would be dangerous. But she didn't fight it.
"I wasn't tickled," she said. "But he's an adult, I have to respect what he chooses in his line of work. We have to hand him over to God, and whatever happen, happens."
New Year's Day was his fifth crash ever, his third on duty. The others were minor fender benders.
Pasco sheriff's reports say the driver of the pickup truck, Bertin Jaimes, was picked up by his brother from the crash scene and the two returned to a New Year's Eve party he was driving home from when he crashed.
Deputies later arrested Jaimes on charges of leaving an accident scene and driving with an invalid license.
His family is from Tejupilco, Mexico.
Jaimes, his brother and his sister-in-law are being held under a detainer issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement until the agency's investigators decide what to do with them.
During a tearful news conference in the days following the crash, a reporter asked Pollard what she would say to the suspect.
"I'm sorry for you, sir," she responded. "I'm sorry that you don't have more integrity. And that you don't have more compassion."
Darren Hill was released from the hospital two weeks ago in a wheelchair, wearing a brace to keep his right leg straight.
"There was no doubt he's going to be able to come back," Sheriff Chris Nocco said. "This guy will move mountains to get back in a patrol car."