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Determined to prove he's a real trooper

The Baltimore Sun

A big yellow "Welcome Back Trooper Eric Workman" sign remained on display in front of the Westminster barracks on Route 140 last week.

But the detective did not dwell on the special treatment he received his first days back on the job. Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Eric D. Workman, 36, went back to work, executing search warrants for armed robbery and identity theft suspects.

"We're just amazed at how much he's jumped back into it, and then we're not," said Sgt. Doug Reitz, who works with Workman in the barracks' criminal investigation division. "It's back to business as usual with him. As a supervisor, I tend to worry a little more now, but you've got to just have faith and confidence in your personnel."

Workman's return Monday has noticeably boosted morale at Carroll County's state police headquarters, his co-workers said. Shot and critically wounded on the job three months ago, Workman's determination helped speed his recovery.

A fugitive in a Carroll County home invasion shot Workman during the pre-dawn raid of a Baltimore County home Dec. 12, authorities said. Police returned fire, hitting the suspect, Steven Tyrone Jones, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Workman said last week he knew immediately that his wounds were acute. A bullet, which traveled through his armpit and struck his lung and kidney, remained lodged in his abdomen as he was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

The first two people he asked for after being wounded: his girlfriend, Trooper 1st Class Debbie Zittel, and Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, the chief of surgery at the Shock Trauma Center.

"That just says something about his character," Zittel said. "He asked for other people when he was hurt. I'm just so blessed to have him."

Zittel, 31, now wears a St. Michael medallion and an iron cross on her badge -- symbols that comforted her as she prayed for Workman's recovery.

Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, secretary of the Maryland State Police Department, gave Zittel the pendant of St. Michael, the patron saint of police officers.

Scalea, who had befriended Workman when he last ended up on his operating table in 1998, remains the trooper's miracle worker.

Workman had been struck and nearly killed by a car while on duty along the shoulder of the Capital Beltway's outer loop. In both incidents, Scalea intervened to save Workman's life.

But Workman's own resolve also played a crucial role in his recovery, Scalea said Friday.

"It's virtually impossible to knock someone like Eric down," Scalea said. "People who are that highly motivated to get well, get well more reliably. I don't think that his belief in his ability to recover ever wavered."

Scalea saw Workman every few weeks during his three-month recovery. Over the past nine years, they have maintained a friendship that transcends the patient-doctor relationship.

After one week at Shock Trauma, Workman was released, minus his spleen, though the bullet remains. State police granted Zittel leave from the Golden Ring barracks for one month while she cared for Workman at their Catonsville home. As he strengthened, Workman put in a couple hours at the gym each day, running and lifting weights.

"I'm in pretty good shape now," he said.

A lingering soreness remains in his chest area, Workman said. And the bullet won't be removed unless it causes him back problems.

During recovery, he had time to experiment with cooking different recipes, whipping up elaborate pastas and grilled buffalo chicken dishes, Zittel said.

"He's a better cook than I am," she said.

Workman settled back into his old routine last week, hunting down suspects. He said he could not be confined to a desk and would not have it any other way.

With his fugitive apprehension unit, Workman went out on an early morning raid in connection with an armed robbery of the Domino's Pizza on Frederick County side of Mount Airy.

"He's just been tremendous, all smiling and ready to go," Reitz said. "Eric is not the type to want to sit around."

Reitz and Workman have worked together on and off in the criminal investigation unit since 2001. Until 2005, Workman spent several years going undercover with Carroll County's drug task force.

There is a tight, family-like bond between Workman, Reitz and Detective Sgt. Chuck Moore, his supervisors in the warrant apprehension unit. They work closely together during all hours.

In the near future, Workman has about five prisoner extraditions lined up, including ones in California and Colorado.

He will also testify in the state's criminal animal cruelty trial against Carroll L. Schisler Sr. and his son, Carroll L. Schisler Jr., which Workman said could go to trial in July.

He was the primary investigator in the case against the Schislers, owners of a 112-acre Marston farm, where pigs tested positive for trichinosis, a fatal disease caused by a parasitic worm.

The media attention surrounding Workman last week seemed to catch him off-guard. He said he wants to settle back into his old routine.

"It kind of takes away from being able to focus on the priorities," he said. "It feels great to be back and will probably feel even better once things calm down."

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