At a mostly bare desk in an office with mostly bare walls, Dustin Goudschaal recounted the traffic stop that nearly ended his life.
“I make it about to the bed of the truck and all I see is a head turned and a gun come out, and I see the muzzle flash,” he said. “Then I start feeling pain and burning.”
Goudschaal, a 33-year-old officer with the Vancouver Police Department, returned to modified duty earlier this month, working two days a week as a detective in the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center. He sat down with The Columbian on Tuesday in his first interview since the driver of a pickup truck, James Sapp, opened fire and shot Goudschaal seven times nearly nine months ago.
The memories of June 30, 2014 are clear for Goudschaal, who was conscious and alert throughout the entire ordeal.
As a motorcycle officer in the agency’s traffic unit, Goudschaal said that Monday in June was a normal shift of enforcing traffic laws in east Vancouver. Just before 11:30 a.m., Goudschaal was parked at the intersection of Northeast 162nd Avenue and Poplar Street to look for speeders.
He spotted a black Dodge Ram heading south past him at about 60 mph, so he got on his motorcycle and turned on his emergency lights. The pickup drove south for a little less than a mile before it turned right onto Northeast 34th Street, where it stopped.
Goudschaal called out his location and the truck’s license plate on the police radio as he stepped off his motorcycle.
But while dispatchers were running the plate, the traffic stop went from routine to violent.
“We’re talking maybe eight to 10 seconds,” he said. “At that point, dispatchers figure out something’s wrong because it was a stolen license plate — but I’m already in a gunfight.”
One of the rounds struck Goudschaal’s helmet, disrupting his communication with emergency dispatchers.
He staggered a few paces backwards and another bullet struck his right leg. He fell to the ground.
“It takes your brain a little bit to understand what exactly is happening,” he said.
But in reality, Goudschaal said, it only took a second.
“I understood consciously that this person was shooting at me, was trying to kill me,” he said.
Goudschaal pulled out his gun, but then two bullets struck his left arm.
“At this point, things are starting to not work as I want them to work,” he said.
Goudschaal was in the middle of the residential street with no potential for cover. The thought crossed his mind that the gunman may get out of his truck and finish the job of executing him.
So Goudschaal returned fire.
“I’m still taking rounds, I’m still getting stuff fired at me, so I stand up and start pushing towards the threat,” he said. “As much as I could, I made it abundantly clear to him that I wasn’t dead.”
Goudschaal said he doesn’t know how many times he fired his service weapon, but he said it was enough that the truck eventually sped away.
Sapp, a 47-year-old purported white supremacist from Vancouver, crashed the truck a short distance later, fled on foot and stole another vehicle. Sapp crashed that vehicle and was taken into custody. Less than three weeks after Sapp’s arrest, Clark County corrections deputies reportedly interrupted Sapp attempting suicide in his jail cell. He died the following day.
After Sapp drove the stolen pickup away from the scene of the shooting on June 30, Goudschaal began to triage himself.
Blood covered his face and neck. He reached for a bandage in his pocket, but his left hand wasn’t working and the blood made trying to open the package too difficult. He saw a car stop and he opened its door. He told the driver, Earlene Anderson, “I need your help.”
Anderson put the bandage on Goudschaal. Another citizen, James Bridger, rushed to help, and Goudschaal walked Bridger through how to use the radio gear so that he could tell dispatchers what happened.
“I probably just felt the need to be a part of my own survival instead of just lay there and wait for somebody to do something,” he said. “I don’t like calling myself lucky or blessed. I like to think I did what I had to do because I like to hang out with my wife, I like to ride my bike, I like to go running. Those things mattered more to me than dying.”
Goudschaal was shot seven times: twice in his bullet-proof vest, once in his right leg, twice in his left arm and twice in his face. One of the bullets hit his right ear and another shattered an inch of bone in his jaw.
Doctors set a plate in his jaw and stitched up his wounds, releasing Goudschaal two days later.
What came next was about eight months of physical therapy. He still hasn’t regained full strength in his left hand or shoulder. He continues to do physical therapy while working at the children’s justice center.
Although Goudschaal was critically injured on the job, he said he has no plans of quitting police work.
“I thought, if I don’t come back, would it be better for me in the long run? It might be,” he said. “But I think it’s important to demonstrate that as a profession, as a person, I don’t run away from things.”