Despite being shot by a wanted criminal during a traffic stop 21 years ago and later enduring 10 eye surgeries, Staff Sgt. Dub Gillum with the Department of Public Safety didn’t give up on his career — or his life.
The first doctor Gillum consulted told him he would never be able to see again. But he eventually regained enough of his eyesight to return to work after 14 months of recovery.
His role with the DPS switched from being a patrol trooper to public information officer and safety education officer for Hood, Erath, Somervell and six other nearby counties.
Now, at 55, and after 29 years with the DPS, Gillum is retiring — as of 5 p.m. on July 31.
A retirement dinner is set for Saturday, Aug. 10, at Granbury Church of Christ. A social gathering is set for 5 p.m. followed by a barbecue dinner at 6 p.m.
While Gillum and Karen, his wife of 33 years, prepare to explore places unknown in their RV from their home base in Granbury, he has another goal in mind. Gillum revealed that he is “leaning toward” running for justice of the peace in Hood County.
The story of Gillum’s shooting has been told before by the Empire-Tribune, but one aspect that may not be as widely known is how the Austin native’s Highway Patrol work over the years has helped save the lives of others.
While on routine patrol as a DPS trooper on U.S. Highway 377 in Granbury shortly after dark on Oct. 1, 1998, Gillum pulled over a pickup that had been speeding. He didn’t know that the man, Charley Edward Cook, was wanted on multiple felony warrants. Gillum also didn’t know that the man had told other people that he would shoot any officer who tried to arrest him.
When Gillum approached and got within six to eight feet from the pickup, the man rolled down the pickup window and asked, “What’s the problem, officer?”
Then Cook pulled a .22-caliber semi-automatic Ruger competition handgun and fired 10 shots in 2.8 seconds.
“Out of the 10 rounds, seven of them hit me,” Gillum said, noting that the other three shots hit his flashlight, his clipboard and went through his hat. “He drove away and left me laying there in the road. I had some good citizens (who) blocked the road, got me taken care of.”
Gillum said he never lost consciousness, and was actually able to alert dispatchers with his hand-held radio after Cook drove off.
“Listening to the audio is kind of chilling because I stated, ‘God help me’ — and he did,” Gillum said. “Ask and you shall receive. I had a host of angels with me. And I have a very strong Christian background. There’s a greater person watching over us.”
Gillum said Cook was shot and killed 26 hours later in a wooded area in Fort Worth by a canine tactical team. The German shepherd police dog that was part of the tactical team was shot dead by Cook. The dog’s handler, Brad Thompson, was shot but survived because of his bulletproof vest.
“That man’s a hero. We call them warriors,” Gillum said of Thompson, who earned a couple of medals of valor before retiring last year. “We call them warriors. He’s been in some really intense shootouts.”
While some people who suffered such a traumatic injury might have decided to leave the DPS behind and find another occupation, Gillum decided to stick with it.
“I never quit anything in my life,” he said.
The bullet that caused the most damage struck him in the left temple — “exploding” in his nasal cavity and damaging his eyes.
“I still have the optic nerves, and they’re healthy,” Gillum explained.
Gillum, who was a field training officer, a physically fit master of martial arts and a firearms expert, said he has questioned himself many times since the shooting.
“Was I complacent? Was I overconfident?”
Coincidentally, one technique he learned during his martial arts training, known as tactical breathing, also helped him get through the crucial minutes after he was wounded.
“When you reduce your breathing, it slows down brain function. The mind is a powerful tool,” Gillum said, noting that the breathing technique helped him stay relatively calm. “Most gunshot wounds — 80 percent, matter of fact — are non-fatal. And you look at the will to live, and the power of the mind is strong. So once you’re aware of that, your body reverts to training.”
Gillum said he was shot five times in the facial area. Besides the shots that damaged his eyes, three bullets struck one of his forearms.
His bulletproof vest stopped one bullet that would have hit him in the heart, he said. He still has three bullets that were not removed by surgeons.
His wife, Karen, had worked for the Granbury Medical Center before the shooting, but afterward went to nursing school and became an LVN.
“After my shooting, I became an instructor for DPS. I got into safety education,” Gillum said. “The teaching aspect is what I’ve loved the most — teaching officer safety, officer survival. I love what I do.”
After he “fired” his first doctor for telling him that he would be blind for the rest of his life, he connected with Dr. Harold Granek of Granbury. Gillum said that Granek is “one of the best retina specialists in the United States, training at Harvard, Johns Hopkins — the best of the best.”
Gillum had been taken by ambulance to the trauma center at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, where Granek was working.
“The good Lord, his hand guided those surgeons. He had bigger plans for me,” said Gillum, a 1985 graduate of the University of Texas. “And my wife and mom were at my bedside for the first two weeks, putting cold compresses, helping with the swelling.”
Gillum said his wife and mother being there to keep applying those cold compresses every few minutes played a key role in regaining enough eyesight to prevent him from having to retire.
“If you can control the swelling, you’ll minimize damage. With their hand, the surgeon’s hand, some other good doctors, and UT Southwestern in Dallas, now I see,” Gillum said. “I have, on a good day, 20/30 in the left eye. I’m technically blind in the right eye, but on a good day I can see 20/50. Through the advancement of science and retina repair, one of these days I may see perfect vision again out of my eyes.”
Erath County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronnie Rush, who began his 52-year law enforcement career as a DPS state trooper in January 1967 and has known Gillum for decades, said that he’s an amazing person.
“I knew him before he got shot,” said Rush, who retired from DPS after 34 years and has been an Erath field deputy since then. “He is a very godly man, and Christian man with integrity above all. He is very dedicated. He has lots of perseverance.”
John Knox, the pastor of the Granbury Church of Christ where the Aug. 10 retirement dinner will be held, got to know Gillum years ago.
Gillum and Knox, as a volunteer chaplain for local officers, played key roles in organizing the Critical Incident Stress Management program in Hood County. CISM provides counseling for law enforcement officers and first responders when they experience emotional stress and trauma on the job — something Gillum knows about all too well.
“Dub and I have done lots of debriefing after events,” Knox said of the CISM program.
Knox first got to know Gillum after moving to Granbury in 2004.
“He helped me get started,” Knox said. “Dub is a man of tremendous integrity. He is an unselfish guy — very giving.
“In his new role (since returning from being shot) he is exceptionally good with kids. That role fit him very well.”
VITAL NEW ROLE
As part of his role as a safety officer, Gillum has examined thousands of vehicle child safety seats to make sure they are installed properly and are the right fit. Those safety checks have resulted in powerful positive feedback over the years, including three letters on his office wall that he received in the aftermath of major traffic accidents.
“Because I helped secure children in a seat safety … those parents were involved in horrific car crashes and the children survived. Had they not been in those seats, secured safely, they may not have survived,” Gillum stated.
In an unrelated incident, Gillum was driving one day and helped save a man’s life after stopping to help him change a flat tire.
“While I’m out there helping him, he had a heart attack,” Gillum said. “So I’m right there, rendered first aid, and I received a lifesaving award because of that. He’s now the county judge of Brown County, Dr. Paul Lilly. And he and I have become close friends.”
“I’m still here,” Gillum said in summary. “Some people would say I’m living on borrowed time. But when it’s your time, it’s your time. So I believe that. And the good Lord wasn’t done with me. There were other things in my life I needed to do, whether it was raise my daughters. When I got shot, they were (ages) four and nine. I have three grandsons. I have the opportunity to teach my grandsons how to be a good man.”
Gillum has been more than willing to consult with anyone around the state any time he hears that an officer was wounded in the line of duty.
“My shooting and my experience give me credibility when I walk into their hospital room and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been down this road. You’ll be OK. You may not be able to return to police work, but you’ll be OK. You’ll find another avenue to make a living. Your story will resonate with someone down the line. You can pay it forward,’ “ Gillum said. “I get a sense of pride and accomplishment that I’m able to walk in and talk to officers who have been injured in the line of duty like myself. If I can pay that forward, I’ll always be willing to do that, whether I’m working for DPS or retired.”