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Gary Sinise Foundation to build homes for two MO officers injured in the line of duty

Gary Sinise at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., April 29, 2016. (Master Sgt. Jeff Walston/U.S. Air Force)

A national nonprofit group is building homes for two St. Louis-area police officers who were catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

The Gary Sinise Foundation announced Wednesday afternoon that former Rock Hill Officer Mathew Crosby and former Arnold Officer Ryan O’Connor would be provided homes specially adapted to their needs.

The nonprofit group was founded by actor Gary Sinise after his role as Lt. Dan Taylor, a Vietnam War veteran with a disability, in the 1994 hit movie “Forrest Gump.” He said the 9/11 terrorist attacks inspired him to do more for veterans, and the announcement about the homes for the injured officers was timed to take place on the anniversary.

The first police officer to get one was former Ballwin Officer Michael Flamion, who was shot and paralyzed from the neck down during a traffic stop in July 2016. The group also rehabbed Hazelwood Officer Craig Tudor’s home to suit his needs after he was paralyzed about a month after Flamion’s shooting while responding to a call for service.

Flamion attended the ceremony Wednesday along with about 200 people at Metro Air Support headquarters announcing that the foundation was going to build similar homes for Crosby and O’Connor. They will be the eighth and ninth homes the group has built in the St. Louis area for injured veterans and police officers.

O’Connor and Crosby also attended Wednesday’s announcement. Flamion looked at them and said it was the day before his 36th birthday.

“I can’t think of any better birthday gift than to know my two brothers are going to be taken care of,” Flamion said.

Flamion has been living in his Ballwin home since November 2017.

“It makes it easier for her,” Flamion said of his wife, Sarah. “She doesn’t have to be with me constantly. I can open doors, change the channels on the TV, it gives me independence, but it gives her independence, too.”

Crosby, 39, was paralyzed from the chest down while responding to a domestic violence incident in April 2010. He has been living in a rental home in St. Louis County for the past eight years.

Crosby was featured in a series of stories by the Post-Dispatch in 2016 about officers who were paralyzed in the line of duty. Following that story, a team of volunteers rallied around Crosby to get him a new home. Architects from Schaub & Srote volunteered their time to design him a dream home — the foundation for which has already been poured on a property in the St. Charles area, Crosby said.

Crosby said the project has stalled because it needs a lot of donated time, labor and materials.

“The lumber alone, it’s a lot to ask,” Crosby said. “I’m just so grateful. People have already donated so much.”

His current home has three bedrooms, but he can’t fit his wheelchair into his closet or through his back door to get in his backyard. He can’t park his handicapped accessible truck in his garage.

Crosby said he applied to the Sinise Foundation’s Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment division earlier this month, and was thrilled to learn he had been approved. He said members of the team that have been working to build his home have yet to meet with the Sinise team, but assumed that they would all work together and combine the resources and donations that have already poured in.

“This time I feel like it’s OK to be excited,” Crosby said.

O’Connor’s home will be built in Wildwood. He was was shot in the back of the head by a handcuffed prisoner he was driving to the Arnold police station in December 2017. He was 44 then, and has four children: Aidan Ganswer, 18, Ciarian, 13, Quinn, 8, and Cullen, 6. He has since been recovering from the traumatic brain injury, slowly regaining the ability to walk, talk and function as independently as possible.

“I, am, one, grateful, American,” he said.

And the crowd rose to its feet for its third standing ovation of the afternoon.

The Sinise Foundation homes typically cost between $500,000 and $1.4 million to build, according to Jim Shubert, a foundation board member and owner of Shubert Design Furniture in Manchester.

Construction normally takes anywhere from eight to 12 months.


© 2019 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch