a man in a police uniform standing next to a fence

More than three weeks have passed since Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy Julian Garcia was discharged from the hospital — his life forever changed when, police say, a drunk driver slammed into the back of his patrol car as he conducted a traffic stop in Islamorada on the evening of April 9. 

A swift response by fellow deputies and Islamorada Fire Rescue led Garcia to be airlifted to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. The young deputy underwent more than eight surgeries and many weeks in the hospital in hopes of saving his leg; it was severely injured when the drunk driver struck his patrol cruiser as he was walking between his car and another he had pulled over. 

Despite the efforts by surgeons at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the decision was made that Garcia’s leg needed to be amputated. 

Today, Garcia is slowly beginning the recovery journey with some rest and therapy. Eventually, he’ll begin to work with a prosthetic leg. 

“The therapist gave me a paper of exercises to do at home. The first day doing it was pretty tough,” Garcia told the Keys Weekly in a recent phone interview. “For the most part I’ve just been waiting to be fully cleared and to start with the prosthetic.”

With everything Garcia experienced and endured, he continues to exude a chipperness many colleagues in the sheriff’s office have come to witness and admire about the 26-year-old. 

“He’s always upbeat,” said Capt. Derek Paul, who oversees the Islamorada district where Garcia worked. “I really hope he can get back and work with us in some capacity.”

“Julian is phenomenal,” said Lt. Charlene Sprinkle. “He always has a good attitude and a smile on his face.”

a group of police officers standing around a car
Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy Julian Garcia shows equipment inside his patrol car to Citizen’s Police Academy participants earlier in the year. CONTRIBUTED

Sheriff Rick Ramsay described Garcia as humble and one of the nicest people there is. Born in Miami, Garcia attended the law enforcement academy at the College of the Florida Keys and began with the sheriff’s office in February 2022. 

“He worked really hard to become a law enforcement officer,” Ramsay said. “He’s remained positive and upbeat throughout the entire situation. It’s a testament to see how he’s handled this traumatic situation. He’s a fighter, and he’ll beat the odds and challenges.”

Garcia credits his support system, including his parents, girlfriend, three siblings and Sprinkle, in helping get through a life-changing experience. 

“They’ve been there every step of the way,” he said. 

And he’s especially overwhelmed by the support from his colleagues at the sheriff’s office, the Florida Keys community and other people outside the island chain who learned about the incident and either called to offer him best wishes or provide a donation. 

“I don’t know how to explain it. I know the way our community is, but the way it happened, it opened my eyes even more as to how much they help. They really appreciate us,” Garcia said in relation to the community support, which has included a blood drive and will feature a June 23 benefit at the Islander Resort in Islamorada. Organized by Islamorada Vice Mayor Sharon Mahoney, all proceeds will go to support Garcia’s recovery. Mahoney was traveling home from a council meeting the evening of the accident.

“I must have passed there minutes before he put his lights on and pulled over the car,” she said. 

Mahoney, who runs the Casting for Cats and organizes the annual Poor Girls Sailfish Tournament, said securing donations and sponsorships has been rather easy for Garcia’s benefit. 

a group of police officers standing next to a white car
Deputy Julian Garcia, pictured right, started with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in February 2022. CONTRIBUTED

“People have been phenomenal. They’re coming out of the woodwork and calling me,” Mahoney said as she retrieved two certificates donated by Hog Heaven. “It has been so simple. Everything right now is 100% donated.”

Those coming out to support Garcia during the benefit at Islander Resort between noon and 6 p.m. can enjoy an antique show, dunk tank and ax-throwing. There will also be a barbecue — the majority of the food items were donated by Winn-Dixie in Tavernier — and a drink tent. Attendees can also bid on items during a silent auction, and a live painting by Pasta Pantaleo will be auctioned off by emcee Capt. Skip Bradeen. 

“It’s unbelievable how people just stepped up to the plate. I think we’ll have a big turnout,” Mahoney said.

Garcia is also receiving support from neighboring Miami-Dade County. Danny Morales is a law enforcement officer with Miami-Dade Police who founded Bleeding Blue Inc. in November 2022. Through his nonprofit, challenge coins are created by WarriorCoinCompany for people to purchase to support a law enforcement officer and family. Since its founding, Bleeding Blue Inc. has donated more than $168,000 to 31 law enforcement families. 

a sheriff badge with palm trees in the background
The challenge coin by Bleeding Blue Inc. to benefit deputy Garcia. Challenge coin QR code: Scan the QR code to purchase the challenge coin to benefit Julian Garcia.

Morales worked with Garcia’s sister, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Ramsay to create a coin, which features a sailfish and nautical background on one side and the sheriff’s badge with palm trees and water in the background on the other side. 

“The officer’s sister was super grateful. She explained there were a lot of bills that must be paid. I understand that officers make most of their money working overtime and doing extra duty,” Morales said. 

The coin can be purchased for $30 by visiting Bleeding Blue’s website . All proceeds from the challenge coin sales will support Garcia. 

Garcia couldn’t help but express his appreciation for the way the community has rallied behind him. He said he plans to be in attendance for the June 23 benefit. 

“From what I hear it’s going to be a lot of people and it still just blows my mind of everything that’s going on and the way people are going to help. We’re grateful for everything, no matter what the help is,” he said.A GoFundMe was also set up to support Garcia. People can donate here.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures in Western New York. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 5-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club. When he's not working, he's busy chasing his son, Lucas, around the house and enjoying time with family.