MOUNT VERNON — Michael “Mick” McClaughry remembers Dec. 15, 2016 as cold enough that he had the heat running high in his Mount Vernon police vehicle when the call came in that would bring him to the doorstep of Ernesto Rivas’ home.
“It was cold,” McClaughry said. “And it grew colder.”
McClaughry remembers responding to the call and having a discussion with colleagues about what steps to take next.
Then he remembers nothing at all.
McClaughry testified Friday in the trial of Ernesto Rivas, the man accused of shooting him in the head on that cold December day.
While previous testimony in the trial has at times been a play-by-play of the moments he was shot, McClaughry remembers the night differently — mostly in colors and shadows.
He remembers ghost-like figures floating around him, he said. He thinks they were trying to speak, but the only word he understood was “agreed.”
“I was trying desperately to understand what was being said, but I couldn’t,” McClaughry testified. “I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t move, but I couldn’t move at all.”
With members of his family in the courtroom, McClaughry recalled one of the only other things he remembers seeing: bright lights in colors so vivid he said they couldn’t even be imagined. In the center of those bright lights, McClaughry said, a small black dot grew increasingly larger.
“I know what that black dot was,” McClaughry testified. “It was death.”
As chaos erupted around him, McClaughry was taken first to Skagit Valley Hospital where emergency medical personnel — the same that had hours earlier seen the victim of the shooting McClaughry had been sent to investigate — made the determination within an hour to send McClaughry to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
There Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Neurosurgery, was in the emergency room finishing his evening rounds. Ellenbogen testified that a cadre of police officers burst through the doors and then, carried on a gurney with a bullet in his head, came McClaughry.
Immediately, Ellenbogen said, he ordered a CT scan on McClaughry, revealing a hole in McClaughry’s skull with bone and bullet fragments spattered into his brain.
McClaughry’s prognosis was poor, Ellenbogen said.
“That he survived this long was pretty miraculous,” he said.
A blood clot formed in McClaughry’s brain and the vision centers of both lobes of his brain were damaged.
While McClaughry said his vision has improved to the point where he is able to discern colors such as yellow, red, green and sometimes blue, he remains mostly blind as a result of his injuries.
Had the bullet entered McClaughry’s skull a centimeter to the right, piercing what Ellenbogen called the “midline,” then this story would have had a different outcome.
“If it hit the midline, I don’t think we would have been doing the CT scan,” Ellenbogen said. “He most likely would have died.”
McClaughry was placed into a medically-induced coma. He was eventually awoken and spent two months at the hospital before returning home.
Ellenbogen, who served as a neurosurgeon during three deployments with the Army, described McClaughry’s recovery in one word: “Miraculous.”
“I was a little surprised he woke up at all,” Ellenbogen said. “Someone I predicted would die, he has thankfully made us all liars and lived.”
Also on Friday, jurors heard testimony from Skagit County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kevin Sigman, who at the time was a detective on the Skagit Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART), which investigated the two shooting scenes.
To the jurors, Sigman read a litany of expletive-laden messages between Rivas and others on Facebook, including one sent by Rivas at 7:11 p.m. that stated “I’m not going back, they have to kill me first,” according to Sigman’s testimony.
One minute later, Rivas sent one that read, “I’m going to shoot it out with the cops.”
Moments later, Sigman said, Rivas sent one that said, “I’m not going to do life in prison,” and “I’d rather die.”
About that time, the prosecution contends, is when Rivas shot McClaughry.
According to testimony, at 7:44 p.m., Rivas sent a message on Facebook that read, “I just shot a cop.”
Testimony in Rivas’ trial is set to continue next week, with the prosecution likely resting its case Tuesday.