By MIKE STILL
NORTON — Three weeks after being injured in a shooting, Norton Police Chief James Lane choked up at the sight of hundreds of people applauding his discharge from the hospital Friday.
“May the 7th will not define me,” Lane said after rehabilitation staff at Norton Community Hospital wheeled him to the patient exit.
Police, deputies, federal law enforcement, and campus officers from across Southwest Virginia joined rescue squad members, firefighters and local officials surrounding the hospital exit to applaud Lane’s recovery and discharge.
On May 7, Lane responded to a complaint near a convenience store, where a Pound man allegedly shot him. Norton Police Sgt. Jason McConnell — to whom Lane waved Friday — arrived and both returned fire.
Before Lane came outside Friday, rehabilitation center staff lined the hallway to clap and cheer as he made his way to the exit.
“I promise you I will be back,” Lane, flanked by hospital staff wearing T-shirts with the chief’s name and badge number, told the crowd. “I look forward to serving beside my brothers and sisters in blue and improving, making this a better place that we live and we work.”
Lane said community support helped him get through two weeks of rehabilitation and “I know it will continue as I continue the road to recovery.
“Again, from the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you,” Lane said.
“He’s been building up the patients around him and the nurses around him,” said Shannon Showalter, Ballad Vice President for Wise, Dickenson and Lee County operations. “Every time I go in the room, he has something positive to say. His attitude has just been great through all of this.
“We feel so glad in this community that we can take care of one of our heroes,” Showalter said. “He has just been an amazing person for this community.”
Abingdon Police Chief Jon Holbrook represented one of several police and sheriff’s departments across Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky welcoming Lane.
“He’s the kind of chief you look up to and call for advice,” said Holbrook. “I’m glad he’s leaving the hospital.”
Wise County and Norton Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III and Virginia 38th District Sen. Travis Hackworth also joined a line of people waiting to shake Lane’s hand and help him into an SUV leading a motorcade of dozens of police, emergency medical and firefighting vehicles.
Norton Detective Sgt. Bucky Culbertson said Lane was looking forward to one gift he got: a bag of peanut butter cups Lane said he was going to “dig into” once he got home.
Nursing staff also lined the hospital exit drive, holding signs to give Lane an early sense of what was to come on his trip home.
Lane rode through downtown Norton at the head of a convoy of police, fire and emergency vehicles as hundreds more city and area residents lined Park Avenue waving signs and flags and bringing gifts to him in his vehicle.
The Norton Fire Department framed the parade with a large U.S. flag hanging from the department’s aerial truck.
Lane’s fellow Norton Kiwanis Club members joined the crowd with their own signs, telling him they looked forward to him coming back to weekly club meetings. Lane’s aunt, Mary Collins, also brought the motorcade to a brief stop as she went to the passenger window to speak with him.
“He’s my nephew,” Collins said, smiling, as she went back to the sidewalk.