CHIPPEWA FALLS — As Deputy William Gray was stabbed repeatedly — 14 times in all — while seated in his squad car, all he could think about was freeing his arm, reaching his gun and shooting his assailant.
Gray was an investigator with the Chippewa County sheriff’s office at the time of the assault on Nov. 14, 2014.
The incident began when Gray and 20-year-old Sharrinder Garcha were trying to locate a juvenile female runaway from Florida. Gray pulled into a parking lot at 16315 Highway J in the town of Lafayette with Garcha and was waiting for another car to assist him before they proceeded to a residence in Lafayette that Garcha had requested to visit. Suddenly, Garcha attacked Gray with a knife, stabbing him repeatedly in his hands six times and his face and neck eight times. Gray lost five pints of blood.
Gray recalls that his hand felt slippery as he reached for his gun, which was buried on his side, under his seat belt and layers of winter clothing.
“He’s just slashing at me, as violently as he can,” Gray recalled. “This was all happening in seconds, but it felt like forever. I was just trying to protect my throat. My hand was so covered in blood, it looked like I had dipped it in red paint.”
Gray finally reached his gun and fired it once, striking Garcha directly in the temple, killing him instantly. Gray freed himself from the car and flagged down cars for help.
“I just calmed my breathing down,” Gray said. “When I got out of the car, I was so happy I made it through something horrific, I never thought I’d die (from the injuries) after that.”
While Gray has no regrets about his decision, it still weighs on his mind.
“He made a choice that forced my hand,” said Gray, who was hospitalized for nearly a week after the incident. “But that doesn’t mean every day I don’t think about it.”
On Wednesday, Gray was presented a plaque, receiving the Law Enforcement Purple Heart, an award presented to an officer who suffered injuries in the line of duty.
Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk presented the award to Gray.
“It’s a much-deserved plaque and honor for someone who went above and beyond,” Kowalczyk said.
Kowalczyk recalled the day of the stabbing, thinking Gray was going to die from his multiple wounds.
“I was one of the first guys on scene. It was just chaotic — not really sure what happened,” Kowalczyk said. “I approached Bill — he had blood everywhere. His first request was he needed something to drink. With all the blood in his throat, he had to clear it.”
In February 2015, then-District Attorney Steve Gibbs filed a report, clearing Gray of any wrongdoing in Garcha’s death, saying it was entirely self-defense.
Gray, now 53, left the sheriff’s office in March 2016 — one month shy of a decade of service. He joined the state Department of Revenue’s Office of Criminal Investigation as an agent in alcohol and tobacco enforcement. He works in a field office in Eau Claire. Gray said he had long considered becoming a special agent.
“That opportunity came along at the right time,” he said.
“When I was injured, my option was to sit at home until I was totally healed,” Gray recalled. “For mental stability, I wasn’t going to let that guy beat me by quitting law enforcement.”
Gray also has become active in public speaking, creating the company LOS Strategies. Over the past 2½ years, he has given more than 30 speeches, describing the assault, his reactions and the aftermath. He has spoken to, among others, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and private businesses.
“I decided there was a better way to utilize my abilities to speak,” he said. “For me, it’s not therapeutic. I want to share the experience. I had 14 stab wounds, and I never felt any one of them. It’s actually hard for me to do the talks. I’m doing it for the benefit of other officers and civilian groups who want to learn how to be safe.”
As part of the speeches, Gray displays the actual folding knife used that day as well as the bullet used in the shooting. He passes them around the room so people can see them, and it makes his speech have more impact.
“My retirement-level job will be speaking to whoever will listen,” he said.
Even today, nearly four years after the assault, Gray still has daily reminders of it. His upper lip remains mildly numb, and it causes some of his words to come out slightly slurred. He’s had multiple surgeries to repair his nerve damage, as well as his nose.
Gray also still wonders why Garcha attacked him that day. They had spent 3½ hours together that afternoon before the assault occurred. Gray recalled he momentarily let his guard down, was talking on the phone and was unaware that Garcha had removed his seat belt and pulled out the hidden knife.
Gray said he hopes to someday talk to Garcha’s family, particularly if they need it for closure, but he hasn’t been in contact with them.
“How I was able to survive, only God knows,” he said.