COLUMBIA, S.C. — Communities in southeast Columbia are rallying behind a local officer who was severely injured in a car crash.
Sergeant Chris Morris, an Army veteran and a 17-year veteran of the Columbia Police Department (CPD), is in the hospital with a long road to recovery ahead.
Now, the communities he serves are teaming up to assist the Morris Family with medical expenses.
"His personality, his ability to connect with people - I think that's how they're able to relate and be there to support him in his time of need," said Captain PJ Blendowski of the Columbia Police Department's South Region.
Morris also of the department's South Region, is suffering from multiple injuries following an off-duty crash Sunday in Orangeburg County. Blendowski says Morris was on the way back to Columbia from a softball tournament in Mount Pleasant.
"He had multiple broken bones, compound fractures, burns about his face, very severe injuries. He's very lucky to be alive," said Blendowski, who spoke with Morris over the phone Friday morning.
Blendowski says Morris underwent another surgery Thursday, with more procedures expected in the future.
"I'm sure he is very eager to get back [to work] and we're hoping one day that's going to happen," said Blendowski.
Morris's daughter, Kinna, who was also injured in the crash is now recovering at home.
"He's really a pretty special guy," said Martha Fowler, a Melrose neighborhood resident. "The neighborhood has grown to love him more and more even though his orbit has broadened from just being Melrose to being Melrose, Shandon, Kilbourne and Rosewood."
Since the accident, members of the Rosewood neighborhood took action by starting a GoFundMe page that's raised more than $12,000 so far to help with medical expenses.
"Show the family, hey, you are loved, you are cared about and we are here for you," said Michele Huggins, a South Kilbourne neighborhood resident. "Here in Rosewood, we just can't say enough about how much we appreciate his leadership and just him as a human being."
As part of CPD's Community Response Team for many years, Morris built relationships with these neighbors through Front Porch Roll Calls and Coffee with a Cop.
An example of Morris's community outreach happened last April when he organized a surprise birthday drive-by for a 98-year-old Rosewood resident.
"He would bring all the officers including Code Enforcement and they would come in and just meet with the neighbors, talk to us and get to know each other. We were all on a first name basis," said Fowler. "We'd do this great big hug. He's like hugging Santa Claus."
Neighbors say they're eager to repay the kindness and compassion he's shown them.
"For some people who are afraid of the police, he made sure when they left him that was not the impression you had...When they left him, they were smiling, they were laughing," said Huggins. "Know we love you, we care about you, we're here for you [Sergeant Morris]."
"He's just a part of our soul. We adore him, and although he's moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, he'll always be one of ours," Fowler added.
Along with the Rosewood neighborhood's GoFundMe page, the Columbia Police Department also created a GoFundMe for the Morris Family.
"He's in positive spirits. He's well aware of the GoFundMe accounts that are going around," said Blendowski. "He greatly appreciates the support of the community, friends, family and the police department."
At this time, the Columbia Police Department is asking for continued prayers and support as Sergeant Morris begins his road to recovery.