Grinning & bearing: Santa Clarita resident and sheriff’s deputy stays positive after hit-and-run collision

Garrett Rifkin, who lost his foot after a motorcycle crash, smiles with a teddy bear from a friend. Courtesy Photo.

Deputy Garrett Rifkin, a Santa Clarita resident, was on his way to work at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station on Aug. 3, when a traffic collision changed his life.

A vehicle cut across traffic and collided with his motorcycle near the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Formosa Avenue in Los Angeles.

“He got out of his car, looked at me and took off,” Rifkin said. “I remember how hot the asphalt was around me. … I couldn’t feel my foot.”

Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Fire Department officials responded to the call, and Rifkin remembers the original prognosis as grim.

“When they loaded me into the ambulance, I asked them, ‘How bad is my foot? Are you going to be able to save it?’” Rifkin said. “He told me it was one of the worst he had seen.”

He was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was rushed to a CT scan and cleared, before being rushed into surgery for his foot.

“When I woke up from surgery, I thought I would have no foot anymore,” he said.

Rifkin grew up in Santa Clarita and graduated from West Ranch High School. After going to College of the Canyons for a few semesters, he was accepted into the Sheriff’s Department’s Training Academy, completed the program and was sworn in as a deputy about four years ago, at age 20. His father, Bob Rifkin, is a retired captain from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The night of the crash the hit-and-run driver was found and arrested. “He was a felon on parole and had a warrant,” said Justin Rifkin, Garrett’s brother and an LAPD officer.

Today, Garrett is 25 and after six foot surgeries has had his left leg amputated below the knee.

Garrett Rifkin smiles outside of the hospital in his wheelchair. Courtesy Photo.

After his fifth surgery, on Aug. 21, the doctor came into his room with life-changing news.

“My doctor came in and said, ‘We can save your foot. But in order to save your foot, we will have to do a bunch of skin and muscle grafts. You will never run again and you will walk with a limp,” Garrett Rifkin said. “ Or you can amputate your foot and be able to (run) after rehab.”

Garrett’s mother, Sheri Rifkin, was with her son when he was told the news.

“As a mom, it was emotional,” Sheri said. “I knew who he was and he was making the best decision for his life. I was very proud.”

After a few hours, he made the choice to have his left leg amputated.

“If I can’t run, I can’t be a deputy, or run with my future kids,” Garrett said.

His leg was amputated Aug. 22, during his sixth surgery after the accident.

“Around Aug. 24, I started talking to amputees in law enforcement, from all over California,” Garrett said. “I’ve talked to so many amputees — that makes me know I am going to be able to do it.”

He has also been surrounded by his friends and family throughout this process. His girlfriend of three years, Michelle Furnari; his brother; and his parents say he has inspired them and so many others.

Garrett Rifkin and his girlfriend Michelle Furnari smile for a selfie in Rifkin’s hospital room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Courtesy photo

“I would be there for him in a second,” Furnari said. “He is showing people you can get through the hardest times in your life.”

“I can’t let them down. They have given everything to me,” Garrett Rifkin said.

Garrett has been riding motorcycles for years, and on Aug. 25 over 250 bikers came together at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Marina Del Rey for a benefit ride to donate money in his honor.

Since Garrett was off-duty at the time of the crash, there are issues with workers compensation, but colleagues at his station in West Hollywood are supporting him in anyway they can, according to a station official.

“Deputies from the West Hollywood station, whether they are coming in or leaving their shift, they go to visit him on a regular basis,” said Lt. Edward Ramirez and Sgt. Angela Gonzalez of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station.

Garrett’s an incredible individual who is incredibly brave, according to station officials.

“He is very, very positive and he has been a big inspiration to our personnel here,” said Lt. Dan Nagelmann of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help out with Garrett’s medical bills while he is recovering.

Garrett is currently at California Rehabilitation Institute in Century City and making progress daily, posting about his efforts on social media.

“I’m doing it,” he captioned an Aug. 27 Facebook video. “First time walking without the nerve block in. Hurts like hell, but I’m doing it.”

Garrett is optimistic and looking forward to getting back to active duty.
“My life didn’t change really, I lost a leg and a bunch of tattoos,” Garrett Rifkin said, “but that’s it.”

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