ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Few cheat death and live to tell about it, but one Albuquerque officer of more than 30 years pulled it off more than once. Aviation Officer Robert Dilley not only survived a near-fatal run-in with a drunk driver, he spent a year recovering, eager to get back to what he loves. Being a cop.
It’s easy to get lost in the rush. As travelers zip from ticketing to terminals, Officer Robert Dilley doesn’t mind blending into the background. He’s just happy to be here.
“They don’t know how I managed to stay alive,” said Dilley.
Most who pass by don’t know doctors pronounced Dilley dead three times one night in 2014.
“Fifteen minutes after that is when I was done. They brought me back,” he said.
He doesn’t remember much besides what he was told, but he knows he was lucky.
It was around 11 p.m., March 7, 2014. Dilley was driving home from work on I-40.
“She was going 115. She hit me, it kind of pitted me. When she did, my Jeep tumbled side over side, and then end over end inside over side,” Dilley said.
A drunk driver smashed into Dilley’s Jeep, sending it 30 feet into the air, then sliding 250 feet across the pavement.
His hand was crushed, his neck broken. He lost a lot of blood. Doctors didn’t expect Dilley to survive.
“I was laying in a hospital bed and I was wondering where I was,” said Dilley. “I didn’t know who I was.”
Yet, after months of rehabilitation, Dilley learned how to walk and talk again, how to take care of himself again.
He documented some of his recovery with photos.
“I was able to pick up my first, one pound weight,” explained Dilley, holding out a picture of a small weight clenched in his once crushed hand.
It wasn’t long after his crash, Dilley became antsy.
“I was determined to go back to work. I wanted to be Bobby again, which was a task and a half but I got cleared by everybody to go back to work,” Dilley said.
The aviation police officer of nearly 10 years had already retired from a 20 year-career at APD, not to mention his brief stints with Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, Belen Police Department, Albuquerque Public Schools and the New Mexico Gaming Commission.
Then, less than a month later, Dilley fell ill. He felt like had the flu. Within two months, Dilley had lost 35 pounds. He went to the hospital and was shocked by what doctors found.
“They came in and said all the valves in your heart or blown. We don’t know how you’re still alive,” said Dilley.
He wasn’t expected to make it through surgery and Dilley knew, for sure, he wouldn’t. But he did.
“They took my old valves out and they put pig valves in me,” Dilley said.
By that time, his circulation had become so poor, doctors had to amputate part of Dilley’s foot.
It took Dilley a year to recover, but when he did, Dilley again returned to work.
“I love it,” he said. “I’d always wanted to be a cop… It’s who I am. It’s what I do.”
Now that he’s fully healed and back to his old self, you may see him strolling through the Sunport’s terminals or standing watch as travelers pass.
While Dilley is often unnoticed, he says plenty others stop to thank him for his service.
He says he forgives Michelle Rivera, the woman who pleaded no contest to great bodily harm with a vehicle and aggravated DWI. She blew two times the legal limit the night Rivera crashed into Dilley. Rivera was sentenced to 36 months in jail with 10 suspended.