The road to recovery and rehabilitation will be long and difficult for Chicago police officer Carlos Yanez Jr. But the officer critically injured in the traffic stop that killed his partner Ella French has goals to work toward.
Yanez Jr., 39, lost an eye and has two bullets still lodged in his brain. He has been moved to a rehabilitation center and is getting support from all sides.
Elizabeth French, Ella’s mother, recorded a video, encouraging him to work hard toward a finish line she has in mind.
“She wants him to cook for a cookout next year for both families,” said Carlos Yanez Sr., the injured officer’s father, a retired Chicago police officer.
“She sent it to me and I showed it to him yesterday. He was extremely joyful about that. You could see the smile on his face. He was happy that he was able to see Ella’s mom understanding and appreciating his condition and everything they have been through together.”
Two videos came from the Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatics team, which performed at the lakefront last weekend. One showed the Angels’ tribute to French and Yanez Jr. during their show. The other was a personal video to Yanez Jr. recorded by the pilots.
“It was them holding his star. They put a banner on one of the Blue Angles jets with the commander holding it. Then, they removed it and handed it to me to give to him. I showed him that. They took his T-shirt and his badge and his hat inside the plane,” Yanez Sr. said.
“He had tears in his eyes. He was really happy and impressed. And I do believe the commander said he expects him to come next year in person to the Blue Angels to meet them. They told Junior, ‘Get better. Get strong. See you next year. Here.’”
Even if he didn’t have outsiders cheering him on, Yanez Jr. has some ambitious goals of his own.
After reminding his father to walk his son, C.J., to school on opening day, Yanez Jr. told his dad he wants to build a youth center.
“I don’t know where that came from or where his mind was at. It just came out of the blue. ... That was his original dream in the past and I guess it just came out, blurted out without any context. We weren’t talking about it. It was just like, ‘Dad, I want to build it.’ And I’m like, ‘OK. Get better, then we’ll do it.’” Yanez Sr. said.
“I know he’s thinking about the kids of Englewood and maybe Little Village. I didn’t want to push him. I didn’t want him thinking too much about too many things. I need him focusing on getting healthy. I told him there’s a condition for the things he wants and that condition for what he wants is to get better and to work hard at whatever they tell him to do in rehab and not to give up.”
The Sun-Times agreed not to disclose the name of the rehabilitation center at the request of the family. They want Carlos Jr. laser-focused on his hours of intense daily therapy. Yanez Sr. has no doubt his son has the physical strength and toughness to endure that rehab regimen.
Prior to the Aug. 7 shooting, the wounded officer was spending up to three hours a day in the gym — losing 20 pounds in just eight weeks — to prepare for a transfer from the Community Safety Team to the Bomb & Arson Unit.
“I told him, ‘Hey, that’s pretty tough, too. It’s pretty dangerous. And he said, ‘Yeah, Dad. But I get to spend more time with the family. It’s a bump in pay and I can at least maybe be home more often,’” Yanez Sr. said.
“Right now, he’s working 12 hours a day, non-stop. He didn’t get days off. He never got to see his son that much. … To be on that [Bomb & Arson] unit, you have to be extremely physically fit. He was already in training. And some of the doctors I heard said they think his physique, his strength, also helped him survive this.”
As for the mental toughness that’s also required, Yanez Sr. has no doubt about that, either.
“He has a mindset and a determination. Once he focuses, he becomes dogmatic. ... He’s extremely hard-headed and determined in everything he does. He’s always been a few years advanced for his age. What makes him unique is that he listened to people that were older and wiser and listened to their advice. He somehow had the ability to hear people that were older than him, then be able to filter out and make his own decisions,” Yanez Sr. said.
“There is no magic solution for all this. It’s not gonna be like we all want it to be. … Like, alright. Do four hours of therapy. Let’s go home. Or four months or four years. ... The most important thing about it for me is seeing him, his face and his positive outlook that, ‘I’m gonna do everything I can to get back in shape for my son and my wife and family.’ That’s what I see and what he tells me. And so, I told him we’re gonna work out together. It’s a deal. And he said, ‘Alright.’”
Yvette Yanez, the wounded officer’s mother, said the son she calls “Junior” is a “very, very strong young man,” and has been his whole life.
“We’re all supporting him. It’s just amazing how much love is coming to him from all over the world. That gives him strength and hope,” Yvette Yanez said.
“He’s fighting and he’s gonna make it for his family — for his son and his wife.”