BEDFORD COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Ashley Brogan says she was a prisoner inside the trailer where she lived with her abusive boyfriend and his parents. When she finally told Willie Hale she was leaving, he didn't let her go on her own. Hale stabbed her and dragged her out into the woods by her hair. What he didn't know was that a deputy sheriff was on his way.
"Where could they have gone sir?," Sgt. Jeremy Gardner is heard asking Willie Hale's father in video from a body camera.
Getting no straight answer from the suspect's father and facing a path that was anything but straight, Gardner took off from the back porch of 1284 Breezy Hill Road.
"I wasn't going to let any grass grow underneath me. I was determined to find them," said Gardner. "I knew that they had left. I knew that they hadn't taken a vehicle. I knew that the only path of travel that they could have taken was on foot."
Wearing shorts to go on bike patrol that late summer afternoon, Gardner used his bare legs, eyes and intuition to get through the dense woods in front of him. His body camera captured every step. Two minutes in he found an open cattle gate.
"I can see where saplings have been folded over, where either a large deer or person or persons had walked along the path," said Gardner. "I would get to where there would be no grass. There'd be dirt, but there wasn't any signs of footprints."
"So I would come to a fork and I would have to figure out which way did they go," said Gardner. "It was either me walking to a point where there was grass and I should be able to tell whether there was a disturbance or not or I'd run into a spider web. Well certainly if I'm running into spider webs nobody went that way. "
Things Gardner learned to look for hunting, not through some advanced training. He's not looking down for blood drops. In fact, he doesn't even know Willie Hale stabbed Ashley Brogan. He looks out at the woods that are every bit a labyrinth.
"Exactly like a maze. I'd come to an end. I have to turn around and come back," said Gardner.
After roughly nine minutes of rough terrain and dead ends, he found Ashley Brogan alive, but not well. Her attacker tried to regain control of the situation.
"I didn't do nothing! Ashley?" said Willie Hale in the video. "I'm not going to tell you again. Stop talking to her," said Gardner.
"He's trying to talk to her, I'm not having it," recalled Gardner, discussing that day.
Gardner pulled the knife from Hale's pocket. With Hale in handcuffs and Ashley faint and covered in blood, Gardner radioed dispatch.
"I'm going to need some assistance. It's going to be a long walk. Just trying to figure out how I'm going to do this," said Gardner.
"It was logistical nightmare for me," recalled Gardner. "I don't know how I'm going to be able to get her out of there. I don't know how I'm going to be able to coordinate rescue to find us."
"I know that I'm not going to trust him just to walk out of this quarter-mile trail with me," said Gardner. "He's walking with me I've got my hands on him."
Ashley said she was able to walk and followed Gardner and Hale, with a safe distance between them.
When they reach the yard, Gardner put Hale into the patrol car. An ambulance arrives and Ashley was able to speak without Hale telling her what to say or do.
"He said shhh! If you move or you say anything, he said I 'm going to stab you," said Ashley Brogan. "He said don't move and don't say anything and then he put the knife right there. I knew if you wouldn't have saw us, what was going to happen."
"I could've not found them. I could've came to a wall of spider webs and realized that I was on the wrong path the entire time and been following some deer," said Gardner.
Whether he knew it at the time, Gardner was on the right path to save Ashley. Now she's well on her way to saving herself and she hopes other women from domestic abuse.
Ashley Brogan was on board with this story as soon as we asked. She gave permission to the Bedford County Sheriff's Office to release the video of her to us. She wanted people to see it, to see him. She wants what she went through to matter.
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