Illinois police chief who took a bullet for President Reagan retires after nearly 50 years

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ORLAND PARK, Ill. (WGN) — Police Chief Timothy McCarthy is riding off into the sunset from the Orland Park Police Department after nearly five decades in law enforcement.

He’s performed traffic stops, marched in parades, and seen a lot over his long career. But something that happened decades ago stands out above the rest: he took a bullet for a sitting president and both lived to tell the tale.

On March 30, 1981, McCarthy was 31 years old and working as a Secret Service agent assigned to protect then-President Ronald Reagan.

“It was just a regular work day for me,” McCarthy said. “We went to the Washington Hilton Hotel, the president gave his speech, we departed.”

It was pretty uneventful, he said, until the motorcade pulled up to drive the president back to the White House.

“We get just about to the cars, and that’s when John Hinckley, Jr. pushed himself forward and fired six shots in 1.4 seconds, and came close to changing history,” he said.

President Reagan was shot in the left lung, famously remarking to the First Lady, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” 

McCarthy took a bullet to the chest too, striking his lung, liver, and diaphragm. In doing so, he likely saved the sitting Reagan’s life.

“I did the job I was trained to do,” the humble South Sider says today.

They both recovered and went back to work, with McCarthy back on the job four months later. The events of that day followed him wherever he went. A true hero. 

With the “hero” title came awards from the Secret Service, Treasury Department, and others. Then in 1994, he left the Secret Service after landing the big job in a smaller place he was happy to call home: Orland Park, Illinois.

With a few tears in his eyes, the tough-agent-turned-top-cop admits it’s not easy to hang up his holster, but it’s time.

“It’s time to, if nothing else, to decompress for a while,” McCarthy said. “In these jobs you sleep with one eye open all the time.”

Chief McCarthy officially retires at the end of the month, and said his third career will consist of taking care of grandchildren, staying in Orland Park, and nothing more.

“It’s been a great career, I’ve loved what I’ve done for 48 years,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of it. Bittersweet. But sometimes you have to decide when it’s time to put the family first.”

As for the folks that let John Hinckley, Jr. out of prison in 2016, McCarthy refuses to live in fear, simply saying, “they better be right” about the call to do so.


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