PAW PAW, Mich. -- A Michigan State Police trooper and West Michigan veteran stood shoulder-to-shoulder Tuesday, recognized for their heroism.
But it was just one year ago Trooper Todd Waite and Zachary DePierre were on opposite sides of the law.
The two were honored during a Van Buren County commission meeting for their efforts in assisting at the scene of a serious head-on crash in January on M-43. DePierre--trained in combat life saving techniques--instinctively stopped to help . Waite wound up at the scene helping alongside DePierre, the same man he arrested nearly a year ago.
The journey from then until now, is one DePierre says saved his life.
"I don't think I'd been here, I would've probably been dead or in prison," he said.
DePierre, like many veterans after leaving the service, dealt with serious issues of alcoholism and depression which consequently lead to several run-ins with law enforcement in recent years.
A few of the encounters happened to be with Trooper Waite, a veteran himself who said he recognized a brother in need.
"I could see something beyond what I was seeing the first time I met him when we had an altercation," Waite said. "Then we had a second altercation and that's when I was able to sit down with his family and try to get help."
The help would come from the West Michigan Regional Veterans' Treatment Court, an alternative for service members who become involved in the criminal systems in Van Buren and Allegan counties, providing an outlet to address specialized needs.
The 18-month, 4-phase program currently has five members working through the phases, with two more expected to join by this Friday. The program accepts veterans from counties across West Michigan.
DePierre's journey coming full circle Tuesday as he was recognized alongside Waite. He recalled when the two first made the connection at the crash scene.
"I was like 'Trooper Waite, hand me a knife I've got to cut the airbag out,'" DePierre said smiling.
Waite recalled seeing a noticeable difference in DePierre's demeanor.
"I saw a completely different person at the accident scene and we just kind of looked at each other and I trusted him," he said. "The treatment he's gone through has obviously helped on the outside and I always knew he was never a bad person on the inside."
For DePierre, who is marking nearly one year of sobriety, he said he feels it's important to share his tough story, hoping to inspire other veterans to seek help who need it.
"Just so they have some hope or know things can get better because I was in rough rough shape," he said.