After long recovery, Officer Ariza excited to be back on duty

After long recovery, Officer Ariza excited to be back on duty

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Nineteen months after a drunk driver nearly took his life, leaving him with numerous injuries, Officer Christian Ariza is back working at the North Providence Police Department.

Department leaders and colleagues say they couldn’t be happier to have this great officer and wonderful man back in the fold and doing police work in town.

“It’s been a long road, with lots of uncertainty, but I’m glad to be back,” Ariza told The Breeze of his July 16 return, which was followed by some light duty before he was cleared for a full workload again. “I’m glad to be walking.”

Lt. Michael Tavarozzi said Ariza is wonderfully positive and upbeat about his return. He said he’s an outstanding officer, a great family guy, and a standup person in all that he does. Some people might have used injuries such as Ariza sustained to stay out a lot longer, Tavarozzi said, but Ariza was eager to return to police work.

Ariza, who will have been with the department five years this December, says he’s returning to full-time police work with both excitement and a little bit of nervousness.

His clearance for police duty basically cleared him for military duty as well, he said, and he’s also able to return to his work with the National Guard. He said it was great to see how happy everyone was to see him back in the department.

Ariza’s early physical therapy was extremely painful, he said, and there were questions at that time about whether he would walk again. He went through intense therapy to get a full range of motion again in his left arm and leg. Strength training was difficult as well, he said.

Ariza, a Providence resident, said he expects to be more active now than he once was on looking out for drunk drivers and cracking down on drunk driving.

“I wouldn’t want what happened to me to happen to someone else,” he said.

He said he hasn’t decided yet whether he plans to try to make contact with the woman who crashed into him on Jan. 24, 2019.

Jillian Vega, a North Providence resident who had turned 21 a week before the 1 a.m. crash on Jan. 24, 2019, was arrested and submitted to a breath test. Her first test was measured at .130 blood alcohol content, and her second was .132, both above the legal limit of .08.

Vega, according to online court records, reached a plea deal on charges relating to DUI resulting in serious bodily injury and driving to endanger resulting in personal injury. She received probation and a five-year suspended sentence, was fined $1,000, and lost her license for a year.

Ariza says he remembers seeing the headlights of the jeep coming toward him on the correct side of Douglas Avenue near Lowe’s Home Improvement before crossing the double yellow line. He also remembers the initial hit, but said he blacked out for a bit before remembering trying to move over to call for help. The force of the crash fractured both bones in his forearm, his left kneecap, dislocated his left elbow, and sent glass into his face and mouth, requiring lengthy surgery. After the crash he wasn’t able to grip anything for two months.

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Police said Ariza was fortunate to be alive after the crash. Fire personnel had to use hydraulic extraction tools to remove him from his cruiser.

Ariza, 32, says he loves working in North Providence, a town he said is full of good, accepting people.

Asked what he would say to anyone who is considering getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol, he said, “It’s not about yourself, it’s about the people around you. There are other drivers on the road you have to think about.”

He said he still feels pain from his injuries, and likely will continue feeling it for the rest of his life.

North Providence police have participated in numerous enforcement efforts over the past few years to crack down on drunk driving. Former Chief David Tikoian placed an emphasis on enforcement after taking over in 2017, applying for and receiving a $4,000 grant to supplement normal patrols with increased targeted enforcement, an effort that nearly doubled the number of DUI arrests in town from 2017 to 2018.