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Tampa police chief loses tip of her shooting finger

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Published:   |   Updated: July 10, 2013 at 06:10 AM

TAMPA - Police Chief Jane Castor lost the tip of a finger during a boating incident and has spent the last month downplaying what happened. She even finds some humor in it.

The injury, she joked, makes her middle finger stand out a bit more.

And when people ask about the bandage, she sometimes tells tall tales.

"One of my stories," Castor said, "is that it was taken off by a vicious scallop."

But the injury could have had more serious implications for Castor in her role as Tampa's police chief. It wasn't just the tip of her right pointer finger she lost -- it was her trigger finger.

Castor said that after the June 9 injury, she had to retrain herself on drawing and firing her weapon.

"I started practicing with a revolver, to bring up the strength in my finger," she said. "I practiced drawing a firearm over and over."

She also learned how to shoot with her middle finger. Castor became so proficient using another digit to shoot that she scored 38 out of 40 points at a gun range when she had to requalify for her firearms certification.

"It really wasn't all that difficult," she said.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he had no doubt the police chief would bounce back from her injury.

"She's very physically fit and very mentally disciplined," Buckhorn said. "Left-handed or right-handed, 10 fingers or nine fingers, Jane Castor will come out of this just fine."

Castor said she was lowering her boat in the water last month when the chain on the boat lift jammed. She reached out to the mechanism's flywheel to get it moving again.

"Someone called out to me and I got distracted," she said.

The machine started up again and her index finger was severed near the first knuckle, right below the fingernail. The tip fell into the water and was lost.

"It happened before I knew it," she said.

Castor was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where a hand specialist decided to let her finger heal naturally, she said. She will have surgery later to pull tendons and nerves over the nub to allow sensation to return to that part of her hand.

Her first question to the doctor was whether she could still play the piano.

"I don't play the piano, but I always wanted to learn," Castor joked.

On Tuesday, Castor said losing the tip of her finger is minor compared to others dealing with more serious injuries.

"Clearly, at the time it happened, it was painful," she said. "But it's not a big deal. There's other, more important things out there" such as the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and what injured military veterans are dealing with, she said.

Jack Ragsdale, a former Tampa police officer who is now a firearms instructor in Mississippi, said people can learn how to shoot with different fingers and even the opposite hand.

"There are examples after examples of people overcoming hardships, injuries or inconveniences and doing pretty well," Ragsdale said. "One individual I know lost the tip of his index finger, and he actually went on to shoot competitively."

Castor said when she's fully healed, she will have to make a decision on reverting back to using her index finger or sticking with her middle finger to shoot.

Meanwhile, there are more mundane tasks she finds more difficult than firing a gun.

"Typing," she said, "is a problem."

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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