Chris Hutton's return to the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office wasn't too different than his return to one of his favorite pastimes -- softball.

Initially, he hopped to first base, then hobbled his way to second. Eventually he was able to manage his way to third base.

Now, more than five years removed from a motorcycle accident that cost him half of his right leg, Hutton said he is running out inside-the-park home runs.

Hutton, 36 and an Iraqi war veteran, was honored Wednesday as the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, a statewide award presented by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

After being struck by a drunk driver during a hit-and-run in July 2006, Hutton's leg was amputated just below the knee. He was fitted for a prosthetic leg and was back at work by October of that year.

"Of course when you're lying in the hospital you wonder if you're going to do the job," Hutton said. "The nice thing is the sheriff at the time gave me a personal phone call and said 'No matter what, you're going to be a deputy here.' With the support of friends and family, everybody at the office and a can-do attitude, I was back."

Working his way back

Hutton, who grew up in Thompson, N.D., returned without restrictions to the sheriff's office in February 2007. But it took some practice with the prosthetic limb to regain confidence that he could do the job.

"When I'm on duty, I haven't found anything I haven't been able to do our do better than before," he said. "Chasing criminals, I've done that. Running up and down stairs, I've done that. I'm sure there will come a day where there will be something that I won't be able to do, but so far it hasn't happened yet."

His department vehicle is outfitted with a special pedal that allows him to use his left foot and he continues to participate in the law enforcement fitness test, with the exception of the long-distance running portion.

Hutton, who was recently promoted to corporal, said the prosthetic limb has forced him to work smarter instead of harder.

"You realize the benefits of doing one thing versus another way and tweak some things," he said. "I can affect a better service without doing some of the careless things I used to."

Fun, family and future

Hutton's wife is expecting a baby due in late May, which will put a dent into his "passion" of playing softball. He was voted co-ed softball commissioner in Grand Forks in September, but will reduce his play from three days a week down to one.

He said he will have to wait to find how the injury will affect fatherhood.

"Will I be able to keep up with a young boy?" he asked. "Time will tell."

Despite being significantly younger and less experienced than most candidates, Hutton ran for Grand Forks County Sheriff in 2010, missing the general election by 51 votes.

A 14-year veteran of the sheriff's office, Hutton said he will continue to run for the top spot.

"The goal of mine throughout the course of my life was helping people," he said. "It started with National Guard and (Thompson) Volunteer Fire Department, everything I've done is circulating around helping others. I think one of the things I can do is be put in a leadership position to spread my goals and ideas throughout the department to help the entire county."

Former local VFW commander John Hanson said he can't remember another local officer being given the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.

"It's hard to express the feeling, but it's definitely pride and joy," Hutton said. "It's nice to be recognized."