After careful consideration of the statute of limitations, I thought I would end the year with an expose’ of a few, not all, of my less than stellar moments while piloting a Highway Patrol cruiser around our streets and highways. Highway Patrol officers work hard to set an example for civilian motorists, however we fall victim to failures, foibles and lapses of consciousness just like anyone else who drives as many miles as we do. Road officers work hard to erase these misadventures from our mental library, but have to smile when our adventures surface in our slowly degrading memories. I thought I might share a few anecdotes with my readers.
As I recall, it was late on a summer night in Lafayette county and traffic was unusually light as I worked westbound relying on the venerable Speedgun 8 to check the speeds of eastbound travelers. Soon enough, I checked a motorist at well over the posted limit, cut through the median and initiated the stop. The car stopped just beyond a guardrail and I walked up to find a hysterical lady, bemoaning her bad luck at being caught and guaranteeing to me that her husband was going to disown her if she was ticketed. I was unmoved by her theatrics and issued her a summons, which she was able to sign, still sobbing and pleading. Our custom was to wait until the motorist safely returned to the highway before we pulled back into traffic, but some ten minutes later there we sat, her wringing her hands and me growing impatient. Suspecting that my presence was aggravating her anguish, I placed my car in reverse and aggressively backed away to gain clearance to pull around her and depart. In my haste, I backed into the guardrail and crumpled the quarter panel on my cruiser. I drove around the lady, exited the highway and examined the damage. Now, in my day, every road officer was friends with a good body man, who could help you through these situations, and I adjourned to the local police station and called “my body man” and arrangements were made to begin repairs on the cruiser the next morning. We straightened the panel, painted it, and I was on the road that afternoon as if nothing had happened. “Unreported body damage” was frowned upon by our commanders, but this one got by without me admitting to an act of carelessness.
Speaking of backing a car. I was the the zone commander (a Sergeant) in Cass and Bates county, when the officers on duty, including myself, adjourned to the scale house to finish and bundle the end of the month reports for relay to the office. I had pulled on the closed scale ramp and the other two officers had pulled onto the ramp behind me, parked one behind the other with little room between the cars. We were busy with the paperwork when radio called and indicated that a fatal traffic accident had occurred some twenty or so miles south of us. We immediately exited the building and climbed into our cruisers. I was busy on the radio, placed my car in reverse and backed solidly into the officer’s car behind me, pushing it into the third officers car behind him. All three of us exited our cars and the astonished officers looked at me silently, unable to suppress their smiles. I was not amused and asked them pointedly if we were going to the wreck or just hang around the scale house for awhile. They quickly backed away and started to the wreck, no damage having been done to our cruisers. I am sure the officers enjoyed a hearty laugh or two at my expense as time wore on, but were kind enough to not remind me of my less than superior situational reasoning….
On another occasion, I had driven to a town in the zone to pick up a probationary officer that I was field training. It was a miserable day, with bone chilling cold and fresh snow to contend with, as we turned onto the interstate to begin our day. I had just finished an in depth discourse on the nuances of patrolling on partially ice covered roadways when we were called and dispatched to a serious accident across the county on the interstate we were currently on. I sped up, and again increased my speed when radio notified us the accident was now a fatality and the road partially blocked. At a speed that was as fast as a wet road would allow, I drove the big cruiser onto solid black ice, forgetting the lecture I had delivered moments before on the dangers of rapidly changing road conditions. The cruiser bobbled just a little before rotating 360 degrees and shooting down a steep embankment and into a snow drift along the outer road. We were quite the contrast, with my crimson face and his ashen white face sitting in snow door window deep. I calmly looked at the rookie and emphatically stated, “that is NOT how you do it”. As luck would have it, a wrecker on the highway saw our thrill ride down the embankment, circled around and pulled us out of the snow within a matter of minutes. The young officer went on to become a very fine trooper and likely never forgot my lesson in what not to do on a questionable stretch of road. Other officers in the zone rewarded my Joey Chitwood performance with a nicely lettered sign along the interstate with an arrow pointing down the embankment and my badge number prominently displayed. Troopers are notorious for reminding each other of shortcomings and mistakes…..As a side note, the accident we were called to was the result of much the same circumstance as my misadventure, further cementing the lessons learned into our memories!
While there were many more humorous situations in my career, none of them are seared into my memory as clearly as an attempt at humor gone bad. I had just finished a quick sandwich at a busy cafe located at a major intersection of the interstate and a state numbered route. It was early in the afternoon before a major summer holiday, and a highway department crew was throwing shovels of hot asphalt mix into a hole or two on the road in front of this cafe. I recognized the crew and knew that one of the maintenance guys was particularly “jumpy” or “goosey” as we liked to say. He was preoccupied with his job when I idled up behind him and touched the siren, ever so briefly. The startled worker responded by throwing the shovel he was holding, full of hot mix, into the roadway and into the side of a beautiful Buick 225 that was passing by. Damn the bad luck. The driver of the Buick, pulled into the lot and approached the stunned worker with his arms crossed, clearly ready to imitate Mt. Vesuvius, when I exited my cruiser and interceded. I candidly explained this incident was the result of sick humor and told him what had happened. His anger faded into a broad smile as he asked me what was next. I was not particularly interested in spending quality time in front of the Captain explaining this incident and offered to pay for the damage to this car out of my pocket, if he would agree to such an arrangement. He did so. We exchanged information and I sent him a check after receiving the bill from this wonderful gentleman from Iowa. It turns out there were police officers in his family……
As we leave 2017 behind, a tumultuous year for our men and women in uniform, please take a minute to reflect on their role in our great society. These folks are charged with the responsibility of navigating the edges of human behavior, whether it be unspeakable tragedy or incredible good fortune. These folks, and I must include all of the emergency services here, begin each day full of hope tempered by dread at what my be in store for them as they leave their driveway. In closing, also remember they are human beings, who will readily trade humor for tragedy every chance they get.
Happy New Year!