Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person. The actual officer’s initials follow each story.

The 75th article

As I sit down to write my 75th article, which included 225 stories, I want to thank all the readers, editors and most importantly, the first responders who lived those stories. They still carry the pain and torture of experiencing those traumatic incidents.

As a respected sheriff’s commander once said, “The mind can’t forget what the eyes have seen.”

I hope you enjoy the stories each week. God bless and stay safe.

- BS

They just graduated

My partner and I were highway patrol officers on the graveyard shift and happened upon a recent accident on a country road. A car with two teenage boys, recent high school graduates, ran off the road and struck a large tree branch, which tore off the car's roof. The car was now at the bottom of a steep embankment. The driver was still in the driver's seat and was gasping intermittently. The passenger had been thrown out on impact and lost an arm and an eye in the incident.

As I went to the passenger, I saw his graduation tassel on the ground just above his head. An ambulance arrived and I remember handing the boy's severed arm to the EMT and was surprised at its weight. It was the first time I had ever touched a severed body part. Later, we arrived at the hospital emergency room and the young driver was lying on a gurney, still taking small gasps.

A neurosurgeon came in, walked around the boy and sharply said, "This man is dead." It was so brutally blunt that it shocked me. I was asked to step into the waiting room to speak to the mother of the driver. I could see that she had no idea of the seriousness of the situation and had a young son with her. A man from her church asked me to tell her about her son. Just then, a nurse escorted the mother to a chair and broke the news.

Unfortunately, both young men died that night. They had just visited friends for a send-off for the driver who was leaving for the Air Force Academy. Since they had not been drinking, we were never able to figure out what caused them to drive off the road.

- PM

Something just didn’t seem right

While working graveyards for the highway patrol in a large city, my partner and I stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation at about 1 or 2 a.m. in a rather seedy part of town. I contacted the driver and was surprised to see a young 16-year-old girl with a southern accent in the vehicle.

She stated she was from out of state, and did not have her driver’s license with her. I asked where it was and she said her boyfriend had it and he was at a nearby motel. I couldn’t find a match in the DMV system for her, so I asked if she could call him and have him bring the license. She then told me she didn’t have a phone, because her boyfriend kept it. She seemed strangely scared and nervous.

After a long discussion, I learned she met her boyfriend online and traveled to California to be with him. Without going into the graphic details, we eventually learned the “boyfriend” was holding her hostage through fear and control. He was selling her to other men regularly. With the assistance of the local sex crimes detectives, the “boyfriend” was arrested and placed in jail that night. Arrangements were made to get her home safely to her family. So often, a simple traffic infraction can lead to so much more.

- RS

A body at the river

As a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team, we responded to so many drowning incidents to search for and/or recover those victims. In fact, in one year, we recovered 54 bodies out of that river. On one summer day, we were called out for another possible drowning at the base of the canyon.

When we arrived, we observed five people standing around the river, including a 25-year-old woman. During the entire contact, she would not make eye contact and acted extremely nervous. The men pointed to the location in the river where the victim was last seen. They advised he was swimming, got pulled under the water by the current and was washed downstream.

It was about 1 in the afternoon and I was starving. The woman was cooking a stew in a large pot. She asked me if I wanted some of it. I just didn’t feel like things were right, so I graciously declined. We started searching for the victim and I noticed that although the four males hung around, they did not seem too interested in our search. As I went downstream, I saw pieces of meat drying on the rocks. I asked the men if it was their meat. They advised it was not their meat. A sixth sense told me I should collect those pieces of meat, so I put them in evidence bags and they were booked into evidence. We searched for hours, but could not locate the victim.

I completed a report, which included their license number, and submitted it. We searched again the following weekend, but did not locate his body. The very next week, we received a call from some people who found a skeleton about a quarter of a mile upstream from where that group reported him missing. I don’t remember how much of his body was still attached to the bones. When you work on SAR, you try your hardest not to remember all the details of what you see and experience.

We collected the body, took it to the morgue, but advised them not to touch the body until the homicide detectives viewed it. The body was sent to specialists who advised that a very sharp instrument was used to fillet the body. The lab also identified the meat that I collected as that of a human. I immediately thought about the stew that the woman had offered me and was relieved I never took any of it. It actually took years before I was able to eat stew again.

- CS

Brian Smith served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and retired as an assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol. He resides in Bakersfield. If you have a personal “Cop Tale” to share, please contact Smith at bmsmith778@gmail.com.

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