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COP TALES: The judge had integrity

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 judge had integrity

In 1965, I was on the graveyard shift for the highway patrol and patrolling the freeway when I noticed a car weaving from one lane to another. I made a traffic stop and as soon as I approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, I could smell the odor of alcohol. I asked the woman to exit her car. She used her cane to get out. A male passenger stayed in the car.

Due to her physical condition, I could not require her to conduct field sobriety tests. I asked her if her passenger had been drinking. She said that he had not been drinking. When I asked if he had a driver’s license, she told me he was blind. I arrested her and transported both of them to the sheriff’s station. She submitted to a breathalyzer test and was above the legal limit, so I booked her into jail.

About a month later, I was subpoenaed to testify in that case. When I arrived, I walked into the courtroom and saw the defendant talking to the woman judge, whom I had testified before in other cases. The defendant and the judge were talking and laughing. It was obvious they knew each other. I figured I had lost that case before it even started. We both testified and the evidence was submitted. To my surprise, the judge found her guilty as charged.

- BB

A traffic fatality never to be forgotten

I was working graveyards (my least favorite shift) and doubled up in a two-officer unit. Part of our responsibility that night was a two-lane section of lonely highway that meandered up and over the coastal mountains and into the Central Valley. We received a call of a major traffic collision with injuries. We responded code three, with red lights and siren, to the accident scene. The fire department was already on scene since the accident happened a few hundred yards down the road from their rural station. The crash involved a passenger car and a big-rig truck and you can guess who lost that contest. By the time we arrived, the car fire was out, but was still smoldering. There was a horrendous and unforgettable stench of burned, human flesh.

We went up to view the remains of the errant vehicle. Everything was burned, and the make and model of the car were difficult to ascertain. We viewed our lone victim who was still in what was left of the driver’s seat. You could tell that the driver was a male. He was later identified by dental records.

We conducted our investigation, and requested the coroner. Due to the lateness and remoteness of the hour, we were informed they would not respond until morning. Since the highway was completely blocked, we requested to move the vehicle so we could open up the lanes, however, our request was denied. Trucks and travelers were backed up in both directions. We spent the night awaiting the coroner, who finally arrived just before dawn. We then had to use our patrol car’s public address system to go up and down the highway to awaken the sleeping drivers.

The fire department took photos of the burned vehicle and victim and provided me with a black and white copy. I kept the photo in my personal collection for years, until I was later counseled to get rid of the bad memories to avoid adding to my PTSD. I complied, but to this day I can still vividly recall the entire scene, the gruesome sights and the foul stench of burned human flesh, all of which will be forever ingrained in my memory.

- PB

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

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  • Deaths: 1,828

  • Recovered and Presumed Recovered Residents: 150,950 

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  • Source: Kern County Public Health Services Department