Editor's note: Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person.
One night on the graveyard shift, my partner and I were patrolling our beat on the freeway when we observed a vehicle parked on the right shoulder. When we stopped behind the vehicle, we noticed the trunk was tied down with a rope and we could see a hand sticking out from inside the trunk.
Once our requested back-up units arrived, I got on our loud speaker and ordered the driver and occupants to put their hands in the air where we could see them.
The occupants woke up and started to follow my orders when, all of a sudden, we noticed the guy in the trunk started to untie the rope that held the trunk closed.
We got everyone out of the vehicle and listened to their explanation. It turns out they got tired of driving and pulled over to sleep. Since there wasn’t enough room for all of them inside the vehicle, one of them slept in the trunk.
It sounds like a happy ending, but my partner and I had to put up with a lot of razzing from other officers, such as, “Boy, remind me to never sleep on your beat,” or “Great job with the felony sleeping case”.
THIS ANGEL WAS SAVED, TOO
I was in my sixth year of dispatching for the Highway Patrol in 2006 and had been contemplating why I should continue with the job. I didn't feel as though I was making a difference.
One night, I was asked to work an overtime shift to cover a sick call which added another 6 hours to my shift. There was only one other person on a graveyard shift.
I took a call from another dispatch center advising of an elderly male who was traveling from Washington state to Arizona. He was last seen in Fresno in a mall parking lot. He had been contacted by a security guard and he seemed a little disoriented, but well enough for travel.
The family called the Highway Patrol because they had not been able to make contact with him for several hours and he was diagnosed with dementia. He was not supposed to be traveling alone.
I received the information with his vehicle description and a cell phone number, and while my partner was putting out the information to all the units, I was attempting to make contact with the man.
He actually answered on the first try, and I began asking him questions like, “Do you know where you are? What do you see around you? and, Are you injured at all?”
He initially told me he was in front of an antique store and he could not find his wife. He was sure she went inside and she had not come back out. He was very upset.
He then said he was across from what he thought was a Target store, so we sent units to search near all the Target stores in town.
We passed along the information to other agencies as well. For the next six hours, I talked with the man. Each time, he changed his story. I gathered more information from him and I passed it to our other dispatch centers for broadcast as well. They were able to ping his cell phone and he appeared to be on a roadway in the desert somewhere, but they could not locate him that night.
I had to go home with a heavy heart not knowing his location. I didn't sleep well and had to be back to work early the next morning.
A deputy in that county located his car early the next morning, but it was vacant. He kept searching and finally located the man approximately one mile from his car, in a ravine covered in scorpions and unconscious.
He was airlifted to the hospital, severely dehydrated and barely able to speak.
When I saw he had been rescued, I was relieved to the point of tears. I had established such a connection with him that he told his wife that I was his angel that saved him.
She advised he remembered my name because it was the same as their daughter’s name. His daughter called dispatch and spoke to me as did his wife, and she just kept thanking me for being there for him and that I was an angel.
It was then that I realized why people spend half their life in this job and I continued for another 8 years before retiring.
His daughter kept in touch with me for the next 4 years. Although her dad was in a rest home and barely spoke, he knew my voice when his daughter called me and asked me to speak to him. He cried and called me “Angel.”
This one incident really changed me and changed how I did my job from then on. I may have helped save him, but he saved me as well and made me a better person and dispatcher.
BOY, AM I GLAD TO SEE YOU
During the 1980s, I worked as a law enforcement ranger in a national park. I patrolled 500,000 acres of mangrove islands (keys), waterways, basins, and creeks by boat.
You might consider it a “dream job” and, for the most part, I would agree. Rescuing disabled vessels in lightning storms and chasing drug smugglers occasionally got the adrenalin going.
The Keys are very popular in the winter and there was a lot for me to do. One sunny day, I was near the center of my patrol area when I developed a sudden craving for a brownie and milk that I knew was available at a marina some 20 miles closer to my station.
I patrolled through the park driven, I must admit, by my hunger. Sometime later, I tied our 18-foot Boston Whaler to a pier at the marina.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man running toward me from a palm-lined beach adjacent to the marina. I recognized his stride as a “run to the ranger” moment and waited for his arrival. He approached with binoculars in hand and pointed toward a group of islands about one mile away.
Breathless, he said, “Do you see that white spot over there? I think it’s an overturned sailboat.”
I piloted my boat across the Intracoastal Waterway, around a spoil bank (coral rock from dredging the waterway), and onward to the “white spot.”
There was definitely a big white thing, but it looked like debris. A voice spoke to me inside my mind, “You better take a look. There could be someone clinging to the wreckage.”
I moved my boat very slowly to the side of what turned out to be the bottom of a small sailboat. I looked over the edge.
An elderly man looked up at me from the water and said, “Boy, am I glad to see you!”
He had tied himself to the overturned boat after being unable to right it and became exhausted.
I carefully helped the man aboard and called dispatch for an ambulance. He was weak and very cold.
The ambulance arrived soon after we returned to the marina. The paramedics later told me the man had developed hypothermia.
He did make a swift recovery. Oh, and I did return for that brownie and milk.