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.
When I was a young officer with the Highway Patrol, I received a call of an overturned van on a county road. I was advised that two vehicles were racing and ran a van off the road.
When I arrived, I saw a van flipped over and bodies were everywhere. I advised dispatch to send several ambulances and more officers for assistance.
I ran up to a boy and he was dead. I ran up to a couple other bodies and each of them were not breathing.
I went from body to body to assess them since I was the only first responder on scene at the time. I was horrified, but continued to check on them.
I then heard a little six-year-old girl screaming. The pain was so intense that she would scream for a while, pass out, then wake up screaming again. I dropped to my knees and tried to comfort her by staying by her side and telling her she would be okay.
I totally forgot about my other duties and stopped checking on the other victims. I just stayed with her as other officers and medical staff arrived. I guess before seeing her, I just acted out of training, but seeing her alive and suffering gave me tunnel vision.
According to witnesses, there was some kind of racing going on between two cars on that back road and the family van was cut off. The van rolled several times and ejected everyone in it since they were not seat belted.
Both parents and a few children were killed on impact. The only survivors were the 6-year-old and her 12-year-old sister.
The next day, I bought two large, 4-foot stuffed animals for the sisters and took them to the hospital. However, the hospital staff told me they were both in a coma. I left the animals for them with a note.
I returned the following week to visit them again, but extended family members had them transferred to a hospital near them in Mexico. I never saw the girls again, but I did say a lot of prayers for them.
I LOST THEM, CHIEF
When my twin daughters first started high school, they asked if they could go to the Friday night football game. I really didn’t want them to go, but I told them their mother and I would go with them.
When we got to the game, they wanted to hang out with their friends and asked me not to follow them around. The twins and their mother gave me a speech about how I needed to stop being a cop and that I needed to trust them. I reluctantly agreed.
I then saw one of my Highway Patrol officers at the game who knew my daughters. I asked him if he would quietly keep an eye on them without divulging the information to my wife or daughters.
Towards the end of the game, my wife and I were leaning against the fence and the twins joined us on my wife’s side.
A couple minutes later, that officer approached on my side in a panic and said, “Chief, I lost sight of your daughters. I’m not sure where they went.”
I slowly turned my head towards them as the three of them gave me a dirty look. The twins then said, “What? You had someone following us?”
I was eventually able to earn their trust again, but that officer is still stuck on graveyards.
‘IT’S GOING TO BE FINE; HELP IS ON THE WAY’
While working as a dispatcher for the Highway Patrol on afternoon shift, one hot summer day, I answered a callbox call. An elderly gentleman was broken down on the side of the freeway.
To say he was grumpy, angry and a bit difficult would be an understatement. During the next ten minutes, I learned he was driving from Northern California to visit his son in Southern California. He had some colorful things to say about his car, the length of the trip and his thoughts on my ability to get him some help. He had no idea where he was, other than he had been traveling for about three- and one-half hours.
Thankfully, because he was on a callbox, I knew where he was located.
I obtained his vehicle description, assured him several times that things would work out, and advised him I was sending him help. I also offered to call his son.
What most people don’t know, is that callboxes tend to “time-out” after 10 minutes and we can’t always extend the time. At the end of our conversation, I had convinced him things would be OK and I would send a tow truck and a CHP officer to help him.
I remember chuckling a little bit with a coworker after I sent him help, comparing it to helping grandparents when they get frustrated with things. It actually put a smile on my face that I was able to calm him down, and reassure him that we would take care of him.
I moved on to the next call when I heard my partner take a call from an officer about a tow truck arriving at an accident at the same call box as my elderly gentleman.
The officer then advised the accident involved a fatality. As it turned out, another driver was travelling down the freeway when she dropped her cellphone. When she reached down to pick it up, her car drifted off the side of the roadway and ran over the elderly gentleman which killed him instantly.
I remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and my last words to him were, “It’s going to be fine; help is on the way.”
To this day I can still remember exactly what I wore to work that day, the callbox number and his name.
JUST A ROUTINE NOISE COMPLAINT
One of my favorite assignments during 30 years as a police officer was as a field training officer (FTO). I took great pride in my ability to train young officers to give them the tools needed to keep themselves safe while performing their duties to the best of their ability.
Our detectives were assigned on a rotating basis from patrol (normally a five-year assignment to detectives, of which we had five divisions).
An additional duty of our FTOs was re-acclimating detectives for a week or two as they returned to patrol since the duties and paperwork always changed during the years an officer spent assigned to the detective divisions. One such detective was assigned to me when she completed her detective rotation, where she was well respected as a sex crimes investigator.
We were dispatched to a noise disturbance in an apartment complex on a typical weekday afternoon. The apartment was in a low/moderate income complex in a working-class neighborhood.
We contacted five young males in the apartment and they allowed us entry to speak with them. Four of them were standing in the living room and speaking rather nervously, however, they were answering my partner’s questions. The fifth one was lying on his back on the sofa with his hands behind his head, “trying” to look casual and relaxed. I thought it was very odd that he didn’t even sit up when the cops showed up.
We survive on the streets by sensing when things aren’t normal, especially when things get dangerous. This is true for cops in every backwoods, town, city and highway in America.
The guy on the sofa was clearly not comfortable, but not moving. Now my Spidey senses were tingling, actually they were screaming that something was very wrong.
I moved casually around the end of the sofa near the guy’s head. When I did, I saw the end of the barrel of a shotgun in his hands behind his head, under his body. I quickly reached down and grabbed him by the arm, to catch him by surprise and pulled him as hard as I could to the floor which exposed the loaded sawed-off shotgun.
I drew my pistol at the same time. My partner looked rather surprised at this turn of events. She quickly recovered and we took the appropriate enforcement action.
To anybody who says there is ever a routine police call, I submit this incident was supposed to be just a routine noise complaint.