Cops can be a superstitious bunch. If some cop you know
doesn’t think they are very superstitious, just wish them a “quiet shift,” and
see how angry they get. I learned early in my training about the “beat gods”
(they are minor gods and do not require capitalization). If you want to get a
good arrest, you might have to appease the beat gods by arresting some idiot
who needs arresting, but you would rather be lazy and not do it because it
would be too much paperwork. If you bypass the untouchable, you may get nothing
but stupid calls all night. If you treat some transient poorly, the beat gods
may punish you with a burning building or worse, a car fire in the parking
garage. If you appease the beat gods by doing your job right, you may be rewarded
with a good night, but if you say something stupid…
On a particular night, I was assigned to have a trainee ride
along with me on patrol. I made some pedestrian stops and some vehicle stops
and then told her, “Hey, let’s find you a DUI investigation.”
Almost immediately, I saw a blue Kia driving toward me on a
25 MPH street at about 40 MPH. The Kia came to a screeching halt at a red light
and the driver looked at me across the intersection. When the light turned
green, he drove past me very slowly and I made a U-turn to go after him. At the
next intersection, when the light there turned green, the Kia made a slow left
turn, the wrong way onto a one way street and failing to yield to the oncoming
traffic that was now honking at him. I followed and turned on all my emergency
lights to stop the car. It slowly continued northbound in the southbound only
street until it pulled to the right at the next intersection. I gave the
dispatcher the license plate and was about to put my car in park, when the Kia
turned left and shot up Carlos Street. I went after it, until it ran the red
light at the next intersection. I stopped and told the dispatcher that the
vehicle had fled and that we were not in pursuit, as our agency only allowed
the pursuit of violent felons. The dispatcher notified me that the plate came
back to a stolen car.
“Motherfucker,” I said out loud, “I hope you crash and die.”
Then I remembered the trainee next to me in the car. Oops.
Dispatch sent us on another call and we busied ourselves
looking for a drunk person falling down. About four minutes after terminating
my pursuit, one of my other officers, Edward called on the radio and said that
the local metropolitan police department had an injury crash and that the
vehicle was on fire on Carlos Street at Scott Street.
No. It couldn’t be. Dread swirled up like a San Francisco
I asked dispatch if
they had a license plate for the crashed vehicle and they did not. I told
dispatch that my officers and I would respond out to the crash location just to
be sure. If it was the same vehicle, the city police would need to know that we
had interacted with it.
Edward arrived on the scene before I did. His voice was high
and strained as he reported, three times, that the fire department was on
“They’re on fire,” Edward radioed.
“Vehicle is on fire,” dispatch parroted.
“No the occupants are on fire,” Edward corrected. “And it’s
too hot to get in there.”
I arrived with the trainee and saw the debris field in the
roadway. The engine block, a single wheel, and a generous sprinkling of small
metal shards, fragments, and scrap littered the street. The vehicle had struck
a concrete abutment at a high rate of speed, possibly near 100 MPH and had
catapulted into a homeless camp down the embankment, burning, flames thirty
feet in the air.
Edward waved me toward the guardrail and explained that he
was the first police officer on scene. In the background, firefighters aimed
hoses at the burning car. Edward said that prior to his arrival, passersby had
pulled the two passengers from the vehicle, most notably, an Allied Universal
security officer assigned to the Valley Transit Authority, who had burned both
hands prying the superheated door open to free the front seat passenger.
When I looked over at the car, I watched firefighters
struggle with the driver, to free him of the inferno that engulfed the vehicle.
The driver’s feet were still trapped as two firefighters, holding him by the
torso, just kept trying to jerk him free through the window while another
firefighter hit him with the powerful stream from the hose. Finally, after
freeing him, paramedics loaded the driver onto a gurney and trundled him toward
My trainee had seen his face, even though I had not. She
asked me if she should try to identify him. I told her she could, if she wanted
to. She took a few steps and stopped.
“Will I be traumatized?” She asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess that’s up to you.”
She nodded and turned back to the fire. As the paramedics brought
him past her, she nodded and told me she recognized the tattoo on his neck that
this was our runaway driver. Firefighters muttered “Non-survivable injuries.”
Presently, a city police supervisor arrived and I explained
how we were involved, but that we had not conducted a pursuit in their
jurisdiction. A few minutes later, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and looked at the
vehicle, then approached the city supervisor, announcing that they had tried to
stop the vehicle much earlier in the evening, but that when it took off, they stopped.
The two passengers were underage, chronic runaways who were
now both seriously disabled after joyriding in a stolen car with an intoxicated
driver, who died within a couple of hours of reaching the trauma center.
This was what I had asked for, but not what I wanted.