Be Careful What You Wish For

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 fog.

 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 scene.

“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 the ambulance.

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.