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Rated: E · Chapter · Biographical · #2273975
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That Tuesday morning started as a peaceful patrol morning. He maneuvered through miles of commuter traffic to his beat. There he entered overdrive, deciding which area he should check first. Perhaps he would track down recycle scavengers trespassing on commercial properties before security guards and the offended affluent start calling in. Maybe he'd go to a corner lot in front of the school zone where speeding soccer moms are more dangerous trying to beat the carpool line than a 350-pound running back running for a touchdown. He would ultimately choose that which would result in the least aggravation and afford him some moments of peace with his coffee. Soon enough his mind would not be his own, claimed by those who proclaimed to pay his salary with their taxes, at their wit's end with some life event.

He meshed with the traffic working its way out of the surrounding community towards the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. Morning shock jocks quietly performed their routines on the radio, interrupted occasionally by the police radio chatter form other agencies that shared the same channel. A burglar alarm had been tripped, probably by a new employee who forgot the keypad codes. A traffic stop was conducted on someone speeding, late for work.

His patrol car was a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria, his home away from home for the better part of the last twenty years. He spent more time with a coffee-stained Mobile Data Computer keyboard than with his own children. He could account for every stain, crumb, and tiny scrap of wrapper. That old Crown Vic became his safe zone, blood stains, urine scent, and all. Eighty days, 1,920 hours, 115,200 minutes a year not counting overtime, were spent inside that car. It was a sheet metal cocoon between him and the world.

At 0820 hours, his friend at the farthest west end of the county typed him. At first he couldn't read the entire message as he negotiated his way through traffic before he could come to a stop on an overpass. When he was able to look over, he saw "11-99" and "CHP" on the freeway below him. His friend typed again. A CHP officer is down. The information was broadcast on a California Highway Patrol channel his friend had picked up on the scanner. Administration didn't see use enough for scanners to justify buying more, but his car had been around long enough to have an old one. He turned it on and set it to 'scan' mode. He heard no additional information, simply "CHP officer down". He'd heard this type of broadcast before. Typically there had been a vehicle accident wherein a motorcycle officer had been knocked down. That didn't explain why it had been broadcast as an "11-99". This was an emergency code calling for anyone and everyone to assist as quickly as possible. If there had beeb an accident, why not broadcast that?

By policy he was not allowed to respond until his dispatcher was contacted for an "outside assist". He was faced with a choice. Sometimes policy conflicts with what is right. He was going to go. Of that, he was sure. He had no idea the gravity of the situation, but he knew an officer was down. If it turned out to be a simple accident he would be written up, maybe worse. He had no choice but to respond and hope for the best.

He was on the overpass above the incident. He cut over onto the freeway, where he was met with cars stopped, nowhere to go. He considered his only option. This portion of freeway had been under renovation for years. In most spots the shoulder was barely wide enough for a small car to pass. The remaining portions of shoulder were gone, covered by cement dividers. Because of this, accidents were not uncommon, and debris from these accidents littered what shoulder there was, endangering the tires of anyone brave enough to try to pull over for any reason.

He saw no choice. He pulled his huge Crown Vic onto the shoulder and sped down the freeway as quickly as he dared, unsure if he was going too fast to stop in the event the shoulder unexpectedly ended, unable to dodge obstacles for the blocked cars on the freeway. He was inches away from ripping doors off cars.

As expected, the shoulder abruptly ended not one hundred yards from the incident. Then he heard the ambulance. There was no way the rig could get through. His priorities were set: life first, property second. Abandoning his cruiser, he set off on foot weaving his way to the middle of the lanes of cars and directing them with his arms like a tarmac marshaller guiding a 747 down a runway, orange wands in hand. To his surprise, the drivers obeyed, and a path was made. Suddenly a mass of bodies in blue moved toward him, officers overtaking the ambulance and heading toward the epicenter. What were they doing? Did they not see that the ambulance needed to get through, that traffic needed to be mitigated? Did they not understand that not all of them were needed at the scene at once? As he watched them pass in disbelief and annoyance, he saw one last vehicle barring the way to the scene. Adding insult to injury, an abandoned truck sat idling. He angrily jumped into the car, pulled it over to the side, and locked it removing the last obstacle to the paramedics.

Finally, he happened on the scene himself. Post-Traumatic Stress is described as the stark imbalance between what is expected and what is encountered. He hadn't been sure what to expect, but what he encountered was beyond anything he imagined.

Frail. Helpless. Weak. This he felt rather than thought.

He lay belly up and bare chested in the autumn sun, shaded only by the bodies hovering in a unified bid to save his life. With each powerful thrust his body resembled a disarticulated marionette, strings severed mid-show.

Soft white flesh insulted, unguarded from stacked hands, was slammed with uncompromising force from a beat partner in the throes of agonizing desperation tag teamed by Samaritan with skills from medical military units alternating their efforts to keep him alive. They pounded that abused body as if the sheer force was the necessary ingredient to return consciousness, hindered only by the sunbaked asphalt beneath. When he was an emergency medical technician, he would often perform CPR on patients and would sometimes feel the sternum break, causing bones to grind in crepitus. He was witnessing a last-ditch life-saving effort. No matter how many times he saw it, the violence struck him.

Petroleum whisps and burnt carbon particulates accompany the scent of a freeway death. It cruelly contradicted the CHP credo "Don't let them kill you on some dirty freeway". Death on a freeway feels different. It smells different. You feel alone and desperately helpless no matter how many people are there to help. It felt helpless, and helplessness leads to inaction and makes you feel partly responsible.

His thoughts drifted from one observation to another, remote. This was a new experience, his mind failing and hurtling towards shut down. He was only afforded the flicker of a few disjointed thoughts before complete darkness. He had expected much more mental acuity and the availability of years of honed skills. He should have at least had the basic observations of a professional, rich in detail and depth. His mind was falling from his grasp. He was a hostage unable to react to the situation unfolding in front of him. He knew he needed to do something to recover his senses and focus so that he could act as he had hundreds of times before, so he could accomplish what he had trained for. He failed, and his game face was locked away, lost in an unmarked recess in his mind.

A sudden focus caught him off guard. A bright flood light trained directly at his eyes, yanked his attention and washed away his internal dialogue. The feelings that came with it were terrible. Thrust at him in his most vulnerable moment, the macabre scene that would normally avert the viewer's gaze did not allow him to run, hide, or look away.

Frozen he stared as waves of the sickening view flooded every part of him. There was a sharp powerful feeling. It moved with tendrils, spreading out to unexpected areas of his mind with aggression. Branches upon branches of dread, slowly worked their way in unpredictable directions. No matter how he resisted, it slowly strangled out all other thoughts, and control of his mind, thorough in its progression. He realized why some people vomit in traumatic situations. He became nauseous and lightheaded.

The pants, it was the image of those pants that paralyzed him. With his focus on the tan pants other thoughts became irrelevant, waned, and faded like a late morning fog. The pants were almost identical to his. They were neatly creased and tailored. They were nearly perfect in appearance, marred only by the dirty asphalt underneath. He scanned them, taking in the entire image of that delicate mortal coil encased in his polyester pants.

His gaze eventually drifted from the bare chest to the face, but it was obscured by plastic, elastic bands, and metal clips. That image would haunt him in nightmares to come. He remained overwhelmed, his mind spinning rapidly. He was staring at himself laying on the dirty asphalt. He was witnessing his own demise.

He knew exactly why this man was shot and dying on the side of a dirty freeway, his understanding resonating through every fiber, soiling everything it touched. This was a lesson taught him in the most violent way possible, at the scene of the incident where he was not afforded a safe environment to fully absorb it.

A cop just doing a "routine" part of his job. Thirty minutes prior, this officer and his partner had stopped a random motorist in a Jeep, only to let the driver know that his rear license plate was obstructed by caked mud, covering most of the digits. Instantly the officer was thrown into a mortal struggle. Shot in the mouth in the split second it takes to blink. A chipped front tooth the only evidence of the catastrophic event.

The second officer, the victim's partner and friend was at rear of the vehicle. He watched his friend approach the driver, as they had both done countless times before. This morning started no differently than many. But this time, at the moment of contact, a popping noise rang out as the second officer watched his friend crumple to the ground. He did not know for sure what had happened, but his reaction was swift, and he neutralized the threat. All cops wonder how they would react in a situation like this. He sometimes questioned his abilities and wondered if, in the moment of truth, he would react as trained or freeze up. Now he had the answer to that question.

Did the officer's death happen slowly enough for him to see it coming? Was he here one moment thinking only of procedure, then suddenly gone without any further thought, or was there a moment for reflection? At the moment of his death his wife and children were still going about their normal weekday activities, unaware of what had just transpired. What were they doing, thinking, feeling, wondering about, as their father and husband had his life stolen from him? Was he afforded at one last mental image of his family before being violently ripped from his life by someone he'd never met before, someone full of enough hate, rage, or mental illness to murder an innocent man without hesitation?

He did not realize he had not moved. It was as if he'd walked up on a beehive, alive with activity, not knowing how to be a bee. How did one insert oneself into an ever shifting ball of activity? He stood gawking, being anything but a cop, like one of the many commuters gathered on the freeway fifty feet away. The audience barely registered to him. They appeared as a blurred photograph of a crowd staring silently at him in his peripheral vision. It was surreal and was anything but. Another effect of this traumatic event, along with the doubt and disjointed memories.

Two paramedics moved across his vision and reached into the suspect's Jeep on the shoulder. It had been there the whole time and he had barely noticed it. The paramedics reached into the vehicle and pulled a body out. He felt as if they were right on top of him, as if he was invisible to them.

The first clear sound was one of the paramedics announcing that this person might be alive. He realized that this other person must have been the killer. The paramedics were putting this second subject, the cop killer, on a backboard. He looked this person up and down. Perhaps he was hoping to notice something that would indicate that he was a murderer. He was surprised at how little blood there was. The rear window of the Jeep was riddled with large bullet holes. The violence against the glass did not accurately reflect the violence done to the body. He was taken aback at the innocuous sight of the blue flannel shirt and jeans, short hair, clean cut appearance. Perhaps he was expecting something more sinister.

Suddenly his examination of the murderer was done. What little information he could glean was complete. There was nothing more to learn and he did not want to notice this filth anymore. He was disgusted and finished. The paramedics changed that the moment they placed the killer on the ground next to the officer. Less than an hour before the two of them had been in the middle of their lives going about their normal routine. In an instant, they were locked into mortal combat, and now both barely clung to life within arm's reach of each other. If they were conscious, they could have shaken hands. It was obscene and he was shocked at what the paramedics had just done. Another wave of nausea and lightheadedness washed over him. He felt sadness for such an unnecessary loss of life, but rage quickly built and with it conflicting emotions. He fought a powerful urge, a voice barking orders telling him to grab the killer's backboard and throw him on to the hillside.

The incident had been fast, brutal, and completely in the hands of fate. The suspect was a Sovereign Citizen armed with a handgun who had purposely obstructed his license plate. A CHP officer put out on the radio that he was going to stop the vehicle, but the officer who would eventually make the ultimate sacrifice was closer and volunteered to make the stop instead. Before the officer could pass the initial 'greet and engagement' portion of the traffic stop, the suspect put a round into his mouth at close range, stopping all brain function. For the officer it was over in that split second. One moment the happy father of a large family, content with his job in the public service making a 'routine stop', the next moment a victim of brutal violence resulting in two bodies side by side on the hot asphalt.

All of this was trapped in his consciousness, haunting the back of his mind at best, unexpectedly leaping to the forefront assailing him anew at worst, but for the most part haunting his psyche, informing his emotions and his mood. The events did not process like memories normally do. This was trauma on a level few know. To say he was experiencing shock is woefully inadequate.

His day was not done. He had a beat to patrol, calls to answer. He was numb, confused, yes. But he was also angry, the anger of one emotionally betrayed. No debriefing, no down time, he had to return to his shift. He took calls like that of a suspicious subject running down the street. It was a woman who made the mistake of having to urinate outdoors due to blocked traffic from the murdered CHP officer.

The local CHP office offered a debriefing that he attended. Only those who were on the scene and involved were allowed. As he walked in, a uniformed supervisor, perhaps a lieutenant, sarcastically expressed discontent at the appearance of officers from different agencies. An example of the disconnect between patrol officer and administration. From there, only apathy.

According to NYU Langone Health/NYU School of medicine's article "Study pinpoints five most likely causes of post-traumatic stress in police officers" published August 11,2020, a senior author of a recent study on Post Traumatic Stress author Charles Marmar, MD, the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine states that Police officers experience an average of three traumatic experiences for every six months of service. Three traumatic encounters every six months. Year after year of service. That weighed on him every time he put on that uniform and walked out the door from his home to that other world; the world from which he protected me and so many others.

He called me in the early afternoon. "First of all, I'm fine." When someone for whom you care is regularly in perilous situations as a matter of course, and every phone call from an unknown number can be the call, you don't want to hear "first of all". I clung to the "I'm fine" and allowed him to continue. There had been a shooting. An officer had been on a traffic stop and was shot by the suspect. He had responded. He said nothing else. I had no idea what he had seen, what he had experienced, and the hell he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Images would haunt him. At the hospital room later he watched the officer's children walk away after saying goodbye to Daddy one last time.

Later, he came to realize he had stopped conducting proactive traffic stops. Something had started to unravel. Patrol had lost its glamor for him, and he found himself analyzing shifts in his attitude toward his dream career. He failed to discern the source of his discontent, so it became only his disdain for the jails, where he had already worked his mandatory sixty month stint, that kept him in patrol.

After a time he found a way to afford himself a reprieve while he reevaluated his career choice. He would navigate to quieter, less active Valley Station. It had been nineteen years since he pushed his first patrol car, an old Dodge Diplomat that took several minutes to warm up to prevent the engine from conking out when the accelerator was pushed too hard. Valley Station was the new beat, replacing the high-crime patrol beats of his young Diplomat days. It covered immense area. He was one of two deputies assigned to the region. This meant a lot of drive time to mundane calls, and what they called "beat checks" in wilderness areas. He thought being closer to the Mt. Diablo wilderness would rejuvenate him. After all, the only cities and towns in Valley Station were wealthy areas with low crime.

Eventually he shared the smallest whisps of his most harrowing experience with me. It was as if he wanted to want to talk about it. The words would not come. The words wouldn't come for ten years.


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