Someone once wrote that police work consists of 97 percent boredon, 2 percent paperwork, and 1 percent sheer terror.
And that was pretty much how that shift worked out.
Depending on how you choose to look at it, it was either late at night, or early in the morning. Despite the clock having been past midnight for sometime now, my day was just a continuation of yesterday. Sunrise was hours away, and I was looking forward to driving home and calling it a night.
Things had been quiet in the county, and so I took advantage of the situation, went into the Sheriff’s Office, poured myself some coffee, and caught up on my caseload. It was well past 3 AM when my quiet night went straight to hell.
Earlier, I’d paused in my rounds to talk with the only Antonito officer on duty that night. Like me, his night was dead quiet, and he’d been sitting on Main Street running radar. He commented on how quiet things were, and I remember telling him to be careful what he said, that they could change.
Well, they had. According to what he told me later, a car came barreling into town at a high rate of speed. He went after them, had his overheads on, but they wouldn’t stop. Indeed, they were pulling away from him.
He called for help. At the time, Antonito PD was driving Ford LTDs. We were driving Plymouth Furys. Their cars had a 351 engines with a two barrel carb. We had the monster 440 magnum engines with four barrel carbs, and we enjoyed a good 50 mile an hour top end speed over them.
High speed wasn’t a problem for us. JR and I used to shut down Trans-AMs and Corvettes on a regular basis with those cars. I was only a mile away, so I ran out to assist him.
I gunned my Fury (I called her Trigger – now you know where the character Will Diaz in my novels gets the name for his car) down the road, and as I got to the highway intersection, I looked in the direction of the chase. I could see both cars a few miles away. They were rushing up a long hill.
There was very little out that way except sagebrush, rock, and highway. A few miles away from their current location was the state line. The area was a wide open prairie. It was a bad place to get in trouble in because help was a long ways away.
I called the officer. “I’m minutes behind you.”
“Can you hurry? They’re getting away from me.”
Not for long, I thought. I turned and punched the accelerator. The carb opened all the way, and the big engine screamed as it delivered power to the wheels. Like a rocket, I joined the chase. I was behind, but I was closing fast.
Suddenly the Antonito officer called, “They’re pulling over.”
“Oh no,” I remember saying.
Possibilities went through my mind.
Maybe something had happened to to their car and they couldn’t run anymore.
That, or they’re turning to fight.
Either way might not be good.
I saw the officer pull over.
“Don’t approach them,” I called over the radio. “Wait till I get there.”
“Antonito, don’t approach that vehicle till I get there,” I called again.
Again no answer.
I’m looking ahead, and I felt a chill run down my back as I saw the other car pull away. Again I called the officer.
“Dispatch,” I called, knowing what had happened. “I don’t care where you get it, I need backup out here!”
Any help was at least twenty to thirty minutes away. I was on my own, and I already knew what I was going to find.
I pulled up behind the Antonito cruiser. It sat there, its overheads going. The red and blue flashes of the overheads from our patrol cars added a nightmarish quality to the dark.
I called dispatch. “I’m at the Antonito officer’s location. His car is here. I don’t see him.”
“Copy that. What are you doing?”
I had to get out and look. I already knew what I’d find.
I popped the hand held out of the radio, and called back. “I’m exiting the car and going to attempt to locate him.”
I got out, and drew the big Colt 45 I carried. I called the officer’s name.
I called again. Still no answer.
“Dispatch, I’m leaving the cover of my car,” I said. I moved up behind his vehicle, crouching low as a I rushed forward. I was using the back of the car for some cover.
I looked around into the dark. I didn’t even have a moon to help light up the area. There could be a gunman out there, I thought. Unlikely, but a distinct possibility. After all, they’d have had to seen me coming and they could have left a surprise for me behind.
“Moving forward,” I said over the radio.
I kept low, using the patrol car as a shielding, and finally I got up behind the engine block. I peered over the hood and saw what I expected to see.
“Dispatch, I have an officer down. Get EMS out here, and some backup.”
“Copy officer down. Rolling EMS,” dispatch called back. I could almost hear the “Oh shit” without the need of the radio.
I looked across the hood. At the very least, I needed to check him.
“Leaving cover, I’m checking the officer,” I radioed.
“Be careful,” the answer came back.
Staying low, I approached the officer. He was lying face down sprawled out. His pistol was about six inches from his hand. I was astonished I didn’t see any blood.
I checked for a pulse.
He was alive.
I waited with him till EMS got there. When the EMTs rolled him over, we all saw a circular patch about the size of a half dollar on the right side of his uniform. The material on his shirt was burnt and the skin under it was burnt and blistered. He was out cold.
I shutdown and secured his patrol car, and then followed EMS to the hospital where the officer regained consciousness.
When I went in to see him, the first question besides how you doing was, “What can you tell me about the car?”
“I called it in,” he said.
“No you didn’t. Dispatch didn’t hear you, and neither did I. What can you tell me about the car?”
It’s SOP that every time an officer makes a traffic contact, they’re supposed to call call in license plate, color, make, and model, and number of occupants. I guess in the excitement of the moment, he hadn’t.
He looked at me blankly. “It was red.”
Well, that was enlightening.
“Make, model?” I asked.
He paused. “It was red,” he answered again.
Jesus, I thought. Do you know how many red cars I can find between that location that next town that was anything, Probably in the thousands.
“Two door? Four Door?”
He shook his head. “It was red.”
He was released from the hospital the next day. The doctor thought he might have been hit with one of those souped up cattle prods used on wildlife. Had it hit him one the other side of the chest, there was very real chance it would have stopped his heart. As it was, it just knocked him down and out.
I interviewed him several times after the event, and all he could ever tell me about the car was that it was red.