Stacks of old spiral notebooks tell the story of my career in law enforcement. Most of the pages contain brief notations—mileage, oil changes, weather, dates and times, arrests, names of witnesses, informants, and suspects, crime scene information, prisoners transported, and strangely enough, ideas for stories. You see, I’d always wanted to write.
Today, with the threat of a rapidly growing and fast-moving wildfire that’s already delivered smoke and ash to our property, I flipped through the pages of a couple of those notebooks in search of my handwritten documentation of an event that’s forever etched in my mind. I’ve always referred to it as The Fire.
Please join me as I share yet another private moment. This one, while I served as a sheriff’s deputy working the graveyard shift, alone.
Saturday June 9, 1984
11:45 – Relieve 4-12 shift. No serious incidents reported. Slow night.
12:00 – Begin patrol. Mileage 43888.
12:14 – Loud music complaint. Subjects complied.
12:47 – Assist state police with vehicle search and arrests on interstate. Meth.
1:18 – Bar fight. Weapons involved. Break it up. Arrest two males. Disorderly conduct and drunk in public. One charged with assault on officer. Process. Clean and dress minor knife cuts to my right forearm. Back on patrol.
1:59 – Vehicle stop. Expired plates. Stolen car. Murder suspect from Florida. Arrest and process.
3:20 – Assist jail officers with disturbance.
4:14 – Meet trooper for breakfast.
4:27 – Serious crash on county road. Leave before meal arrives, again.
4:33 – Arrive at scene. Vehicle on fire. Fully engulfed.
Passengers trapped. Trooper assists.
Screams from inside car.
Smells awful, but all too familiar.
Too hot to approach.
Man pushing against door.
Man climbs from window.
Burning. Collapses. Trooper pulls him to safety.
Woman stops screaming.
Little girl in back.
Five, maybe six-years-old.
Run to car.
Hair on arms burns away.
Pull child through window.
Hold her in my arms.
0800 – Off duty
0900 – Can’t sleep.
Little girl’s screams on my mind.
Still hear them today.
And the day after.