I’ve never been fond of working traffic details—running radar, crash investigations, and the like. Patrol was better, and I suppose that’s because of the diversity of calls. One minute you’re helping an elderly person who’s locked himself out of his house, and the next you’re wading chest deep into a pile of fighting drunks.
I suppose one of the major reasons I grew to despise stopping cars due to high rates of speed, recklessness, and the general failing to obey traffic laws, was because of, well, the stupidity of some drivers.
A motor vehicle, while traveling along the roadways, is basically a great big, fat, projectile that’s just as capable of killing people as any gun. In fact, the chances of survival are perhaps a bit greater when hit by a bullet. Don’t believe it? Well, try standing in the path of a car roaring at you at 80mph and see how well you fare when it strikes you, even with a glancing blow. A bullet, on the other hand, may simply pass through a drooping love handle leaving you with nothing more than a couple of stitches.
But let’s back up a bit to stupid drivers. In fact, let’s narrow the category down to distracted-stupid drivers. I saw a headline this morning in the San Jose Mercury News that read Woman Painting Toenails Gets First Prize For Distracted Driving. To quote the writer (Gary Richards – Mr Roadshow), “I saw a woman PAINTING HER TOENAILS as she drove eastbound on the 237 freeway. She had her left foot up on the dashboard in front of the A/C vent so the cool, dry air would blow across her toes, and she was painting her toenails as she drove during the afternoon commute.”
And you thought texting while driving was bad!
Yes, the toenail painting is definitely not an activity that should take place while driving to work. But this lady is not the only driver guilty of driving while distracted. I, as well as other police officers, have a ton of “distracted driving” stories we could share, and they’re not all about cellphones. A few of the ones I’ve seen and issued a summons for, include…
- Pouring milk and cereal into a bowl and eating it while driving in heavy traffic. All while driving beside my marked police car.
- Eating a bowl of ice cream.
- Applying full face makeup with one hand while holding a large mirror in the other.
- Reading a book (the book was propped against the steering wheel).
- Two nude couples having sex in the same car, while driving at speeds over 60mph. Yes, the driver was one of the four people in the car.
- One nude man…um…enjoying his time alone.
- A man driving his expensive car while a nude woman stood on the seat with a leg on either side of him, with the top half of her body through the sunroof. She smiled and waved at us (I was training a rookie at the time. He was driving) when we switched on the blue lights.
- A man wearing a corrections uniform was driving a car late at night on a deserted stretch of interstate. His passenger was totally nude (male) and handcuffed to the car door.
- A teenager was sitting on the top of the backrest with his upper body through the open sunroof. He was using his feet to drive while a buddy operated the gas and brake from the passenger side. There were four other teens in the backseat, along with a cooler full of cheap beer.
- A teen driver passed by me doing a little over 100mph. On each of the passenger window sills (windows down) sat a teen (boys and girls) with their bare rear ends hanging outside for all the world to see.
- A car zipped by me traveling well above the posted speed limit. What really caught my eye was the large German Shepherd behind the wheel. When I stopped the car I was somewhat relieved to see a very small human woman situated behind and beneath her “lap dog.”
Finally, there was the nude couple having sex in the rear area of an SUV, with back door in the up position. By the way, the description of the back door in the up position fits both the vehicle and one of the parties engaged in the public sexual activity. It was not a pretty sight.
How about you? What’s your worst stupid driver story?
“To Protect and Preserve.” Those are the words that should be on the mind of every officer who responds to the scene of a homicide.
First responders have an immense responsibility. Not only do they have to assess the situation in a hurry—the victim may still be alive—-, the possibility of the killer still being on scene is quite probable. And, those officers must realize that the key to solving the case—evidence—must be protected. So, while facing the threat of personal harm and saving the life of others, patrol officers practically need to step through the scene as if walking on eggshells. That’s not asking too much of them, right?
Keep in mind, there’s no set-in-stone method of investigating a murder, because no two scenes are identical. And, no two officers/crime scene investigators think exactly alike. However, there are certain things that must be done, and there are mistakes that must not me made. Here are a few pointers.
1. First responders must proceed to the scene as quickly and safely as possible. Why? Possibly catch the bad guy and to prevent the destruction/removal of evidence.
2. Quickly start the crime-solving wheels in motion by contacting the necessary parties, such as investigators, coroner, EMS, etc.
3. Arrest the suspect, if possible.
4. Document EVERYTHING.
5. Preserve and collect evidence.
6. Assume that EVERYTHING is potential evidence.
7. Secure the scene. Absolutely no one is allowed to enter who’s not a key person in the investigation.
8. Treat every single suspicious death as a homicide until the investigation proves otherwise.
9. Keep an open mind.
10. Photograph, photograph, photograph!
11. Study the victim. Learn everything there is to know about them. Know them. Know what they ate, what they liked to do, where they liked to go, who they liked and disliked, who liked them and who hated them, etc. Uncover every single detail of their life. The victim is often the single most important piece of evidence in the case.
12. Share information with members of your investigative team. Bounce thoughts and ideas around among the group. Talk to everyone involved—patrol officers on the scene, the coroner, other investigators, the crime scene techs, etc.
1. Do not assume anything. Sure, the call came in as a suicide, but that doesn’t mean that’s what actually happened. That’s merely what a witness told the dispatcher. And definitely do not assume there are no weapons present at the scene simply because that’s what your dispatcher told you. Again, he/she was given that information by someone at the scene who may not know.
2. Do not assume the suspect has left the scene. Treat everyone there as a possible murderer until you learn differently. Be smart and be safe.
3. Do not allow anyone to leave the area until you’ve interviewed them. Treat everyone as a possible witness. Sometimes people don’t realize they’ve seen an important detail.
4. Failing to secure a scene. Family members have a tendency to get in the way. They feel the need to be a part of the scene. They want answers. However, absolutely do not allow anyone inside the scene. This includes members of the police department if they’re not part of the investigation. And I mean everyone, including the mayor, the chief, the sheriff, etc. (The last one’s easier said than done, right deputies?).
5. Releasing information to the media. Hold your cards close to your chest until you have an idea of what information can be released to the public. Remember, what you say will be on the evening news!
6. Don’t get a case of tunnelvision. Keep your mind open to everything, at first. Then as the case starts to come together, the focus of the investigation will narrow. A murder investigation works like a funnel. First you dump all you’ve found into the large end. Then you keep pushing and pushing until finally the killer’s name pops out of the other, smaller end.
7. Failing to take enough notes and photographs. You only have one shot at this, so take more than you need while the scene is still intact. There are no do-overs.
8. Don’t take sloppy notes and keep sloppy records. Remember, what you write down could/will eventually be seen in court. And that will be a reflection of how the investigation was conducted. Clean notes = a clean, tight investigation.
9. Don’t discuss a case where members of the general public have an opportunity to hear the conversation! Words are too easy to misunderstand and that can come back to bite a detective in the…well, a place where the sun doesn’t shine. Think about it… A trial witness says, “Yes, I heard the detective say…”
10. Again, a case is not a suicide until the investigation proves it is. How many murderers have “gotten away with it” because of lazy officers conducting slipshod investigations? Sure, it’s easy to take a peek at a victim and assume suicide. But every case should warrant a closer look. You never know, especially if the circumstances are suspicious. And never discount that detective’s “gut feeling,” the investigator’s 6th sense.
11. Do not rush into a crime scene without first taking everything in. Take a moment to assess the area. Are there any dangers, including hidden ones, such as gas leaks, poisonous chemicals, A KILLER WITH A GUN?
12. Don’t assume the victim is dead. Check for vital signs. You certainly don’t want him to lie there suffering while you stand around waiting for the coroner. A few seconds could be the difference between life and death.
13. Don’t assume that the cooperative witness with the happy face is innocent. He could very well be the killer. If so, arrest that clown!