Friday, April 28, 2006

Jack and the carjacker

This evening was looking to be a dull one. My agenda included printing out invoices, updating the subscription list, sending out renewal notices and folding inserts.

Then the scanner began chirping. Vehicle accident on the freeway. Fire and law enforcement dispatched.

I jumped in the car and arrived on scene. It was ugly. The car was a mangled mess and someone was trapped inside. Firefighters were cutting, and sawing and dismantling the car piece by piece to get the person out.

A young man stood nearby, sometimes holding his stomach, holding his head. Face pale.

I took photos.

All serious accidents involve human misery, but oddly enough there’s usually a positive vibe amongst the rescuers. There’s a certain camaraderie and sense of purpose, even amidst the horror. This often holds true for journalist covering the scene.

But not this time. It’s hard to describe, but there was a dark feeling. My job was done. I left.

On the way home I hoped that the person in the car wasn’t someone I know. This is a small town. It could happen.

Like last week. I woke up Tuesday morning and flipped through the faxes. There was a press release about a fatal ATV accident. I noticed that the victim was from McKinleyville. Then I read his age – almost the same as mine. Then his name. It was someone I knew. Someone I did business with. A man I once wrote an article about. Wait, I think I wrote several articles about him under several different circumstances.

Good guy. Always seems like you should be able to write a glowing tribute or some words of wisdom about people you know when they die. But it doesn’t work that way. Never has. I’m at a loss for words.

After this evening’s accident, I came home and resumed my boring agenda – so boring that the high point was using the three-hole punch. (Binders, people! The only way to keep organized is binders!)

Then I heard on the scanner that there was a high-speed chase in Eureka. Then it was in Arcata. Then it was in McKinleyville.

I live one house way from the freeway. I can only see a portion of an off-ramp. I looked out the kitchen window. I couldn’t see anything. I heard sirens and a strange metallic, grinding sound. What the ....?

The scanner crackled. A suspect was loose. Police dog in pursuit.

Back to the Batmobile.

I entered the freeway, but soon after cars began to back up. I inched forward. I was close to the scene. Sirens, lights. Getting closer.

Then I saw an amazing sight. Coming down an embankment were what looked like at least a dozen law enforcement officers, some holding M-16s, dragging a suspect down toward the freeway. A police dog ran along side.

It would have been an awesome photo; it was like a movie. But I was too far away. Fuck. I pulled the car onto the shoulder, punched the gas, and sped forward, passing cars as I did so. I hate when people do this. They look like assholes. Now I was the asshole. Oh well. I parked, jumped out and ran to the scene.

I should have done so earlier, but I didn’t know whether the suspect was apprehended. While I appreciate a good photo, I also like to keep in mind that I want to cover the story, not be part of it. And self-preservation is an under-rated quality. But, still, I would have loved to have taken that photo. Dammit!

By the time I dashed across the freeway and ran down the center divider, it was all over and the suspect was tucked into a squad car. His truck, or at least the vehicle he jacked, was in the center divider. Music with a strong techno-beat pulsed inside. The tire was missing from the right front wheel.

Turns out the fellow car jacked the truck at Richardson Grove. He ordered the occupants into the river, then took off. Details uncertain.

A high-speed pursuit quickly ensued. In Myers Flat, spike strips were utilized. The suspect lost the tire and was riding on a steel rim.

All three of us reporters on scene were in agreement: Riding on a steel rim for about 70 to 80 miles during a high-speed chase is impressive. Sparks must have been flying. I don’t think the suspect will get any awards for such an accomplishment, nor do I think he should. But it’s still impressive.

When he made it to McKinleyville, the officers used what they call a PIT. There was disagreement between them as to whether this stood for Pursuit Interruption Technique or Passive Interruption Technique.

Either way, they nudged the car and forced it to spin out of control. The suspect fled and jumped a fence. Cops and a dog were in pursuit. He gave up.

That’s good, because I noticed that if he kept running, he may have interrupted a McKinleyville Little League game that was taking place a distance away from the fence he jumped. The league has suffered enough with the recent rain. They don’t need a tweaked out meth-head car jacker.

The scene was the exact opposite of the earlier accident. Everyone was pumped up. The adrenaline was flowing. Everyone was smiling. (Except maybe the perp. I didn’t see him.)

You could tell that the officers had to contain themselves from high-fiving each other. The reporters were equally exuberant.

The perp was apprehended. Nobody was hurt. Mission accomplished. A job well-done. Interesting photos and a story for the media. Naturally sensational. Good material.

The techno-beat was thumping away in the car-jacked vehicle until an officer finally turned it off. The music was catchy – something you might listen to playing a marathon game of “Grand Theft Auto.”

A crowd gathered on a nearby overpass and watched. I knew some of them. And another reporter knew some of them.

People waved. People smiled. The cops were in high spirits. The reporters were in high spirits. The neighbors were excited.

A tow truck, carrying the mangled vehicle from the earlier accident, slowly drove by.

The CHP officer who instigated the pursuit asked me my name and shook my hand. More detailed information would be released soon, he said. At this point, they didn’t even know the suspect's name.

How nice. I much prefer shaking hands with the authorities and being friendly with them instead of fighting over stupid tickets.

But, hey, they’ve got their job, I’ve got mine.

Now, back to the subscription list....

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