As a Garden Grove cop with 10 years of experience as a motor officer and traffic accident investigator, Jason Perkins knew those words from the dispatcher almost never turned out good.
So nearly a year ago, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Perkins got into his patrol car and raced to the scene of the accident in an industrial area near Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue.
Perkins, the second of three officers to respond to the call, expected the worst.
What he didn’t expect to emerge from a heartbreaking loss for a local family was a friendship and bond with a young man who was riding behind his older brother that day, saw him crash, and then — all alone, while waiting for medics and officers to arrive — held him as his life slipped away.
Paul Pham, reliving the horrible loss near the one-year anniversary of the March 23, 2014 accident that killed Pierre Pham, 22, turned to Perkins in a conference room of the Garden Grove PD and repeated what he told Perkins hours after the crash:
“I didn’t know cops did this.”
Pierre wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle as well as his younger brother, Paul, could ride.
So after a late breakfast of eggs and croissants, they went out that gorgeous Sunday to do laps in an industrial area, cruising up and down four streets that form a perfect rectangle.
Because it was Sunday, no one was around.
Pierre Pham was riding a red Yamaha R6 600 he had had for three months and Paul was about 10 yards behind him on his blue-and-white Suzuki GSX-R750, which he had been riding for 2 ½ years.
They weren’t going much faster than the posted speed limit of 25 mph, Paul says, when tragedy struck.
Pierre, who was about to graduate from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in criminal justice and spend the summer studying abroad in Australia, was traveling west on Forbes Avenue when he failed to negotiate the turn south onto Commerce Drive.
Just before that fatal mistake, during a break after several laps, Pierre took off his helmet and turned to Paul and with a big smile said, “I’m effing better than you.”
Just like an older brother, bragging about being a better rider.
Paul then saw Pierre hit his brakes and smoke come up from the back tire as he made the turn. But Pierre’s bike hit a curb and threw him head first into a light pole.
Paul got off his motorcycle and called 911. He scraped his knuckles reaching under his brother’s head to remove his helmet.
It seemed like forever for Garden Grove Officer Rudy Negron to arrive, but it had only been 3 to 5 minutes.
Negron performed CPR on Pierre.
Perkins showed up, following by Officer John Casaccia as well as paramedics with the Garden Grove Fire Department.
But Pierre was gone.
Perkins then saw something he never has seen a cop do: sit next to a hysterical person to try and calm them.
Usually, Perkins says, a cop might kneel or lower himself to speak to someone, but Negron and Casaccia were sitting next to Paul, trying to console him.
After a while, Perkins talked to Paul and put bandages on his scraped knuckles.
About four hours later, after investigators had determined that the crash was accidental, Perkins showed up at the Pham residence to check up on Paul and Phillip Pham, the eldest of the three Pham boys, as well as their parents.
That’s when Paul told Perkins, “I didn’t know cops did this.”
Perkins didn’t think he was doing anything special — just making good on a promise he made at the accident scene to check up on Paul, who had just seen his brother die.
It was a simple act that would never make the news: a cop trying to make a difference in the community he serves when no cameras or reporters are around.
Perkins showed up at the house again the next day — just as he told Paul he would.
“I didn’t think he would come back,” Paul says.
A few days later, the Phams sent thank you letters to the Garden Grove PD and to Perkins personally.
“The police department receives thank you notes from time to time but sadly they are rare these days,” Perkins says.
“It was meaningful to me because in this family’s worst moments they still found the time, courage and energy to send us cards thanking us for our support. This simple act had a deep impact on all of us.”
It took some time, but Perkins and Pham struck up a friendship.
They had a lot in common.
Like his late brother Pierre, Paul also was interested in becoming a cop.
He and Perkins both are the youngest of three boys.
They both love to ride motorcycles.
And only two days separate their birthdays.
Perkins eventually invited Paul on ridealongs and soon they went on recreational motorcycle rides together.
As a motor instructor who has taught a lot of officers statewide how to ride, Perkins wanted to use that skill to teach Paul and also show him some great places in Southern California to ride motorcycles — and how to ride safely.
“I also didn’t want Paul to stop riding,” Perkins says. “It’s a great hobby and a way to de-stress and appreciate some of the beautiful areas that surround us.”
Paul Pham is studying criminal justice at a local college.
Perkins earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Perkins and Paul communicate daily — usually in the form of a quick exchange of text messages.
“It almost always starts with, ‘Hey brother, what’s up?’” Perkins says.
Paul calls Perkins his anh mi chang — Vietnamese for “white brother.”
For in losing a brother, he gained one in the form of a cop 16 years his senior.
“I think the word ‘brother’ is a bit overused and underemphasized in today’s culture,” Perkins says. “I know that when Paul calls me ‘brother’ he truly means it as if I were family, so I take it to heart and don’t dismiss it as pop culture banter.”
Perkins’ mind goes back to the accident scene, and the way Officers Negron and Casaccia consoled Paul.
“I can’t help but think Paul became a member of our extended Garden Grove Police Department family that day,” Perkins says.
Perkins presented Paul with a Chief’s Coin of Merit last year as a symbolic way to welcome him into the family.
“I would never want to intrude on the relationship that he had with Pierre, but I really do feel like I’m Paul’s older brother,” Perkins says. “Although I never had the opportunity to meet Pierre, I feel like I have an obligation to him to look after his little brother.”
After all, he’s Paul’s anh mi chang.