Roman: Motel sign triggers memories of unsolved hit-and-run that injured firefighter


“2S2, a firefighter was just hit by a car!”

It was a summer night when I heard those chilling words over the radio.

The sergeant then broadcasted that this was a hit-and-run and he needed Code 3 units.

As I rolled toward the location I wondered how could this happen. Firefighters aren’t supposed to get hit by cars. It’s not in the rule book.

I just happened to be down the street when I heard the call. I floored the gas pedal and pushed the car as hard as it could go. I was there in less than 30 seconds.

When I arrived I saw the fire truck parked facing in a southeasterly direction with its red lights flashing in the night. A fire hose was pulled across the street toward the burned vehicle.

There was a burned out vehicle smoldering on the side of the road in front of this run down looking motel.

The air was filled with foul smelling smoke. It was the kind of smell that invades the lungs and makes you want to turn your head.

Everything looked normal up to that point.

That’s when I saw the firefighter lying motionless on his back in the street. He was wearing his fire turnouts, helmet and breathing apparatus.

His three partners were kneeling beside him and they were yelling his name. There was fear and panic in their voices. They kept calling his name and told him to hold on.

This weird feeling came over me. It was as if all sound ceased to exist at that moment except for their voices. The volume and emotion in their voices made me nervous. I didn’t want to see him die in front of me.

I stood over them and I was shocked to see blood on the inside of his mask. I could barely see his face as he grimaced in pain.

Then the sound of the night came rushing back to my ears. It was as if every police siren could be heard echoing in the night as they raced to our location.

Then there were tons of cops getting out of their cars, all wanting to help. A command post was set up to coordinate a search for the suspect.

Another fire truck arrived and the firefighter was loaded into an ambulance. The siren of the ambulance screamed into the night as it drove toward UCI Medical Center.

His three partners remained at the scene. They all had a look of disbelief and anguish.

I have a vivid memory of the engineer slowly walking to the fire truck and sitting on the front bumper. I watched as he put his hands on his knees and lowered his head. He just sat there and didn’t move for a long time.

I then spoke to the captain. He told me about responding to the car fire and where their truck was parked. The firefighter pulled a hose and started putting water on the burning car. The captain stood a little farther south and stopped traffic in both northbound lanes.

That is when the suspect vehicle drove around the stopped cars and headed straight at the captain.

The firefighter was facing the burning car at this point and he had no idea what was about to happen. The captain waved his flashlight at the speeding car, but it didn’t stop. He yelled a warning toward his firefighter, but he didn’t hear it.

The car sped directly at the helpless firefighter and hit him.

The impact sent his body into the air as he was propelled backward. The firefighter then skidded across the asphalt on his back until he finally came to a stop.

His battered body left at least 30 feet of gouge marks in the asphalt as he scraped across the street. It was amazing he wasn’t killed. There’s no doubt his equipment saved him from more serious injuries.

The vehicle never stopped.

The fire truck wasn’t parked in the best spot to protect them, but that didn’t give the suspect the right to drive around the stopped traffic.

Fast forward more than 10 years.

I drove by this location last night and the motel sign triggered the memory of this call. It was the same sign next to where the burnt car was parked. The sights, sounds and smell of that night came back.

I pictured the fire truck and where the firefighter was lying in the road. I could picture the car and other things from that night. There was also the sound of the firefighters yelling out his name.

Then it all faded away back into a distant memory by the time I got to the next traffic signal. The night went back to being quiet and peaceful.

As for the firefighter, he recovered and was medically retired.

The suspect and car were never found.

It’s hard to believe that no one ever came forward with information about this. Who fixed that car? Who helped hide the car and the suspect? Who could keep the secret?

Who could hit a firefighter or anyone else like that and not be disgusted every time they looked in the mirror?

Who knows, maybe the driver or someone who knows them will read this one day. If that ever happens I have a message for the driver.

“$#!%$@!. You suck.”

Editor’s NoteJohn Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 ( His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. will share some of his columns