The other night I saw something that bothered me for some reason. It wasn’t a dead body, a horrific accident, or amputated body parts. It was a family watching their father get arrested for DUI.
On Saturday night, I was at a hit-and-run collision when this woman, in her early 20s, drove up and told me the suspect vehicle belonged to her father. The young woman, who I’ll call Kate, told me someone called her mother to let her know her husband was involved in a collision and where the vehicle was.
While we were talking, her mother’s cell phone rang. It was the person who had originally called about her father. She handed me the phone and said, “You talk to him.”
A man told me he was with the driver from the collision at a nearby shopping center. I hung up and told Kate where her dad was. She asked, “Can I go with you?” I told her she would have to drive her car instead.
She knew which shopping center I was talking about and she pulled into the parking lot just ahead of me. Her brother, who was about 13 or 14 years old, jumped out of the vehicle and ran to his father. The boy was about my son’s height and age, with a similar build.
The son was crying hysterically as he wrapped both arms around his father. He held on to him like he didn’t want to let go because the police were going to take his father away. The boy’s display of emotions hit me like the sound of a door slamming in a quiet library. A pain shot through my heart as I thought of my son, knowing how much he loved me, just like this boy loved his father, too. There wasn’t much we could do here. The man had collided into a tree and a parked car. We had a job to do.
I then looked over to a little girl, who was about 7 years old. She was standing a few feet behind her brother and she was crying, too. Kate was next to her with a different look on her face. It was a look of sadness, pain and disappointment, all mixed together. She seemed mad, but not at us. She was mad at her father.
That’s when she said, “He’s done this before.”
“He’s been in a DUI crash before?”
“Yes, you can look it up. You’ll see.”
Kate wanted to know what was going to happen and stayed in the parking lot with her mom and siblings.
When I spoke to the driver, I was amazed how drunk he was. He was a mess. This wasn’t a guy who had one too many. This was a guy who had 20 too many. Thank goodness there was only one collision.
After I interviewed him, I spoke to some officers who were at the scene of the crash. It turned out the driver had crashed in front of his sister’s apartment. Officers spoke to his sister and she told them her brother was always drunk.
Later that night I ran his driving record and found the DUI conviction Kate was talking about. It was a felony DUI conviction from almost 10 years ago. That would’ve put Kate between 10 or 12 years old at the time. Now I knew what that look was on her face.
It was a look of sadness, pain and disappointment that was a combination of what happened tonight and what she went through as a child. It was also a look of a person who was used to seeing her father this way. It was tragic.
I cleared the call and moved on, but I couldn’t shake the image of the son hanging onto his father while he cried.
The next day was the first of a few days off for me. I told my family about the call and how it affected me. I also told them other stories from the night before. We laughed at some of the crazy things people do.
Life was back to normal for me with my family. What most people take for granted I see as a blessing because of what I experience at work.
On Monday I barbecued and we had dinner as a family. As I sat there, I thought back to that kid hugging his father. What a different world my kids live in compared to that kid. Later that night, my son and I stayed up late watching Netflix. Life was good.
There’s one thing about police work: This job always has a way of reminding you how good you have it. It’s important never to forget that.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (www.badge415.wordpress.com). 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. BehindTheBadgeOC.com shares some of his columns.