“Officer down! Officer Down! We need units code 3!”
Those were the words from our helicopter pilot in December of 2004 when he saw a car hit one of our officers.
The tone in his voice told everyone this was bad and to get there fast.
I was parked behind a building at the time with some friends while taking a break when that radio transmission went out. It didn’t seem real and it took a moment for the words “Officer down” to sink in.
I can still picture where I was standing and how I felt when I heard the radio come to life.
I jumped into my car and raced to the location like everyone else. The collision was at least two miles away and I pushed the car as hard as I’ve ever pushed a police car before or since. The radio traffic was frantic and it seemed like it took forever to get there.
At one point, there was a radio transmission about organizing an escort for the ambulance. At ache shot through me as I heard that and feared the worst.
Who was it? I still had no idea. I didn’t want to see one of my co-workers dead. Nobody does.
As I got closer to the crash, the tension rose 1,000% because I didn’t know what I was going to see when I got there. I knew there was nothing I could do to help, but there was still the need to get there fast.
I pulled up just as the ambulance was about to leave. There was a long line of police cars in front of the ambulance ready to clear intersections on the way to the hospital. I was filled with dread as I got out of my car.
I walked up to an officer and asked, “Who was it?”
“How bad is it?”
“I don’t know.”
I saw his police car in the middle of the street facing one way and the car that hit him facing the other. Its windshield was shattered and it looked bad. I stood there for a moment and took everything in as I decided where to start. The thought of the impact made me cringe.
There was a warm breeze coming from the east due to a Santa Ana Wind condition that night. The scene was quiet and somber after the ambulance left because no one knew how badly hurt Kelly was.
After everything calmed down the only sound was from the idling patrol cars and the police radio. The sea of police lights were a reminder to anyone who drove by that something bad had happened here.
Kelly’s gun and equipment were strewn in the street in a perfect V from the area of impact. I noticed a steno pad lying among the debris that looked like someone placed it there. It was in perfect condition. Everything else in the street was in total disarray.
An officer walked up to me and said, “I put the steno pad there because I didn’t want Kelly’s hair to fly away.”
What he said didn’t make sense and it made me go to the steno pad to see what he was talking about. I knelt down and lifted it up.
That’s when I saw Kelly’s hair waving in the wind. It was like seaweed swishing side to side as it reached up to the sunlight from the ocean floor. His hair was actually stuck to the asphalt like it was glued down.
I then looked at the upper corner of the windshield and saw another peculiar sight that was almost as weird as Kelly’s hair being stuck to the asphalt.
There were dark blue fibers in the shattered glass. The fibers were small, but clear as day. They were from his uniform and were frozen in time like a fossil waiting to be discovered.
While I was still at the scene, word came from the hospital that Kelly was talking and doing better than was first thought. With that news the mood at the collision scene changed.
Later that night I sat down with the helicopter pilot and he told me what happened. It was intense hearing him describe Kelly getting hit by the car. I could tell he felt helpless as he flew overhead.
It’s funny because there is a new generation of cops at work who drive by that spot every day and have no idea what happened there a decade ago. To the newer cops, it’s an east/west street. To me it’s a memory from a crazy night where everything was in chaos and one of my friends was hurt.
By the way, Kelly returned to work a few months later and made a full recovery.
Oh, and remember that hair that was blowing in the wind? Well, Kelly still has a bald spot on the back of his head after all these years.
Stay safe out there.
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 will share some of his columns.