Saturday, November 10, 2007

My ride-along: Keeping the dream alive

My Ride-Along, Part Three

The row of small single-family homes sits just across George's Stor-More, which borders I-26. The houses are bathed in the sickening yellowish glow of the security lights that keep the storage facility lit. The light hurts my eyes.

I'm riding in the front passenger seat of Asheville Police Department Officer Doug Sheehan's patrol car and we've just pulled up for the next call - a domestic argument. It's about 10 p.m. I'm still processing everything I've seen and heard so far, but there's no time for that right now. We're on again.

A teenager paces at the end of the driveway. She's got a cell phone in her hand, and she's dialing. Mamma is at the door of the house at the other end of the drive, and as soon as Doug approaches, Mamma yells, "Ask her what's going on. She'll tell you the whole story." Slam. She disappears behind the door.

A story emerges. Mamma doesn't want daughter's boyfriend, lingering in the shadows with a cigarette, to spend the night. Doug talks to the teen, then to Mamma inside, then back to the teen. He breaks it down.

"From a legal side of things, you've got to respect mom's wishes," Doug explains, as he listens to the daughter say that she's just trying to graduate and she cleans the house and she's doing the best she can, but her mother still yells at her. Doug tries to sympathize, but explains that the boyfriend's gotta go.

Doug has the situation in hand, and appears ready to leave when he pauses and tries to engage the daughter again. "So how's school going? How are you doing?" She's half listening, looking into her cell phone.

"You hang in there. Keep the dream alive."

Doug's words fall like spent shells, empty and devoid of power.


We're back on the road, and Doug's talking about an officer's need to compartmentalize his emotions when we get the next call - motor vehicle accident at the intersection of Asbury Road and Smokey Park Highway. First responders are already on the scene. We get more information from dispatch, via the computer. Three cars involved, a passenger in one of the vehicles is complaining of neck pain and witnesses say they hear people arguing. Great.

I'm expecting blue lights and sirens, but Doug says he doesn't run "code" unless he knows there's a serious, serious problem. There are people on scene. My nerves are jangling and I'm ready to punch the gas, but Doug plays it cool, so I calm myself down.

We pull up to the scene, the center turn lane on Smoky Park Highway. The flashing red lights of the fire truck, the flashing blue lights of the police cars, the broken glass crunching under my feet all make me dizzy. If I'm not careful, I'll be run down by the two lanes of traffic droning by on either side.

I follow Doug and focus in on the prime suspect. He's a short guy in a brick-red flannel shirt and his hands stuck in his jeans pockets. Doug talks to him. I immediately see the problem. His eyes glitter, shiny and bright, light two lost marbles. He blinks slowly. He can't focus. He's fucked up beyond belief.

Doug pats him down, then turns him around. First, he asks the guy to blow into what looks like a disposable-type Breathalyzer. Doug tells him it's not admissable in court, just a quick reading. Doug checks it, then walks over to look in the guy's car. Doug returns and tells the guy he's going to have to do a field sobriety test.

It doesn't go well. Doug puts the guy in cuffs and sets him in the back seat, then tells me under his breath that the guy had Smirnoff Ice bottles on the floorboard his car. Doug runs the guy's info on his laptop and points to the screen. The dude has two prior DWI convictions.

Once again, the patrol car fills with the odor of alcohol. An over-powering smell. The guy's mumbling. I'm glad, once again, that Doug's window's rolled down.

I want to ask the guy in the back seat what the hell he was doing, thinking. Celebrating? Drowning sorrows? What? But I keep quiet and consider it all.

Because really, who am I to judge?

To be continued....

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