More Street Stories

The Lonely Wheelchair

By Keith Bettinger, Retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police

Keith’s first Just the Facts, Ma’am post about the shooting was here on October 9th, 2017.

View_from_the_Foundation_Room_(24089601122)October 1, 2017 will always be remembered as Las Vegas’ day of infamy. Death and injury rained down on country music lovers from the heights of the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, stealing the lives of fifty-eight people and causing injury to more than five hundred others.
Survival instincts and fear gripped the attendees and performers and people began running away from the scene onto Las Vegas Boulevard as well as through the open fields being used for parking.

People ran for blocks seeking shelter in other casinos. Some broke through fences and then broke the windows of ground floor offices seeking shelter within from the bullets raining down on them. For those that kept running, many wound up on the McCarran Airport runways, taking cover in the adjacent rain channels. Others attempted to hide at the scene under bleachers or under canvas canopies, hoping out of sight also meant out of the assassin’s mind.

Aerial view of Las Vegas, focusing on the Luxor Hotel "pyramid."The murderer killed himself. The shooting stopped, and the sun eventually rose that Sunday morning. All anyone could see were the remnants of the carnage that covered an extremely large crime scene; the likes of which few law enforcement officers had ever seen.

It would take weeks to photograph, recover, inventory, process and eventually return items to either the rightful owner or their surviving family members.
The hard-packed dirt field just east of the stage and audience area was filled with cars, tractor and trailers, buses and motor homes. The cars belonged to the concert attendees. The trucks, buses and motor homes belonged to the performers and their crews.
For days these vehicles did not move as evidence technicians processed the overwhelming crime scene. Eventually the evidence was gathered, and the vehicles were released. Some were driven from the scene. Others were towed back to the rental agencies by a caravan of tow trucks since the lessees had left town. As they left the field, you could see the shot-out windows, doors and fenders. The performers’ vehicles didn’t fare any better. They too had to wait days until they were allowed to leave what should have been a wonderful evening’s entertainment instead of a night of terror and carnage.


When the field was emptied of cars and trucks and the blood was disinfected and cleansed from the ground, just one thing remained; an empty and overturned wheelchair.

Looking at the wheelchair in its lonely state left one wondering trying to answer so many questions. Who was the occupant? Did the person make it this far on his own only to topple over? Was someone pushing him? Did someone carry him to safety? Was he pulled to safety behind a parked car? Did people, terrified and fleeing, leave him to fend for himself?

Eventually the wheelchair was not alone. Two evidence technicians walked across the field, righted the wheelchair and pushed it into the evidence processing facility.
The wheelchair was no longer alone. It joined the other evidence waiting to be processed.

But it left one important question unanswered – WHY?

About Keith Bettinger:

Keith Bettinger is a retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Officer. He’s been writing for law enforcement publications for more than 25 years and has received 19 awards for his articles, stories, poems, and books. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Relations with a major in Clinical Counseling. During his career he received the department’s Bravery Medal, Silver Shield Award, Meritorious Police Service Award, Special Service Award, Professionalization Award, Department Recognition Award, five Headquarters commendations and six Precinct commendations. He also was a field training officer and an instructor on Post Shooting Trauma and Critical Incidents. Keith has written three books, FIGHTING CRIME WITH “SOME “DAY AND LENNY, END OF WATCH AND MURDER IN McHENRY. He has also contributed stories to the following anthologies: I Pledge Allegiance, Cop Tales 2000, Charity, True Blue, To Protect and Serve, and Dad’s Bow Tie. He also shares with Jack Miller, the screenplay Master Cheat. Keith lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lynn.
It is my pleasure to host my good friend, Keith Bettinger. In addition to the things mentioned in his bio, he was also at the 9/11 Ground Zero. Being the author who reviewed the manuscript for my first book, “We Are Different Now – a grandparents journey through grief”, he had a big impact on my first becoming a published author. We hope you’ll leave a comment to let us know you stopped by to enjoy his article.

Writer's Notes

Conferences: The Pros and Cons by Michael A. Black

By Michael A. Black

mike Black BloodTrails coverAs we begin this new year it’s totally appropriate that we take a look at the conference scene and ask that pertinent question: How do I get the most bang for my buck?
How do I choose a good conference? Where are the best locations? Should I choose genre over craft, a fan-based conference vs. one with a lot of authors? What should I expect out of the experience? How about the cost?

All of those are legitimate questions, but they’re fairly easy to answer. First, do a bit of research on any prospective conferences and figure out which ones are best suited to meeting your goals. Cost is always a factor, as is location. Is the conference in an interesting place that’s easy to get to? My advice is pick one that’s in a neat place, and tack on a few days to do some sightseeing. While you’re looking into it, check out the costs of travel and hotel rooms.

Genre based vs. craft based… If you’re interested in improving your knowledge and writing skills, check out what the conference program has listed. If you’re only going to collect autographs from your favorite writers, then learning something is obviously secondary. And, if you’re a writer, pick the appropriate type of conference. Don’t go to a sci-fi con if your main interest is writing romance. Pick your genre and check out what each has to offer. I can tell you right now that my main interest is the mystery/thriller genre, but I’ve gone to a few sci-fi cons and they’re a lot of fun (Imagine people walking around in costumes and discussing things not of this world.) Mystery/thriller conferences are usually less intimidating, and very friendly. Some of the nicest people go to them. It’s not uncommon to meet a bestselling author in the bar, for instance.

You should examine what you want to accomplish. The opportunities to network are very good at most conferences, but keep in mind, the bigger they are, the more you’ll feel like a small fish in a big pond. Bouchercon, the international mystery writer’s conference is held in a different city each year, and it’s pretty overwhelming, especially your first time. I wouldn’t recommend Bouchercon unless you’re only interested in getting a book signed. Even if you’re a published author, your chances of being on a panel or getting a signing opportunity at a conference that large are questionable. Smaller conferences are usually better for meet in people and making connections.
If you’re looking to learn, and what writer isn’t, check out the conference program. Usually, they’re made up of various panels on different topics, and feature some individual speakers. My high school physics teacher used to say that one hour across the table from a wise man is worth ten years study of books. See who’s attending the conference and be they writer or expert in a certain field, let that information be part of your decision making.

Okay, I think I’ve covered the basics, so let me use what time I have left to push my favorite conference, the Public Safety Writers Association Conference. It’s held each summer in Las Vegas, Nevada and is without a doubt the most writer-friendly conference I’ve ever attended. This year’s dates are July 12-15, at the Orleans Hotel.
I know what you’re thinking… Vegas in the summer? Sure, it’s hot, but it’s the desert. You’ll be inside the luxurious hotel in the air-conditioning during the day, and at night it cools down to a comfortable level. The Orleans is not on the Strip, so the rates are incredibly reasonable ($45.00 a night weekdays and $94.00 Friday and Saturday) and there’s a shuttle bus that’ll take you over to the main drag, if that’s where you want to go. Did I mention that the Orleans contains numerous restaurants, and food court, several movie theaters, a bowling alley, and lots of slot machines? You don’t even have to outdoors if you don’t want to.

But enough about that. Take it from me, it’s great.

The conference itself is designed for writers of all levels and abilities. Some of our PSWA members are published authors with impressive resumes. Others are first timers, and others are aspiring to be published. Regardless of your level, you’ll find everyone friendly and always willing to offer advice and assistance. We usually have numerous publishers on hand to listen to pitches, too.

While you don’t need a background in public safety to join the PSWA, many of our members are former police, federal agents, ex-military, or firefighters. Others are people who write about those things. The conference offers the opportunity to rub elbows with those who’ve actually done the stuff of books and movies and others who’ve successfully written about it. It’s a wealth of information, and everyone is very approachable.
The luncheon meals are included in the conference fee, which is real low compared with other conference of this type. And we have an old-time radio play that aspiring actors and actresses can participate in, if you so desire. There’s also an intensive writer’s workshop the first day you can sign up for that features three published writers giving you individual critiques and writing advice.

So what are you waiting for? Visit the PSWA website today ( and check things out. Registration is easy and the price is right. Hope to see you there.
Mike Black Book Jac PhotoMichael A. Black is the author of 29 books, the majority of which are in the mystery and thriller genres, although he has written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports genres as well. A retired police officer with over 30 years’ experience, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles, and has written two novels with television star, Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). Black is currently writing the Executioner series (Fatal Prescription, Missile Intercept) under the name Don Pendleton. His latest novel under his own name is Blood Trails.

Writer's Notes

What’s Going On?

By Thonie Hevron

PSWA Award singleI’ve just returned from the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) Conference in Las Vegas. It’s a member-driven conference focused on those who write in the field of public safety. Active and retired personnel from police, fire, EMS, and dispatch make up the bulk of the population. Civilians who write crime fiction and technical public safety articles/books are also a large component of this diverse group. City cops—from Chicago PD to rural sheriff’s departments, FBI, military enforcement from all branches, probation and parole, fire officers—paid and volunteer as well as emergency medical personnel are active members. The breadth of experience is remarkable.

We gather annually to share our information. This year’s event spanned four full days for those who wished to attend Thursday morning’s optional “improve your writing skills” workshop taught by three published authors. This included a critique of previously submitted manuscripts. During the conference, attendees participated in numerous panels and attended presentations on topics such as “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Investigating the 2001 Anthrax Attacks,” “Writing True Crime,” “How to Write for the Web” and craft topics like “Editing Your Work” and “An Examination of Point of View”. Several time slots were set aside for meet and greets with editors, other authors and three publishers.

Aside from the plane trip from hell (check out my Facebook page), arriving a day and half late—and missing my own panel on “Promotion,” I still had Saturday. The cut-rate airline new to our regional airport has a very limited schedule which necessitated leaving the conference early. Hence, I only had one day in Las Vegas. Sigh. Still, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I pitched my fourth novel to a publisher I’d never heard of before but was interested in my story. The networking alone is fabulous. Because of PSWA, I’ve had facetime with an FBI profiler, SWAT masters (both in city and FBI), homicide and vice detectives, several of whom had been undercover. I can’t pass up tapping these guys on the shoulder, asking them to read my work for authenticity—in exchange for Beta reading, critiques and blurbs (who’d a thunk anyone would want my name on their book?).

So when I got word that I placed second in the annual PSWA Writing Contest for unpublished novel, I was bowled over. Imagine these esteemed members choosing my book, With Malice Aforethought. Second! Whew!


News about With Malice Aforethought

My publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, is recovering from a serious health issue. She and another staffer are working on the back log of projects already in progress. Oak Tree isn’t accepting any new submissions until January. At this time, I have a signed contract but haven’t sent my manuscript in. I’ve decided to use the next month or two to polish some of the uneven parts of the story. My time frame to get it to Oak Tree is September 1. From there, I’ll keep you posted as I find out more.


Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, “Let’s do something fun!”

By Hal Collier, LAPD, Retired

Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.

I’ve often said a bored cop is a dangerous cop! We’re used to living on the edge, adrenaline coursing through our veins—oh, I can’t believe I wrote that crap. We do have our moments but quite often we spend hours looking for something to do. Someone once described being a cop as hours of boredom followed by thirty seconds of sheer terror.

When the criminals, who really pay our salary, don’t cooperate, we invent our own entertainment. Have you ever left a puppy alone for a few hours and then wondered how he could get into so much trouble? Cops of any age are the same as puppies—entertain us or we’ll get into mischief. My apologies to dog owners everywhere.

I know you’re tired of hearing I worked Hollywood Division on the grave yard shift, the entertainment capital of the world. I’ll admit, most days it was the busiest division in the city of Los Angeles. Every so often, things got slow. Sometimes, it was due to the weather and sometimes, because of the misalignment of the planets. Heck, I don’t know, it just happens.

So you’ve spent a few hours looking for crime. You saw a car slowly moving down a residential street with its lights out. You stopped him and found it was the LA Times delivery man, again. That’s it. It’s too early to eat and we’ve already had six cups of coffee. Then one of you says, “Let’s do something fun!”

How cops amused themselves depended on where they worked and who it involved. You could amuse yourself, or involve other cops, or the citizens who think they pay your salary.

My experience in working different divisions was very limited. In a 35-year career I worked 33 1/2 years in Hollywood, and 15 months in Watts. I don’t know what officers in other divisions did for entertainment but I heard rumors. One famous story is two LAPD Officers drove to Las Vegas in the middle of the night and had their picture taken in front of Caesar’s Palace, police car and in uniform then drove back before end of watch (EOW).

Frederick's of Hollywood on Hollywood Blvd.
Frederick’s of Hollywood on Hollywood Blvd.

Let’s start with amusing ourselves. Hollywood had a lot of interesting businesses. Ever heard of Frederick’s of Hollywood? Hey, had a large display window with scantily clothed mannequins. It was first light and what better way to end a slow night than check out the new window display. February was the best month, Valentine’s Day. One morning as we stopped in front of Frederick’s we saw this old homeless man admiring the display. He was intently looking at a mannequin that was lying on her side. As we watched, he pretended to stroke her ribs down to her thigh. We laughed but decided we didn’t want to watch what he was going to do next.

Another favorite spot was Trashy Lingerie on La Cienega. They also had nice window displays. The city even assisted us when they built wheel chair ramps so we could drive right up on the sidewalk to get a closer look.

Laurel Canyon photo by
Laurel Canyon
photo by

In an earlier Ramblings I described how two cop cars raced from Sunset and Vine to Laurel Canyon and Mulholland. Why? To relieve the boredom. Another game I played was “Have you ever been on this street?” Randy Witkamp and I walked a foot beat on Hollywood Boulevard. We walked from 11:30 to about 5 A.M. After 5 AM even the prostitutes called it a night. We would grab a bite to eat then look for something to do. We’d both been in Hollywood for a long time and often found ourselves on obscure side streets. Some in Laurel Canyon were only dirt roads with one or two houses!

Whoever was driving would head up into the hills and find some small street and ask, “Have you ever been on this street. You got extra points if you remembered the house and the radio call you handled there.

Wild animals were always a nice diversion. We once caught an opossum and put it our Watch Commander’s patrol car. Another time I chased a coyote down the middle of the street with my police car. I probably saved a neighbor’s cat.

Sometimes we would watch a citizen run a red light and follow them for miles. We’d bet on how many times they would look in the rear view mirror. Loser had to buy breakfast. The expensive neighborhoods were the most fun. They were already thinking of all the important people they know to get out of a ticket. We never wrote them a ticket, just entertained ourselves.

Hollywood signSunrise was always a treat when watched from above the Hollywood sign. It took a while to drive up there and involved opening and closing locked gates. If you had a partner new to Hollywood you gave them the tour of the division. I had a much better map of the stars home than they sold on street corners on Sunset. Another favorite was the Bronson Caves, better known as the Bat Cave in the Batman TV series.

Another treat was driving up to the Sunset Ranch Horse stables in Beachwood Canyon right at sunrise. Keying the radio microphone just as the rooster crows. The dispatchers always enjoyed that!

If you read any of my past Ramblings you’ve heard of the practical joke cops play on each other. Rocks in the hub caps, a snowball fight in the watch commander’s office. Pigeons in my police car! Dale Hickerson and I once screwed a cops tennis shoes to the bench in front of his locker. How about the time a patrol cop lined the detective’s desk drawer with a plastic trash bag and filled it with water?


Any stories from long boring graveyard shifts out there?


Writer's Notes

A victory…from Las Vegas

By Thonie Hevron

I’m baaaack!

This was my first trip to Sin City. It won’t be my last. Although the glaring grandeur had little appeal for me, I will say I thought it fun to cruise down the Strip. However, because I was tired, I was more than ready to be at the hotel. Silly me, I’d gone cheap and hired a shuttle instead of a cab. Live and learn.

The truth is that I only booked this trip for a Public Safety Writer’s Association Conference.  Vegas has zero appeal to me. Give me a redwood grove or a sandy Southern California beach any day. I’d submitted my unpublished manuscript, Intent to Hold to their annual writing contest. In 2012, I’d submitted and won third place for By Force or Fear. I was hoping history would repeat itself for Intent to Hold.

At the conference, I met many with whom I’ve corresponded through the years. Meeting people in person after developing an online relationship can cause some shifts in perspective. Thankfully, they were all very positive shifts. I met some terrific people.

During the months before the conference, the call for help went out from conference chair Michael A. Black. Like a dummy, I volunteered. While I used to hate getting in front of people, I’ve made strides in getting over the fear. Knowing that

Dialog and setting panel PSWA Conference, Orleans Hotel-Casino, Las Vegas July 2014 photo by Marilyn Meredith
Dialog and setting panel PSWA Conference at the Orleans Hotel-Casino, Las Vegas – July 2014   Photo by Marilyn Meredith



I’d have to speak in front of people to sell my books nudged me onward. Two years ago, I volunteered to co-chair the Redwood Writers Conference in April of 2014, to help de-sensitize myself. Month after month, I got up in front of the general membership and announced conference news. When that day came, I was a little nervous but my co-chair Sandy Baker was super-supportive and all went well. Here’s how PSWA shook out: I was a “contestant” on CSI-Jeopardy, a game played twice every day except the last (only once). I clowned my way to a pithy third but had a lot of fun. I sat on a panel of five discussing setting and dialog. Then, I was the moderator of a panel on wounds and forensics. Since I know nothing about the topic, I contacted the panelists in advance and culled questions from them. A well-rounded and very knowledgeable group that included an EMS/fire training consultant, and ER doc, a forensic scientist, a psychologist, a biology professor…and me!

Pic is a little fuzzy but you get the idea.
Pic is a little fuzzy but you get the idea.

Thank God, I only had to ask the questions.

The crowd was so responsive and attentive that we all had fun. In fact, when our time was up, many said they wanted more time with the panel. I’d say that was a success. Success for the panelists, audience, and me. I didn’t faint! In fact, I got one glowing compliment on my presentation voice.

And, I won third place for unpublished novel award for Intent to Hold. History did repeat.

I’ll be back in Vegas next year, only I’m bringing my hubby next time.


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