Did you ever have a traffic accident that was just overwhelming? This occurred in the mid 70’s and as usual I’m working graveyard shift. I’ll describe the scene for you. The Hollywood Freeway (aka 101 Freeway) winds through the Cahuenga Pass. Cal Trans has closed the entire southbound lanes for pavement repair. Everyone has to exit the Cahuenga Boulevard exit which has a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. Cal Trans has started closing down lanes at Barham and funneling everyone down to one lane by Cahuenga.
About 2:30 AM, a semi-truck loaded with strawberries from the Central California barrels down the Cahuenga off ramp. About half way down, the driver realizes there’s a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. Now, this truck is still at freeway speeds when he attempts to make a hard right turn. Well, you guessed it—the trailer flipped over on its side. The driver was ok but the load inside the trailer began to smoke. Of course, the fire department came out and sprayed that foam that they carry in the fire truck.
Now the trailer is open, and the concerned citizens didn’t want to see the free strawberries go to waste. The fire captain advised me that the foam they have sprayed will give anyone who eats the strawberries a bad case of diarrhea.
My partner and I chase off the strawberry lovers, but we now have a new problem. The entire Hollywood freeway is still coming down the off ramp. Now, they can’t turn right on Cahuenga. We start directing them northbound. That seemed to work for cars and small trucks. Semi-trucks couldn’t make the turn, so we had to have them back up Cahuenga. This turned into a traffic nightmare.
To complicate matters some of the fine Hollywood citizens were stealing the strawberry flats. Hope they have more than one bathroom and lots of toilet paper.
We decide to have Cal Trans open the freeway. The foreman tells us he can’t open the freeway until 5:00 AM. That’s 2 1/2 hours away. We need another plan. Hey, lets close the freeway off ramp at Highland Avenue.
Bill Barren, my partner in hell that night, and I jumped into our lowest-bid city police car. We drove north on Cahuenga to head off the morning rush hour traffic jam. Now, Bill and I have never attended the Cal-Trans lane reduction class. And we have only two boxes of flares. We throw out a bunch of flares and traffic begins to brake sharply and swerve to avoid a bigger traffic collision.
We suddenly feared for our lives. After a few near misses, we abandon our plan and exit the freeway. We get back to the overturned semi and just when we think things can’t get worse we notice that the truck load is again starting to smoke.
Of course, the fire department again responds and now Cahuenga Boulevard is completely blocked. The good citizens of Hollywood have abandoned the strawberry picking season. I heard the freeway was backed up to the Canadian border.
Ok, maybe that was an exaggeration, but it was a mess. We figured that was the problem of the California Highway Patrol. Bill and I disappeared and made a bee line to Winchell’s.
More irony: The sights, smells, sounds of police work
How do cops deal with the irony of police work, the sights, sounds and smells of police work? [This will also apply to all first responders, fire personnel, EMT and some hospital staff.] We all deal with horrific sights in our own manner and I’m going to describe just a few of the ways. I’m not an expert or have any type of psychology training but I am a product of my environment. For thirty-five years I’ve seen things that would make Edgar Allan Poe cringe, and he was crazy!
I’ve seen countless homicides, suicides, traffic accidents and way too many natural deaths with delayed discoveries. The sights are the hardest to forget but more on that later. The easy ones are the sounds. Huh, what sounds? Have you ever heard the crash of a major traffic collision that happens right in front of you? Have you ever heard the thud of a body hitting the ground from a four story jump? Have you ever heard a person take their last gasp of air? The cry of a mother as she holds her dead child (SIDS) will never leave you!
Smells: Have you ever smelled a long decomposing body? It’s an odor that you’ll never forget, or get used to. I was once in a deadly four-story apartment building fire. Some of the tenants jumped from their windows to escape the fire. For years after I associated the smell of smoke with their deaths. Any fireman and some cops can tell you about the reek of burned human flesh.
And last, on a lighter note, the smell of fresh dog shit that your probationer stepped in and then spread on the inside of the floorboard of you police car? That’s a trip to the police garage to hose out the floorboard. My wife says I’ve lost my sense of smell.
I think of it as evolution.
Come back next Sunday, May 29th for more cop irony from Hal Collier.
You rarely read anything about them in the crime novels and mystery books. They don’t show up on any of the police television shows whether fictional ones like “CSI” or reality series like “Cops”. I am talking about a dedicated group of men and women who volunteer their time to train and work as police officers; the Police Reserves. In many departments, the Reserves are an integral part of the patrol force with their own chain of command, organized training and such. However, in other departments, Reserves are thought of as second class officers to be assigned those menial tasks that the “regular” officers find distasteful, such as booking, transporting prisoners, traffic duty and such.
My experience with reserves
This is about my experience with one particular reserve officer back in early 1980’s when I started with the Petaluma Police Department.
One of the things I learned early in my field training program was that the department regularly beefed up the patrol force numbers, most usually on the weekends when activity and calls for service were the busiest, with our Reserve Police Officers. Back then, we had three levels of reserve officers, each level based upon their training which then determined what duties they could perform. Level One Reserve Officers had to complete the same training as a regular police officer set forth by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). While they were capable of working alone, the number of patrol vehicles available would more often than not dictate that they would double up with a full time, “regular” officer. They were a great asset to the department but unfortunately there were those officers and sergeants that considered them to be something less than “real” police officers, treating them diffidently.
Getting to know you…
I first got to know my eventual reserve partner, Tim Aboudara, while I was working the Graveyard Shift, shortly after completing my field training. I was just thrilled to be done with training and on my own. I say my own as we most usually worked with a single officer assigned to a beat and patrol car.
On this particular night, I had responded to a report of a disturbance outside one of the bars downtown. When I got there, I saw Tim trying to talk to an obviously inebriated man. The “gentleman” was loud, obnoxious and seemed on the verge of being combative. Tim had just told him, “You have until I count to three to go with your friends and leave or I’m taking you to jail for public intoxication.”
As Tim started to count, the guy became even more verbally abusive and began to curse at him. My only thought was, “Hey, he can’t talk to one of our Reserve Officers like that.” What can I say? I was new and fired up to make the streets safe for all the good citizens of Petaluma. By the time Tim had reached the count of “two”, I had seen and heard enough; I dashed in, handcuffed him and had him on the way to my car.
As he would later tell people, “Before I had reached the count of three, this short cop came out of nowhere, cuffed the drunk and had him in the back of his patrol car.”
To paraphrase the ending of the movie “Casablanca”, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It wasn’t long after that little introduction that we occasionally started to work together as car partners. Despite some of the disparaging remarks I had heard other “regular” officers make about the “Reserves”, I always found Tim, who had several more years of police experience than I did, eager and willing to share what he knew about police work. He was never condescending to me, the “rookie”, as were some of the more veteran officers. Though from differing backgrounds, our personalities meshed together like finely crafted Swiss watch gears. We really began to forge a bond as partners after I was assigned to be the Swing Shift Traffic Unit, regularly working together either Friday or Saturday night and sometimes both. I took it as a complement, that Tim would ask to work with me.
Thanks to George Lucas filming major portions of his movie “American Graffiti” in Petaluma, our little hamlet became a major destination for “cruisers” throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Traffic would be bumper to bumper for several miles in both directions along the main boulevard that ran through the center of downtown and with it came all the inherent problems that come with youthful exuberance. In addition to the obvious traffic congestion, there was loud music blaring from cars, verbal and physical fights, traffic accidents, a host of vehicle code violations, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages and less frequently, drugs.
In those early days, Tim and I would spend what quiet time we had early in the shift reviewing the vehicle code to develop an expertise in spotting hazardous violations that could lead to accidents. We also looked for those less obvious violations that would prove to be useful in keeping other problems from arising, such as impeding the flow of traffic or hang out the window of a car.
Streamlining the process
It wasn’t long before we worked nights where we sometimes wrote as many as fifty citations for serious moving violations and sometimes those not so serious. We also became proficient at detecting and apprehending drunk drivers. Working together, we found ways to streamline the process so that we could reduce our time off the streets. As I received more advanced training in traffic accident investigation and reconstruction, I passed it along to Tim as we worked collision cases together. When working major accidents, we again came up with ways to streamline those investigations, freeing up other officers, ourselves and traffic sooner. Many sergeants and officers came to consider Tim knowledgeable enough in traffic matters, that they would often assign him to work as the traffic unit on those nights he happened to work and I was on a day off.
The more we worked together, the more we came to know one and others mannerism, body language and officer safety tactics. I felt comfortable enough working with Tim whether I was driving or sitting in the passenger seat. We knew we had each other’s back regardless of the situation. It’s no exaggeration to say that we trusted each other with our lives. That is the nature of a really good police partnership. Still, I was often questioned by other officers if I was really comfortable trusting my safety to a “reserve”.
I was, without any reservations ever.
Part 2 will appear next Sunday evening. Join Gerry and Tim in the conclusion of “Just a Reserve” and see both light-hearted antics and life or death events they would go through together.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted
in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving
active duty in 1979, he worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
From 1980 until his retirement in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer
at Petaluma Police Department.
He’s married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.