Call of Duty
Deputies, firefighters are
devoted to their callings
November 04, 2009
Editor's note: The following is another in a series of columns by Doug Hunter as he rides along with deputies from the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication.
The night of October 24 starts out hectic for newly hired Deputy 257. Just as the shift briefing begins he's sent out to assist Deputy 254 investigate a medical D.O.A.—Dead on Arrival— at the scene. A son had found his father on the floor of the elderly man's home unresponsive and not breathing. Deputy 257 had been dispatched to scrutinize the home for anything but natural causes that brought about the death of the older man.
Freshly hired, the 6'4'' "kid'' as he's affectionately called by his comrades in brown was as enthusiastic and dedicated as any veteran on the force I had met. With a smile that goes from ear to ear he tells me how happy and proud he is to be a deputy sheriff and what that uniform and badge means to him when he picks me up at 6:30 p.m.
Just out of training and finally being alone in the cruiser is a milestone, he tells me exuberantly. Little did we know how he would be tested this night. Validated by circumstances beyond his control, the ultimate examination of his training and pertinacity are mere hours away.
A voice comes over the radio clear and concise before we leave the headquarters, "257 assist 247 at location. Domestic violence in progress. Caller interrupted on telephone." Racing to the site the deputies quickly form an assault strategy. In seconds 247 knocks on the front door as Deputy 257 covers the side and rear exits.
An upset woman answers the door and he blurts out, "Dead bolt the doors and stay inside.''
From outside the garage the deputy shouts, "Sheriff department. Come out, we need to talk to you!'' Silence. After several attempts the deputies shine their flashlights through the lone window. The single room is vacant, other than a pickup parked inside. Cautiously they open the door and turn on the lights.
Without speaking they circle the vehicle from either side. Peering into the cab 257 notices two shotguns on the seat. They exit the building and return to the house. As they knock, the woman quickly opens the door and says, "He is walking on the road. He just called me.'' The deputies immediately call the suspect on his cell phone.
He answers and agrees to come back and answer some questions. Within minutes a man approaches the house.
After being questioned and admitting to previous acts of domestic violence he is arrested, read his Miranda rights and transported to jail.
As we leave the jail the dispatcher calls again "Domestic violence. Assist state police at address on computer.'' Then a startling revelation comes across. "22-year-old female missing. May be held at address.'' Deputy 257 responds accordingly. The white lines on the highway become a solid streak as the interceptor is pushed to the max.
Within seconds two state troopers arrive. Like a well-oiled machine the state troopers and deputy 257 secure the area and go up to the door.
Repeatedly they knock. Finally a woman answers and says she doesn't know of a missing girl and had never heard the name before, all the while claiming she is alone and no one else is there to call 911.
Deputy 257 drops back, calls dispatch to check the address and telephone number. Seconds later they confirm both are correct. Trooper One spots another individual inside. The woman was lying.
Deputy 257 says, "You are lying. Who is that other person?'' "Oh, that's my daughter,'' she says. Deputy 257 asks for permission to enter the house. "Sure,'' she responds, adding that there's nobody else there. Like gangbusters the deputy and troopers are inside. I watch from the door as they quickly find three others, two men and a woman, but no 22-year-old female.
After continual questioning, the woman and one man admit the girl was there but left on her own volition with a man. Forwarding the name, dispatch sends it to the Detroit suburb the young woman is missing from. As the clock ticks past midnight Deputy 257 makes contact with Officer 258 for the prearranged switch that I am to make from one car to another. Deputy 258 is a 10 year veteran of the department and had just recently returned from the DTF—Drug Task Force. We meet up at 12:30 a.m. in Fort Gratiot Twp.
Deputy 258 can best be described as affable and gregarious. A character admired by others in the department for his aggressive yet politically correct actions during chaotic events.
The conversation soon turns to a recent drug bust he was involved in and I had heard about. The radio calls out for car 257 to investigate an automobile fire on Capac Road just north of Turner Road. A motorist had called after coming upon the fire minutes earlier.
Central dispatch also reports that the Mussey Twp. Fire Department had been alerted at 12:56 a.m. and that officers from Capac's Police Department were not on duty this night to assist.
The radio goes silent as I quiz 258 on the large drug bust and how it went down. The radio again stops our discussion cold. Asst. Chief Bill Stoutenburg of the Mussey Twp. Fire Department is on the scene and no one from the vehicle is present. Astonished, I look at the clock on my cell phone. It reads 1:04 a.m. In only eight minutes they are on site. Incredible when you know 10 minutes earlier they were sound asleep.
At 1:10 a.m. the next report comes across, "Fire engine with full contingent of volunteers on scene.'' Mussey Twp. Fire Chief also reports no individuals on site, only the 911 caller. In a somber tone much unlike the previous conversation deputy 258 says, "This is not looking good. I think we are about to go to Capac.''
Within seconds the call comes across loud and clear "258 assist 257. Possible fatality.'' The words out of the deputy's mouth are from experience. "I had a bad feeling about this call from the beginning. I hope I'm wrong.''
With lights flashing and siren wailing we leave Fort Gratiot Township for the long but quick ride to Lynn Township. Cars and trucks yield as we move at race track speeds.
Deputy 257 reports back, "On scene. Operator not found and searching area. Automobile is an inferno. Tree also on fire on site.''
The tires squeal as we turn onto Capac Rd. from I-69. Looking at the clock I realize that we made the trip in 15 minutes.
257 calls and tells 258 to block the south end of scene as he blocks north end, also no sign of the driver.
The scene is surreal as we arrive. The fire is still raging as Mussey Twp. firefighters apply foam and water to the inferno. Smoke fills the air as the firefighters battle, wearing their self contained breathing apparatuses.
Deputy 257 scours the ditches looking for the driver or passengers with his flashlight. Deputy 258 hands me a flashlight and tells me to help in their quest.
Slowly the intense fire starts to succumb from the profound attack from the Mussey firefighters. Approaching the still smoldering vehicle Fire Capt. Joe Nemecek reports to the deputies "There is at least one victim in vehicle.''
With fire still flaring up from a leaking fuel tank firefighters continue to douse the vehicle. The fire had at one time exceeded 1,600 degrees. Deputy 257 approaches the vehicle and gets the license plate number and calls it in.
An eerie quiet seems to engulf the scene as the name and address comes across the radio. A look of horror runs across Deputy 257's face. Shortly thereafter I learn why. The car is registered to a schoolmate and football teammate of his from Brown City. A longtime friend. Later I also learn the victim was a friend to many of the firefighters.
Hearts are heavy as 257, 258 and Mussey's finest go about their task this gruesome night. The angst of the tragedy only solidifies my opinion of them. They are special individuals and garner a respect and admiration that few will ever achieve.
Lt. Dedenbach and Deputy 259 and an accident scene investigator arrive. The lieutenant, a man of great integrity and compassion, takes control alongside Fire Chief Don Standel. Lighting centers, Jaws of Life, and other equipment are set up awaiting the medical examiner.
Upon his arrival and under his direction Captain Joe Nemecek, Lieutenants Sean Kriesch and Rob Kruger and other firefighters began disassembling the vehicle with the Jaws of Life and miscellaneous saws and other tools of their trade.
Assistant medical examiner Ray Stone, alongside deputies 257 and 258 supported by firefighters begins the extraction of the lone occupant. They meticulously and with reverence remove the remains of the occupant with a dignity few I hope will ever witness.
The ever compassionate Lt. Dedenbach understands the complexities of the situation. He asks Deputy 257 "if he is up to the task of notifying the family.'' His reply is short and concise. "Yes sir. That's my job.''
Deputy 257 is a model of decency and sets a standard for the future we must strive for.
To the Mussey Township Fire Department—the pattern of your actions under stress gives nothing less than total and complete honor to your calling. You are the best of the best.
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