Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The mystery of the six-toed intruder

Everyone likes a good mystery, don't you think? Even if it can't be solved, there seems to be a certain pleasure in the wondering. Perhaps that's why Big Foot, aliens, and the Loch Ness Monster appeal - not because we expect to find them, but because we like to wonder, to consider the intriguing possibility that there are mysteries out there. . .

So here's one: yesterday morning I took the kids to summer camp. My littlest pointed out footprints on the windshield, prints that belonged to either a child or a 'little person.' Now, we have plenty of children in our neighborhood and no little people (that I've seen, anyway) but all three of mine denied knowledge of the print-leaver. They said they hadn't done it, and didn't know who had. And because of the way the conversation unfolded, I believed them.

And for another reason: none of my kids has six toes.

That's right. One of the prints very clearly left six toe smudges. I didn't spot this until I was driving but the kids will back me up. Six toes on one of the feet, the left I think.

So what happened, somehow, was that during the night a six-toed person with tiny feet crept into my closed and locked garage and climbed onto my car for no apparent reason.

Henry suggested maybe the intruder had five toes and one shifted a bit, leaving an impression of six, but such practical-minded nonsense was dismissed by me and my two girls.

After all, in a world needing intriguing mysteries, six toes will always be better than five.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A night of variety

It strikes me that while I've talked about my riding along with the police, I've not really given a comprehensive picture of what an evening looks like.  So here's last night for you.

It starts at about 5:00 p.m., I've finished a regular day's work at the juvenile court and swing by a local coffee shop for dinner: a sandwich, a pastry, and coffee.  I get to the east sub station around 5:30 and if I've called the Lt. ahead of time, my ride is on his way.  Sometimes he's even waiting, but I never have to wait long. 

My officer last night was Andy, I've ridden with him once before and we get on great.  Which is why, when he pulled up, I told him I was disappointed.

"Why?" he asked.
"I expected a limo this time."
He gestured to the front seat of his car.  "This is it, APD's finest."

He gives me a rundown of his day so far (he's been on duty since 2 p.m.) and said it's been pretty quiet.  I look at his laptop, which shows all the incoming calls, and we head to a house because a father has reported his son as a runaway.  Not just any runaway, the kid has a pending burglary charge and he's cut off his GPS ankle monitor.  Another officer is at the house and we establish that the boy is with his mother, and she eventually shows up with him.  He's angry, defiant, and winds up being detained for criminal mischief (damaging the monitor). 

That call takes more than an hour and we head out to several other calls, getting diverted each time because another patrol unit is closer or because whatever crisis once existed no longer does.  We respond to one house, though, disturbing a family during dinner time, all of them surprised to see us.  One of their little ones, as it turns out, dialed 911 as a lark.  Oops.

Then out to Decker Lake.  A man fishing with his wife and son calls because two men, he thinks they are drunk, are screaming obscenities at him on the water and he's worried for his family.  There's no crime really but Andy and another officer talk to the two men, who seem irritated but sober, and they deny shouting and screaming.  Andy then has a chat with the little boy, aged maybe 7, to reassure him that all's well, he needn't be afraid of coming back here to fish.  The parents appear to appreciate this gesture and we linger on scene because it turns out the two men and the family are tying up their boats right next to each other.  "Everyone seems cool," Andy says, "but you never know."

It seems like a quiet night, not any outstanding calls, so we set up to catch speeders.  After ten minutes we laugh and joke a little, because everyone's abiding by the 30 m.p.h limit, or close enough.  Until someone comes zipping along at 50 and off we go.

"I'm late for a concert," she explains.
"You sure are now," Andy tells her, but he's nice about it.

We take a quick break for food at about 9:45 p.m., I buy him a burger and fries at Players and we meet up with another officer.  We recognize each other immediately, he'd been my first witness in a murder trial two years ago, and so we talk a little about the case.

The last call of the night is an attempted suicide.  A woman has taken way too many Xanax pills, enough to knock out a horse and she's tiny.  We get there moments before EMS and she's flat out on the bed, I wonder if we're too late.  But the paramedics get a response, and she is taken off to hospital.  No real involvement for Andy or the other officers on scene but as with everything there's paperwork, a report that has to be written.  They guys spend a lot of time writing reports and one thing I can do is make them understand how much we, as prosecutors, appreciate a thorough account of events.  No doubt that makes them feel much better. . .

We're on the way back to the station, to my car, when we see a unit pull someone over, and in this part of town, especially at night, units double up for traffic stops.  We're tired but we're also right there.  Andy looks over and I say, "Sure, of course."  The stop doesn't take long, thankfully, and I'm on my way by 11:45, home soon after midnight.

Those are the highlights, such as they are, but all the time these guys are busy, running license plates, watching for drivers who have eluded officers in other sectors, keeping eyes peeled for suspects who've assaulted or robbed other people (often the description is nothing more than, "white male, 30s, black shorts," or "black male, red cap, white t-shirt"). 

Always something, so even if this doesn't look like much, it is.  The thanks of that father because Andy spoke to his son is meager gruel to get a cop through his evening, but it's gruel enough.  And a lot more exciting than sitting behind a desk all day. 

Although I've yet to be offered a donut and, somehow, I just don't feel like asking.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

He tried to kill us. Poor guy.

It happened just yesterday, and it happened in a split second: a man tried to kill us.

We were in Dallas, driving back from breakfast and thank God just my wife and I were in the car, the kids at their cousins' house.  In the right lane of three, doing maybe 35mph.  An SUV raced up next to us, pulled ahead by a couple of feet and I heard my wife say something, I don't recall what.  I looked over at the driver, his face contorted with rage, screaming something at us.  I couldn't hear, my window was up, but for two seconds he was yelling in fury.

And then he tried to kill us.  His vehicle swerved into our lane and my first response was to swerve the same way, to ride the curb and avoid him.  A flash of anger lasted a micro-second, one that wanted me to slam my car (slightly larger, but not much) into his, not to give way but instead I bumped over the curb and braked. 

The side of his vehicle tore against ours, the impact and sound shocking, but not as shocking as the fact this was happening.   I stopped our car but he kept going, not back into the road but on the same trajectory he'd launched himself at us, diagonally.  His car rocketed up a slope and smashed through a row of shrubs, then cut the corner of an empty parking lot and kept going, on through another row of shrubs and trees, greenery and branches flying. 

I was out of the car and running when I heard the crash, the front of his SUV ramming into a low brick building, someone's offices.

A guy named Brandon was running, too, a shaved-headed, tattooed young man who'd been hanging a sign in front of the furniture store across the street.  He'd looked up after the man hit us, seen his car careen out of control into the building.  A nice guy, he wanted to help.

I wanted to make sure the bastard didn't get away.

And he didn't.  When Brandon and I got to him, his vehicle was burning.  Smoke poured from behind the dash into the car and the man sat there, blood running down his face, stunned, motionless.   We coaxed and pulled him out, "Come on, Bubba," Brandon kept saying, "your car's on fire, you have to get out.  Come on, Bubba, let's go."  Finally, slowly, looking confused, the man went with us, moved away from his car and sat on the curb.  He never said one word.

Behind us, the sirens came.  My wife had called 911 and in two minutes, less even, a cop was there, whether by lucky happenstance or by efficient response we never found out.  The firemen and EMS showed up, too, and a second police car.

We gave brief statements, the Addison cops were old hands and knew how to keep victims of accidents, or crime, calm.  (And weirdly, that's all I ever felt: calm.  We were unhurt but a man had tried to run us off the road, and not then or later did I get jittery or shaky.  Go figure.)

We wanted to know why, of course, my wife and I.  The cops did, too.  I wanted him charged with intoxication assault, maybe aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  Hell, charge the sonofabitch with attempted murder, isn't that what he did?

Turns out, no.  Did you read about the weird incident with the commerce secretary a week ago?  He had a seizure, or two, while driving, and during them he hit the same car twice.  It was investigated as a felony crime but it looks like it was a medical problem.  Same thing with us, apparently.  The EMS people arrived at that conclusion quickly, I guess they had access to his history, or maybe they were just magic.  They told us he'd almost certainly had an epileptic fit, his non-responsive and catatonic demeanor as we pulled him from the car further evidence of it, maybe.

How messed up is that?  A guy tried to kill us, I saw it in his face, the fury in his eyes, and he probably had no idea he was doing it.  It's both scary and reassuring at the same time.

And just like in Hollywood, all's well that ends well.  Our car is in better shape than we'd thought.  The photo barely shows anything (trust me, the whole side is scraped up).

We'll drive it back to Austin today, kids aboard and well under the speed limit, I expect.  The man had insurance so it won't really cost us much.  And perhaps the biggest relief of all was that he hit us in our big car, not in my small Saab with the little ones aboard, not an old lady in her Corolla, not a weekend motorcyclist, and not some kid on a bicycle.

Makes me glad I helped get him out of that car, I guess.  Hopefully he'll be fine, too.  And maybe give up driving for a decade or so.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Oh Canada, you're killing me!

Warning: this post contains black humor. The author does not find actual murder funny. He does, however, relieve the agony of all criminality with humor. And if you've not figured that out yet, you're either new to the blog (welcome!) or . . . well. New to the blog.

You've been warned. . .

Canada, you have a reputation. You're the girl we show to our mothers, or marry when we're 35. You're not the girl wearing short skirts and fending off our grubby, desperate approaches, because we know you're not like that. Good for you.

But sometimes you might want to think about letting go a little, exhibiting some flair and flash. Show a little leg. I mean, your national sport is one in which we can't see even the object the players are hitting. Your national food is a topping, a syrup, not even the main event. You don't even touch any of the interesting U.S. states. Mexico jostles with Texas and California, you have Washington and a Dakota (North, I'd guess, but who cares?). You don't even make it to Wisconsin.

And now look what you've done.

You have one of the most interesting murderers in a decade, and you screw that up, too. He's a cross-dressing, media-whoring, victim-chopping, parts-mailing, police-fleeing porn star. And, of course, like every newsworthy (alleged) murderer he needs a punchy nickname for the TV and newspapers. My goodness, with all that he's done, with all that he is, anyone with any imagination could come up with half-a-dozen names for him.

Except you, Canadians, apparently.

Your best effort: "Psycho Killer."

Yes, I know it comes from a song, but seriously? That's the kind of name that (1) any serial killer could have, and (2) my kids would come up with. Psycho Killer? How about Bad Meanie Pants? Nasty Life-Stealer?

I happen to know you have people who can do better. One of my favorite authors, Jennifer Hillier has a delightfully twisted, creepy-fueled imagination. She could do better in a moment. A sleeping moment.

So, Canada, I'm going to let you back up and try again.

And no, I'm not going to help with suggestions. He's your psycho killer, you get to name him. Just do it properly this time.

Friday, June 8, 2012

In case you've missed me this week . . .

. . . this is where I've been:

A Travis County jury returned just before 4 p.m. today with a guilty verdict in the capital murder case against Jorge Gutierrez, who is accused of killing two stepbrothers.

More here.

Now to head home and enjoy a work-free weekend with the family.