Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Recently, I received a pleasant surprise in the form of an e-mail from Hank Sherwood, one of the Team Four officers who had worked the beat next to mine at Tucson PD. Since Team Four had its own special station on the far Eastside and Teams One, Two, and my Team Three were stationed downtown, we only saw Eastside folks on mostly fun calls like fights, chases, and shots fired. Just seeing his name brought back fond memories.
As my beat was on the frontier between these two universes, I had more chances than most to work with the Eastsiders, backing each other up regularly. That was how I first met Sherwood, backing him up on an accident call involving a drunk driver acting belligerently.
Upon arriving, it was obvious Sherwood had a good call going as the drunk had driven through a service station and crashed into a wall. Sherwood had the driver's door open and was commanding the fellow out of the car and the driver was replying with a marvelously complete vocabulary of vulgarities implying all sorts of acts to be performed on the Eastsider.
As I walked up, Sherwood looked at me and said, "You take his head, I'll go in the other side." So as he went around and opened the passenger door, I politely told the drunken SOB to get out. The disheveled fellow just locked his hands on the wheel and proceeded to describe acts to be performed on me this time.
Pinning his hands with my left, I reached around his head and grabbed his chin. With Sherwood breaking the drunk's hold on the wheel and pushing as I twisted his head (the driver's, not Sherwood's) and pulled, the drunk spilled out and immediately went from rigid to fully alive and active...The rodeo was on!
Several intense seconds later we had the fellow cuffed and on the ground. As soon as the threat was controlled, Sherwood and I began searching the apparent drunk; something wasn't right. He hadn't felt right, smelled right, or acted right. He was cold and sweaty, stinky, and violent...but only until controlled and then everything just stopped. After several seconds, Sherwood found the answer on a chain around the driver's neck: a medical alert. The fellow was a diabetic.
Just a few minutes later the guy was apologizing for fighting and cursing and crashing; he was totally recovered...well, almost totally. Sherwood and I were amazed at how hard it was to tell drunk from diabetic, and thank God we noticed it and got the paramedics there ASAP.
Two weeks later, I was sitting with Sgt. Davis at our favorite restaurant talking about what a jumping night we had going. He was bragging about how Team Two was a happening place and I was touting the crazy things happening Midtown. As we sat, both facing the entrance, we watched amazed as a sedan went Southbound on Campbell, rolling sideways, over and over and over again. It was a NASCAR moment without a number on the car.
As we raced out of the restaurant, the car came to rest driver's side down facing us. Sarge already had fire and other units en route and as I climbed up and looked down into the car I could see the driver was conscious and attempting to get to his feet, quite obviously drunk. Pulling the fellow from his smashed car, I felt the same clamminess, smelled the same weird sweetness I had encountered at Sherwood's call and I asked, "Are you a diabetic?"
"Yep," replied the obviously impaired fellow, "and I am starving." In fact, he wasn't only hungry, he was potentially dying. After the paramedics gave him intense medical treatment in the form of a candy bar, he advised he was an accountant and as it was tax time he had put off eating to get some last minute returns done late into the night. If he hadn't made it to his car his janitor might have found his body in the morning.
All this came back to me in a rush as I answered Team Four Sherwood's e-mail. These were the only diabetic crashes I ever handled and they were two weeks apart. What are the odds? But then it did teach me things aren't always as they appear and not all drunks are created equal.
Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.