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Columns : In My Sights

Ode to the Belt

I walked away from a horrendous patrol car crash thanks to luck and buckling up.

March 21, 2014  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I once had the distinct displeasure of meeting a cow on US 160 in the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. The female bovine did not survive the meeting, which left my patrol vehicle smashed and filled with manure. As I crawled out the window of my totaled Chevy Impala almost entirely covered in fresh fertilizer, the citizens who crowded around my vehicle were as shocked as I that, while suffering deep humiliation, I was otherwise unscathed.

Over the years I have often reflected on the entire sensation of the collision and on the effect fear has on one's perception of events and time. On that day, in slow motion, my hood raced up to the windscreen and the massive rear end of the future road kill crashed through my driver's side window, spraying great gobs of green.

I remember hunkering down at the last second and bracing my arms on the steering wheel as the event unfolded in a few terrifying seconds. I recall having an odd random thought that this must be like when a grenade goes off under your hood.

The cow skidded down the far emergency lane, and my vehicle creaked and scraped down the other. I couldn't see out of my windshield due to the now obstructing hood and my vehicle was still moving. Worse, just before the twilight-darkened impact I remembered seeing headlights that had blinded me to the rapidly approaching cow. I slammed on the now stiff brakes and my Chevy ground loudly to a stop, steaming and groaning while I waited for the impact of some approaching vehicle.

Twisting out of the wreck, I could see vehicles stopping all around me. I found my only working radio was the Navajo DPS one, so I promptly asked Shiprock to notify Flagstaff of my "incident" and get units en route. After shocking the bystanders with my dramatic exit from the ruined vehicle I immediately sent one citizen to set up flares in both directions while I returned to the vehicle to dig out my flashlight. Leaning in, I was stunned by how plastic the nature of our vehicles are when struck so violently. And yet miraculously I had been uninjured as things bent around and bowels voided upon me.

I waited for responding units, got traffic moving, and guided folks on their way through the debris field of my little adventure. Our squad had been set to rendezvous in Chile at a Tribal Rodeo and Dance anticipating bootleggers and DUIs. Therefore, it wasn't a big surprise when, shortly after starting my poop-soiled traffic control, my sergeant pulled up beside me.

Looking at my vehicle, the flare-illuminated cow, and then at my oddly green stained uniform, McNeff shook his head, laughed, and said, "Only you, Smith!" Only me? I didn't put that stupid cow there and I was feeling a little grossed out by the strange gooey feeling permeating my uniform; I could have used a little sympathy.

But McNeff's way was the way of the comedian and so jokes became the order of the day and I was not allowed to have a pity party. Later my co-workers made me a silver crash helmet with a propeller on top and thought "Crash" would make a great nickname for me.

At the scene the good sergeant was a quip a minute as he noted the amount and freshness of the manure and he mused about all the damage on the driver's side and none on the driver. He did a great job of making a deeply violent and unusual event seem very normal and somewhat amusing, and that kept me from worrying about blame or mortality. It "wasn't open range," he reminded a fellow who mused the dead cow might belong to him and could require a large compensation to replace.

"If it's yours we will need your information and have to find out how it got on the highway," McNeff said with the authority of a fellow who actually graduated from law school but followed the warrior's path. The man decided upon further reflection that it was, in fact, not his cow, and we never did find out who actually owned the beast.

A month later I was teaching PT and DT in the academy. But I will never forget Sgt. McNeff's words that night as we were walking to get in his vehicle to head back to my trailer. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Thank God you were wearing your seat belt!"

"Amen," was all I could say. 

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

Tags: Police Vehicle Accidents, In My Sights


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Tom Galloway @ 3/21/2014 4:35 PM

Hello Dave Smith, good to see you're still going strong since our LETN days. Would love to visit and catch up sometime!

Ima Leprechaun @ 4/27/2014 6:01 AM

Good Job Dave. I took an accident report one very dark night where a young man in a Chevy Vega had struck a black horse. Upon arrival I too found a new dimension to the situation. For reasons unknown, the driver of the car was wearing a baseball helmet. He was going home from baseball practice and was still wearing his batting helmet. When the driver struck the horse, the horse went straight up and landed on the roof of his car smashing it to just below the top of the doors. The driver had scrunched down as the horse hit. Thankfully for the driver his batting helmet saved him from any head injuries. As it turned out the driver had only minor injuries but he was in shock so I had the medics take him in anyway just to be safe and just in case he had some internal injury since the crash was so violent. Fortunately, the driver was doing under the speed limit. The horse on the other hand did not fair so well. This crash happened right in front of a local judge's home and it was in fact one of his horses. The problem here was there were over fifty attorneys extremely intoxicated at a party at the judges house and two of these attorney's had let the horse out of the corral so they could play with him. Drunk attorney's what could possibly go wrong. Once they had played with the horse they could not get him back into the pen so they just left him standing there and went back into the house. The horse wandered out into the roadway and was actually standing in the left lane of a four lane road. The location of the crash was also on a curve which rendered the black horse at night nearly invisible. I had to call a local vet to the scene which he put the horse out of its misery since the injuries to the horse were substantial and it was dying. The horse was moved to the ditch at the right of way next to the road by a tow truck since the horse weighed two tons. The Vega was totaled and thankfully the driver only received minor injuries.

Ima Leprechaun @ 4/27/2014 6:06 AM

I ran out of text:
Under Ohio Law the owner of the horse is responsible for this accident and he was liable for all damages and injuries to the car and the driver. His Honor did pay for the accident. There were no criminal charges filed since the two suspects had lawyered up at the scene and would not tell anyone but the owner of the horse what happened and anything I was told was hearsay from his Honor. But it filled in certain gaps. The driver of the car got a new car and his injuries were gone by the next day. The horse on the other hand laid in the ditch for one week. This accident happened in July. We received many complaints about the smell of the dead horse but its owner refused to have it removed so we had it removed for him at his expense. You just never know what you will find until you get there. Thankfully no humans were killed but the horse did perish. I have met you personally too and the Police on here probably do not know that you also narrate an entire training program for Security Officer Training. I have been retired for 14 years and I took a try at Security as a retirement job and there you were on their training tapes. Thanks Dave!

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