An Extra Pair of Eyes: Adventures of the Sheriff's Department Senior Volunteer Patrol
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by Carlene Rae Dater
Description: The stories in this book will introduce you to a side of police work you've never seen, and a group of heroes you've never met. EYES puts the reader in the front seat of a police unit, lets us experience some of the drama, the danger and the joy of volunteers helping law enforcement in all kinds of situations.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2010 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: January 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [174 KB]
Reading time: 116-162 min.
Code 245 Assault with a Deadly Weapon
The portable radio on my belt crackled to life at 9:22 AM on March 5, 2001. Code 245 shots fired at Santana High School. Repeat code 245 Santana High School. All units respond. Break for ET. When the dispatchers declare ET, emergency traffic, no one talks on the radio until the emergency is over. My partner and I looked at one another in stunned disbelief. The unthinkable had happened. A school shooting had occurred in our peaceful little town.
After a quiet morning, Arnie Hanson, my partner for the day and I had stopped for morning coffee during our patrol of Lakeside, California, the town adjacent to Santee. We try to carry on the traditions of law enforcement whenever possible by eating our share of donuts.
Arnie stood listening to the radio with a doughnut suspended half way to his mouth. I felt my coffee slosh over the side of its paper cup onto my hand as I trembled.
"I'm 97, 10-97 is the code that tells the dispatcher the officer has arrived on scene, Officer Al Parris shouted into the microphone. "I see injured but am pinned down by crossfire. Send EMS Medical Services.)" The sound of gunfire in the background sent chills down my spine.
Within seconds, officers from all over the area, Sheriffs' deputies, California Highway Patrol Officers (CHP) and San Diego Police Department began calling in, advising they were en route.
"EMS units en route," the dispatcher replied to Officer Parris. "What's your 20, location?"
"I'm in the main quad area near the boy's bathroom. I'm with one of the injured and I have a pulse," Officer Parris said.
I tossed my coffee cup into the trash container and cursed my vivid imagination as pictures of bloody teenagers flashed through my mind. "Come on Arnie, let's go. They'll need our help."
I jumped into the passenger seat of our patrol car. By now I could hear sirens wailing all over the area. We fastened our seat belts and Arnie squealed out of the parking lot, heading for Santana. Within two blocks we saw a California Highway Patrol officer speed by code three, lights blazing and siren wailing. Arnie fell in to the rear of the squad car and followed behind it, through red lights and around traffic while I kept my fingers crossed that no one would get in our way on the busy two-lane streets.
Too soon I heard Officer Parris' voice on the car's radio. "I've lost the pulse." I choked back tears knowing a child had just died.
We arrived at the northern parameter at 9:40 AM. Arnie turned on our overhead flashing yellow light, and we jumped out of the car to help the patrol officer who was directing traffic. He had already set up barriers and had things pretty well under control.
"Thanks for coming so fast, guys; we can really use your help. Would you mind going up to the street north of Second Avenue and blocking it off so no one can get to the student parking?"
"Sure, no problem," I told him. I looked toward the school. The scene a block away in front of Santana High was like something out of a nightmare. Squad cars, fire trucks and EMS units had parked at odd angles all over the place. Red and blue bubble lights flashed, sirens blared and uniformed officers swarmed all over the area.
We hurried back to our car and drove up to the corner of Carreta Drive and Trigal Way north of the crime scene. Arnie pulled the car across the street to block it, and not a minute to soon. A stream of distraught parents rushed down Carreta Drive trying to get to their children.
"All units, students are being sent to the Round Table Pizza across from the school," the dispatcher advised.
"Please let me through." a woman with tears running down her face screamed. "My daughter is there."
"I'm sorry ma'am, no one is allowed into the area. All the students are massing at the Round Table Pizza in the Albertson's shopping center. Go over there."
"What's happening at the school?" a man asked. "Is anyone dead?" He had grass stains on his plaid Bermuda shorts and streaks of dirt on his T-shirt. "I've gotta find my son."
"I'm sorry sir; I have no information at this time. Please go to the shopping center, I'm sure there will be officers to help you." As I spoke I knew that at least one youngster was dead. I looked into those agonized faces and couldn't help but wonder, was it your child?
By 9:50 we heard on the radio the perpetrator was in custody, a mere half-hour from when the first shots were fired. Great work by the Sheriff's Department deputies.
Several reporters and other members of the media tried to get by us to the crime scene. "I have to get in there to do my job," one man yelled at me while waving his press credentials in my face.
"Then you'll understand we're doing our job too. I can't let you through. Everyone is across the street from the school, and I'm sure they'll set up a media area." I waved him away and went on to the next person.
While the noise of the sirens had abated, now we had eight helicopters overhead. ASTREA, Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies), the Sheriff Department's helicopter, Medevac and six choppers from news stations. The Medevac chopper landed in the football field in preparation of taking the wounded to local hospitals.
At ten o'clock K-9 units were sent in to make sure there were no more shooters hiding on the premises and, more importantly, that all the injured had been found.
"All Ida units go to the real estate office on Magnolia for a briefing." In the phonetic alphabet the Sheriff's Department uses, I is for Ida, meaning investigative.
"What do you suppose they'll have to do first, Arnie?" Even though it was early March, the day was warm and getting warmer. A gentle breeze lifted my hair and dried some of the sweat pooled on my forehead. I knew we were in for a long haul so I got two bottles of water out of the trunk of the car. Because members of the patrol are often stuck on long assignments, we made sure to have some of the necessities. Among the emergency supplies we keep in the trunk are flares, a medical kit, traffic cones, and toys for kids, we always carry bottles of water. It may be warm, but it's wet. Too many times we're stuck outside on a hot day doing traffic control or searching for a lost child. The bottled water comes in handy and prevents dehydration.
"They'll have to interview all those kids," Arnie told me. Before retirement, Arnie, a quiet bear of a man who wears short pants year-round, was a school custodian. He always worries about the children. When I go on patrol with Arnie, I know we are going to drive through every school parking lot in our territory, making sure the kids are safe.
Things had started to calm down at our location so we could concentrate on the radio traffic. A dispatcher came on the air and said there were a dozen two-year-olds in a trailer at the back of the school property. The children were terrified by all the noise and confusion. Several officers escorted the group across the street, to a gas station at the corner of Mast Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue to keep them safe until their parents could pick them up. They walked in a line, the little ones holding hands, the officers huge in comparison, protecting them from harm.
We heard deputies report on the radio, as one by one, the classrooms in Santana were cleared. At 10:20 I glanced over the top of our patrol car and saw armed SWAT officers with guns drawn walking across the roof of the school. At the same time I heard a car and turned to see a woman trying to drive down the street in spite of the fact there was a car blocking her way.
"I'm sorry ma'am, you can't go down there." I told her.
"Why," she asked, "I have to go shopping."
"I can't let you down this street, ma'am, it's a crime scene. Now please turn around."
"But, I have to go shopping," she said again. "What's happening down there?"
Unbelievable. Now I know why they don't let us carry guns. "Maybe you should turn on your radio. Now please turn around and go back the way you came." To this day I can't imagine why the woman didn't have a clue. The helicopters were circling above us, sirens wailed and the sound of voices carried to me from the mass of people across from the school. Both Arnie and I were relieved when she finally gave up and left.
"All evidence techs and criminalists meet at the real estate office on Magnolia," the dispatcher said. It was 10:50 and I knew it would be a long time before any of them would go home. The entire school was a crime scene, and they'd have to go over the whole place searching for clues.
By now Arnie and I were able to sit on a low concrete wall while watching the street. Eventually, the area was quiet. The sun was getting hotter by the minute, so we both put on our hats and tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. Neither of us knew how long we'd be here and I was glad once again that I always carry an extra protein bar with me. With water and food, we'd be okay for a while.
An officer's voice blasted on the radio at 10:55. "A friend of the shooter's is talking to the media over by the Del Taco. Someone grab that kid and put him in the back of a patrol car." He didn't sound happy and I couldn't blame him. Any information leaked to the press at this time could prejudice a future criminal trial.
By 11:05 we had little to do, but knew we had to maintain our post until relieved. The bomb squad had gone into the school to x-ray a locker and backpack belonging to the perpetrator. Thank goodness they didn't find anything. One of the neighbor ladies walked over and asked if we needed a soft drink or water. She also thanked us for helping out during the difficult day.
We heard Jim Lyons, our administrator at the time, call Chuck Farmer and his partner Jake Cary off the main channel, asking if they needed relief. I realized he didn't know if we were at the crime scene or still in Lakeside.
The radio chatter had calmed considerably, and by 12:30 and I started to hear people calling in with their locations. The Communications Center always has to know where the Senior Patrol members are in case they need help. I keyed my microphone, identified myself and advised the dispatcher that we'd been 10-97, at the scene, since 9:30 a.m.
Jim called and asked if we needed relief and I said, "Soon, Jim, soon." Three hours in the sun drinking water was beginning to take its toll. My leg muscles were sore, my eyes gritty and I'd have to find a bathroom before long.
About one o'clock, the Communications Center called asking for help in directing traffic at West Hill High School at the other end of town. The school had been in lock down, students confined to their classes, since the shooting. Now authorities thought it was okay to release the kids. We hadn't seen anyone at our location for an hour or so and were ready to move in to help, but before I could radio in, the dispatcher advised that they had enough people.
I walked down the hill and talked to a deputy stationed outside the crime scene tape by the student parking lot. He told me it was okay to take off as most of the kids had gone home and the officers could handle traffic control from then on.
Arnie and I headed back to Station 50, the Santee substation, and were amazed when we pulled up. People from the media lined the locked gates both in front and in back of the building. Arnie put in the secret code to open the gate ... and nothing happened. After the third try, the gate rolled open. We found out later that someone inside deactivated the code and was monitoring the gates on a video screen inside the station. He didn't want anyone unauthorized in the building because they were interrogating the shooter inside. We tiptoed into our volunteer office and saw the door to the interview room was closed. My stomach curled in a knot. The alleged teenaged killer was right on the other side of that door.
Jim Lyons was in the office and when I asked if I could help with anything, he suggested I go to the front counter and assist Jeff Parker who'd been working there all day. I went to the front desk but, after chatting with Jeff for a half-hour, I realized he had things under control so I went home.
When my husband arrived and saw me glued to the front of the television he asked, "Did you have an exciting day?"
"Boy, did I. I joined the patrol to have some excitement, but this wasn't what I had in mind."
Even though we were only doing our duty, the Commander of Station 50 in Santee gave several members of the SVP, including myself, a special Certificate of Appreciation, signed by the Sheriff for working the day of the Santana shooting. I have mine hanging in a prominent place on the wall of my office.
What is it about Mondays?
I'd only been working on the patrol for eight months when I got called to the scene of another disaster on June 25, 2001.
Chuck Farmer, a retired Navy man, was in one of the first SVP classes and he has a lot of experience. I have found out working with different partners that everyone has a particular activity he or she likes to do. Some people like to patrol schools others shopping centers, while others enjoy cruising through neighborhoods. For some reason, Chuck is especially adept at spotting expired license plates and abandoned cars. When you go out on patrol with Chuck, you're almost assured of red tagging at least one vehicle for removal. Another thing he likes to do is walk through parks to check for graffiti, make sure no strangers are lurking around and say hi to kids playing in the park.
Chuck and I were out of our car and on foot patrol in Mast Park in Santee on that Monday. We had checked the rest rooms for graffiti and were busy handing out paper Junior Sheriff's badges and baseball cards to all the kids when my ears perked up.
At exactly 10:00 AM we heard a call on the radio there had been a plane crash in Lakeside. Gillespie Field in nearby El Cajon, California caters mostly to small aircraft so we both knew it was probably a small plane. Our assumptions were confirmed when the dispatcher said the pilot had radioed the tower that he had been having trouble breathing and was experiencing chest pains.
I looked toward Lakeside and was relieved not to see smoke. The hills all around were brown and dry from lack of rain and everyone fears fire.
"Let's wait a minute and see if they call us to come to the scene," Chuck said. "We're the only Senior Volunteer Patrol car out today and I hate to go over there if they don't need us."
I agreed and we continued our patrol. As we got to Mission Gorge Road, the main street through town, we heard a siren start up. A fire truck and EMS unit rolled out of fire station four at Cottonwood Avenue and came roaring by us.
"Make a U-turn," Chuck said. "We'll follow them and see if we can help."
Many times volunteers on patrol will stand by the fire truck and EMS unit to make sure no one steals drugs. Yes, it happens. We followed the fire truck to the other side of town where it parked in front of a medical facility. I didn't even have time to turn off the engine when we heard the dispatcher call, "Victor unit, do you read me?"
Chuck grabbed the microphone and responded.
"We need you to meet the officer at Los Coches Road and Bower Lane to do traffic control. How long will it take you to get there?"
My partner told her we'd be 10-97 in about ten minutes and I headed for Lakeside.
I knew the area was residential and was amazed that the plane had missed all of the homes. Somehow the pilot managed to come down in the street right between two rows of houses. There were fire trucks, EMS units, California Highway Patrol cars, California Highway Patrol volunteers and a lot of gawkers.
An officer on scene had us guard the rear of the crime scene to make sure no one went close to the plane. I parked under a tree for shade and we got out look. I could see the tail of the plane sticking up over a fence and a few slats lying on the ground. We found out later that though the plane had missed all the houses, the pilot landed on a new truck, totally demolishing it. Not pleasant for the truck's owner, but the crash could have been much, much worse.
Several people came by and asked what happened. We didn't know much other than the fact the plane had crashed. At that point we didn't know if the sixty-five-year-old pilot had suffered a heart attack, gotten dizzy or what. We found out later that he'd died on impact.
"Want to go have a closer look?" I asked Chuck. After all, we love being on patrol so we can be in the middle of all the action.
"Sure," he said with a grin. We kept our eyes on our post to make sure no one was there, then crawled under the yellow crime scene tape, walked across a field, climbed a small scrub-brush covered hill, and there sat the wreckage--two feet in front of us. Only an hour had passed since the crash, but already representatives from the FAA and NTSB were on the scene.
We scrambled back down the hill and resumed our position. It was hot that day and by this time our patrol car was no longer in the shade. A young man with all kinds of equipment stuffed in his pockets and video cameras hanging from his shoulders, walked over to our post and tried to get a shot of the plane. He didn't attempt to get past the tape and was courteous when I talked to him. Poor guy, a free-lance videographer, was only trying to get a different shot to be one up on the competition.
At 11:45 a patrol officer came by with cold water for us. Chuck thanked him and asked if we'd be able to get relief soon to go and get something to eat. Since we start morning patrol at 8:00, we're used to eating lunch around 11:30 and we were both getting hungry.
"Let me see what I can do," he said. "What time are you supposed to be off duty?"
When Chuck told him 2:00 p.m. he said he would find a deputy to take over for us. All of us on patrol have learned to be flexible. If we're needed for more than our six-hour shift, we stay and frequently joke that we're doing it for the overtime pay.
Not sure when or if we'd get to eat, I pulled out a protein bar and shared it with Chuck. We took turns walking down the Los Coches Road to see what was happening and then moved into the shade.
At 12:30 the same officer came by and told us to go get something to eat.
"Do you mind going to the COPS (Community Office Policing Services) in Lakeside and getting a couple of batteries for our radios?"
Of course we said yes. We stopped at a fast food restaurant for sandwiches, got some batteries and took advantage of the rest room facilities We weren't sure at that point if we'd get to go EOS, end of service, at our appointed time of 2:00 o'clock.
Back on scene, we sat on a big rock under some trees and ate. Most of the emergency vehicles were gone but we both knew it would be hours until everything was finished. I'd picked up some local newspapers at the COPS station so we sat in the shade and passed the time by catching up on local news.
At 1:45 Mike, one of the COPS officers pulled up in a van. "You guys ready to leave?"
We certainly were. By that time sweat was rolling down my sides and the hair under my Smoky Bear hat was plastered to my head.
We got to the station in time to go EOS on time. I went home and took a cool shower and I'm sure Chuck did the same. Now every time I work on Monday I wonder what next?
Surrounded by flames with nowhere to go
Jake Cary, another Senior Volunteer tells the story of his worst fire experience.
"I remember that it was either middle or late summer when the fire occurred. Chuck Farmer and I had checked out on the morning shift for Santee. The weather was hot for this time of year and the grass covering hills around town had long ago turned brown since there had been no rain for several months.
"Chuck and I had completed our assigned vacation checks when we heard the call on our portable radios that there was a fire on Highway 67 near Slaughter House Canyon Road. When I looked to the northeast, I could see dense black smoke billowing up over the hills and I knew it was a bad one.
"We immediately called dispatch and said we were on our way. It took us less than five minutes to arrive on the scene. As you can imagine, it was pretty chaotic. Fire trucks from Santee, Lakeside and the California Department of Forestry responded. We were very close to the fire at that point.
"The Incident Commander told us to go up Highway 67 and block the road to keep people from driving into the fire area. The fire was burning to the west and traveling east, right toward where we stood on the highway. I knew it could jump across right over the top of us at anytime and I didn't want to be there when it happened.
"It was difficult to get around all the equipment and up the road, and once we got there, we saw several vehicles already headed south on the highway. There are cement barriers dividing the road and there was no place to turn around so the line of cars stretched way up the hill. I managed to drive our car on the shoulder until I got to the end of the line, then I started backing folks up. We made quite a sight, I must say, all those cars and trucks traveling in reverse in a line up the steep highway.
"When we got everyone out of the range of the fire, Chuck radioed the Incident Commander for further instructions. The IC responded that he wanted us to patrol any side roads between our location and the northern roadblock and evacuate any residents especially people who had horses, and help them get out. We saw several volunteer animal people doing that, so we continued on checking other empty side roads.
"We started down one lane and found a small ranch house that looked deserted. At least no one appeared to be home, but lying on a chair in the front yard was a shotgun. We took the hint and decided it would be a good idea to turn around and go back to the main highway.
"With the fire under control, the Incident Commander released us to go back to our regular duties. As we drove back to town, I looked at Chuck and noticed that his face was bright red. We'd escaped the wrath of the fire but a day outside in the hot sun had given a Chuck terrific sunburn.
"When we'd started our shift that day, we didn't anticipate any unusual activity, so had left the station with only a half a tank of gas. Now, after running the car non-stop for over three hours, we barely made it to the gas pump to fill up before running out of gas. It taught us all a good lesson and that's why to this day, we never leave the station unless we have a full tank.
"Even though we are volunteers and don't carry guns, we help to protect and serve the public. We can do that in many different ways, but especially by relieving the deputies to handle more important calls." Jake paused. "The department treated us as professionals that day. They relied on our judgment as mature adults to do our job and we did. Chuck and I are proud we could be of service."