A police commander’s worst day

Working as the commander of a Highway Patrol office, I was in the office handling administrative duties as Christmas rapidly approached.

While monitoring the Highway Patrol radio, I heard an officer put out a call that he was attempting to overtake a high-speed vehicle that was also driving recklessly on the interstate. As I listened to the radio, other units began responding to assist.

Radio traffic from the officer attempting to make the enforcement stop suddenly ended. As responding officers headed toward the pursuing officer’s last known location, I also responded to that area. Dispatch started receiving numerous 911 calls regarding a serious accident involving a patrol vehicle.

When the officers arrived at the scene, they realized it was our officer who was in the accident.

The pursuing officer had been involved in a solo vehicle collision in which his vehicle rolled over numerous times. The officer received fatal injuries. I will never forget the feeling I had as I arrived at the scene and observed what had occurred. The look on the other officers’ faces and the sadness in their voices were unforgettable.

There was an overwhelming feeling of sadness and grief felt by everyone at the scene. We all attempted to do our jobs, knowing that everyone there had just lost a friend and fellow officer. So many thoughts went through my mind.

While managing the incident, I realized I needed to leave the scene and respond to the officer’s home and inform his family. It was roughly a half-hour drive to their home. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. While en route, I called a sergeant who was at home prior to starting his shift, and asked him to meet me at the officer’s house.

I also called my wife and she volunteered to meet us there as well, since the officer had a wife and two young children.

The officer’s wife and children arrived home soon after we all arrived at the residence.

Making a notification of that type is the toughest thing anyone will ever have to do in law enforcement. Later that day, the commissioner of the Highway Patrol and other personnel from headquarters and surrounding areas began arriving at the officer’s home, as well as family members and friends.

Over the next few days, I assisted the family in making necessary plans and arrangements for the officer’s funeral.

I will never forget the strength and dignity the officer’s wife and children displayed throughout the entire ordeal.

My family and I still meet with the officer’s family several times a year. We also gather annually to honor the memory of our lost family member, friend and fellow officer.

I will never forget that tragic day, which was just a few days before Christmas. However, I take great solace in seeing how his wife not only survived, but is a role model for all of us, and what wonderful adults his two young children have become. I know he is very proud of all of them. The author, Brian Smith, served four years in the United States Marine Corps and retired as an assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol. He resides in Bakersfield, Calif. If you have a personal “Cop Tale” to share, please contact Brian at bmsmith778@gmail.com.

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