By Brian Smith
As a young Highway Patrol officer just out of the academy, I was assigned to a desert area. I worked the swing shift hours (2 p.m. to 10 p.m.).
I was patrolling the freeway when I received a call of an accident with major injuries. I looked to the south and could see the dust rising in the air from the vehicle which had overturned into the sandy center median. I responded to the scene and came upon a solo vehicle that had gone into the center median and rolled over several times, coming to rest on its wheels. I ran to the car and saw two college-aged teenage girls inside. They were both seated in the front seats, and since they had their seatbelts on they received only minor injuries.
I then ran to a teenage girl who had been in the back seat of the car. She was ejected because she was not wearing a seatbelt. She was lying on her back in the sandy center median. I ran over with my EMT kit and could see that she was seriously injured. I just held her because I knew there was nothing I could do— except hold her and be there for her in her last moments.
A Life Flight helicopter landed, but as they were exiting the craft, the young girl took her last breath in my arms. The flight helicopter paramedics’ valiant efforts to save her life weren’t sufficient enough, and she succumbed to her injuries. This happened over 20 years ago and still is vivid in my mind. At the time, I had two baby girls at home; and although her death bothered me, it hit me a lot harder ten years later when my daughters reached the same age as the young lady that died in my arms.
I found out later that the three young ladies were headed to Las Vegas for spring break but obviously never made it. I could never imagine the pain her family felt. I still carry that memory with me and somehow wish there was more I could have done for her. I wanted her parents to know she did not die alone on that sandy desert road. I held their baby until she took her last breath. -AG
Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person. The actual officer’s initials follow each story. 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, California. If you have a personal “Cop Tale” to share, please contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org