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In Hopkins County Texas

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Unit 1249, come in.” — “This is 1249, dispatcher.” — “1249, 10-20?” (Meaning what is your location?) — “I’m just west of Brashear, cruising (routine patrolling) eastbound on I-30.” — (long pause).... “O.K. 1249. Are you free to come into Sulphur Springs and assist our police unit with a serious (major) car wreck on College Street four blocks east of the town square?” — “10-4 (acknowledge) dispatcher, I am free and will be there in soon; maybe ten to fifteen minutes.”

The year was about 1964, a while before Delphi Leewright took office as sheriff. The above radio conversation was between the Sulphur Springs Police “radio dispatcher” and myself, Unit 1249 of the Texas Highway Patrol Service. I, more frequently than not, patrolled as a one-man unit without benefit of a patrol partner. Back then Sulphur Springs was a three man station with only two patrol cars to work two entire counties.

My assignment was to live there and work rural traffic supervision and accident investigation basically in Hopkins and Rains Counties. On occasion my work would take me to Greenville, in Hunt County; Cooper, in Delta County; Mt. Vernon, in Franklin County; and even to Mt. Pleasant, in Titus County. Seldom did I have to go into Wood or Lamar Counties.

Regardless of being locally assigned, as a Texas State Officer the whole state of Texas was my jurisdiction. Meaning, I could if needed, officially work anywhere in the entire Lone Star State, Texarkana to El Paso, or Amarillo to Brownsville. Or, any occasion of “hot pursuit” meant I was within my authority to cross the state line.

Cruising on down I-30, I soon approached my exit to downtown Sulphur Springs. Then looking north, over across the westbound lanes I noticed a young man walking away from a new car; an unoccupied car parked on the north shoulder. He walked briskly toward a service station he had just passed about a mile back. In his hand he carried a small, maybe two gallon, red plastic gasoline can and seemed to be in an unusual hurry.

I said to myself, “This young man may need a lift. I can take a minute to help him.” A legitimate “assist” is always the order of the day. Very often the pretext of doing an “assist the motorist” contact is used simply to check out a person, to see if they become highly nervous about anything, or untruthful, or perhaps become fleet of foot, or possibly be engaged in something illegal. You might be surprised at how often that is actually the case. Frequently that is where a hot pursuit begins.

I took my exit as planned, then made the U-turn over the overpass and proceeded back westbound. As I drove slowly along the road shoulder meeting the young man, I pulled up along side him. Leaning over to roll my window down I said, “Looks like you’re out of gas. Hop in, I’ll give you a ride to the station.”

He, without hesitation, hopped in the front seat with his little gas can. But you see, we never continued to the service station. We sat right there for a long while, talking. He and I talked seriously because I had become pretty suspicious of a few things about him and the car. He had a few questions to answer for me.

I said, “I see there’s no license plate on your car. What happened to it?” He said, “They, the dealer, just hasn’t given it to me yet.” — “Is it a new car?”, I asked. — “Yes sir”, he replied.

I could now detect that he was getting more nervous by the minute I said, ”Where did you buy it?” “In Hopkinsville, Kentucky,” was his reply. “What type of work do you do?”, I asked. “I’m in the army,” he said.

By this time he had become extremely nervous and was hardly able to talk to me. My suspicions grew even deeper about some things that just weren’t adding up.

I said, “In the US Army and you just bought a new car, without any license plates?... I need to see your driver’s license and some papers on this car.” After fumbling through his clothes for a while, he did produce for me his driver’s license and military ID. Nowhere on him or from the vehicle could he provide even a scratch of paper about the car. No auto insurance card; no registration papers or dealers tag; no receipt; no authority to use it; absolutely NO anything. Nothing, period!... Zilch!

“Where are you headed to now?” I asked. “California,” he replied. “Where are you stationed?” — “Ft. Campbell, Kentucky,” he said. “Why are you driving a new car, from Kentucky to California?”, was my next question. “To see my mom,” he told me as he began to sniffle, puff up and cry a bit.

Well, that is where he completely broke down and began talking freely as he cried and sobbed uncontrollably, confirming my strong suspicion of a stolen car.

Sitting right there in my state patrol car on the shoulder of I-30 that cool autumn afternoon, a full confession was forth coming from this young soldier. Upon further questioning, he told me he was AWOL (away without leave) from the US Army base at Ft. Campbell. And he had stolen this new Chevrolet BelAire from the sales lot of a nearby new car dealership very early in the morning two days previously. The car now had less than 1,300 miles on it and this AWOL soldier was boogieing west in it. That is, until he ran out of gas on I-30 about 80 miles east of Dallas, Texas, and in doing so, he encountered me.

He had become, as thousands upon thousands of soldiers have, miserably sick and tired of boot camp and the US Army. He was tremendously homesick to see his mother and family in California and to feel their support and loving arms around him. He had unwisely, in desperation, chosen this method of escape for freedom back to his mother. A failed attempt to put Ft. Campbell Kentucky and the US Army far, far behind him.

A great number of us (yours truly included) know from this type of experience, what we sometimes think will set us free, actually imprisons us. As shortsighted, impatient, ambitious youths, we want to join the army and be free; get away from all the discipline, instructions and chores we have at home; naively not realizing what lies ahead in the US Military. My parents sometimes likened it to jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. And I believe it.

This young AWOL thief was soon placed in the Sulphur Springs jail and the new car placed in storage. US Army officials were notified of his arrest. The new car dealership was notified where their car was. Both came to Sulphur Springs a day or two later to claim their property. The soldier was released to Military Police Officers and the car was released to the dealer’s representative. My involvement in this case was now complete.

As for the Sulphur Springs policeman I was en route to assist with the accident; I saw him the next day over coffee. He told me he waited as long as he could, then called his Police Chief out to assist. Together, they took pictures and measurements of everything, especially the skid marks and extensive auto damage. By doing so and applying specialized accident reconstruction techniques, plus driver statements, they were able to establish an approximate speed of the offending vehicle. One car was a total loss, with three people very seriously injured. The officer asked me to review his complete file of paper work from this accident.

Eager to assist, I reviewed everything he had assembled in his accident report. It was good case preparation, very thorough and detailed, ready for the District Attorney’s office. I couldn’t have done a better job myself.

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
September 1, 2008 Column
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