Car accidents are one of the most common cases that members of law enforcement are involved in investigating. What people may not know is that the aftereffects, for those involved in them, can often last for years.
It should be no secret in Pulaski County that the editor of the Daily Guide newspaper, Natalie Sanders, has been hounding me for stories from my law-enforcement career for publication in her paper. We discussed this issue a few weeks ago and Natalie’s closing argument was, “But JB you have hundreds of stories.” After thinking about this for a few days I realized that she was wrong, I have thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of stories.
Whenever a law-enforcement officer is assigned to one geographical region for a lengthy period of time that officer will interact with many, many thousands of citizens in various situations, events, and incidents. Many of these situations will be funny, many will be unusual, and many will be tragic. In a very high percentage of these cases in the years that follow the officer and the citizen will maintain a special connection or bond together because of that incident. Some of these bonds are minor and some can get very involved. And since I am approaching the half century mark in Pulaski County law enforcement circles I have interacted with those many thousands of people.
Our story for today is the story of two fatal motor vehicle accidents that I worked here in Pulaski County. Understand right up front that when you tell a local story like this there is always a chance that the people involved will be recognized by readers of the story. Therefore I have taken the liberty of being vague in several spots where the specific wreck might be identified. The first accident unfortunately was a common everyday occurrence and even if you are a family member of the person involved in the wreck you would not be able to recognize it from the description. The second wreck however was highly unusual and if by chance you recognize the incident or know who the driver was please keep it to yourself. Now having said that I will tell you that I recently spoke to this driver at length and I have her permission and blessing to tell her story.
In the 1970s, 1980s, and well into the 1990s, the Missouri State Highway Patrol did not have sufficient manpower stationed in Pulaski County to maintain a twenty-four hour a day seven day a week coverage. That is not a criticism of the patrol, they did not have the manpower to do that in quite a few other counties in the state. And sadly they most likely never will be given the manpower to do that kind of coverage in order to maximize their efficiency to their mission.
Therefore to provide coverage there was always a call out list. If troopers were not on duty somebody was going to get called out of a warm bed to cover the incident. On the night our story starts I had gone off duty around midnight. At roughly 2 AM the phone rang and the Troop I dispatchers sent me to a motor vehicle accident, or as we like to say a 10-50 J2. The code 10-50 refers to a motor vehicle accident and the code J2 means an injury accident. This is a fast and simple code for radio communications. The location given for this accident was on I-44 in Pulaski County.
Upon arrival at the scene I found that a car had run off the right side of I-44 while going west and traveled down over a very steep embankment coming to rest at the bottom of the hill. I got to the scene just in time to watch our local ambulance and fire department personnel carry a stretcher up over the hill to the back of an ambulance. When I got to the back of the ambulance I immediately recognized the female driver as a person that I knew. And I knew many members of her family. It was also fairly obvious that her medical condition was poor.
She was loaded into the ambulance and the ambulance crew immediately departed for the Fort Leonard Wood Hospital emergency room. As I got ready to start my investigation of the accident one of the firefighters came up to me and told me that Troop I was going nuts trying to get me on the radio. I thanked him and went to my car radio. Troop I immediately sent me to a second motor vehicle accident, 10-50 J2, on the Fort Wood spur. Upon arrival I found this accident to be about 120 feet short of the Fort Wood boundary line and on the state of Missouri side of the boundary line. In this case a pedestrian had been hit. The pedestrian had already been taken to the Fort Leonard Wood Hospital and as I commenced my investigation of this accident the first thing I saw was a section of the pedestrian’s skull cap laying on the side of the roadway. No good was going to come from this accident.
However this wreck became much more complicated within seconds. The female driver of the vehicle that hit the pedestrian was going into shock. A female witness who had watched the accident occur from a side road was hysterical. But the witness gave me a statement that an unknown man in a van had circled from the intersection where the accident had occurred to the main gate on Ft. Wood where it turned around and had come back to the intersection. The witness said the van made three such circles and on the third circle the van stopped and a man got out and pulled the pedestrian from the back of the van and laid her body across the southbound lanes of the spur. The man then got back into the van and drove onto Fort Wood.
The witness said as she was trying to drive down from the side road she was on to the accident scene the other vehicle had come over the hill and had run over the pedestrian laying in the roadway. And so within a matter of minutes I found myself working two separate wrecks with critically injured people in both accidents enroute to the Fort Wood ER. I also had two people from the second wreck in severe emotional distress and hysteria headed to the Fort Leonard Wood emergency room.
These two accidents occurred on a date and time that was sufficiently far back in history that the HIPAA law was not in effect. Which is another way of saying I was allowed inside the emergency room to question people and to ask the medics for information. The status at the time was; the driver from the first accident was fading fast, the pedestrian from the second accident had already been pronounced deceased and both the witness and the driver from the second accident were still in emotional shock or hysteria. But after further questioning the witness statement did not change and as the statement stood this was probably a case of murder second-degree.
The next complication occurred when I ran into family members of the first driver in the hallway who called me by name and wanted to know how their loved one was doing. It is always been my policy to be direct and’s honest with people at times like this but in this particular case I did not have a definitive understanding of the diagnosis so I had to defer my comments. Within a short period of time Fort Wood Hospital personnel approached them and informed them their loved one had passed.
I attempted further questioning of the witness who became even more hysterical and finally reached a medical point where the doctors determined that it would be best if she took a long nap at which time she was given an injection. The injection put an end to my investigation for the evening.
There had been a military police officer at the scene of the MVA on the spur and he told me that he had witnessed the accident from quite a distance away. So the first thing I did at the beginning of my next shift was to track him down in an attempt to get a description of the van. Then I lucked out. As soon as I told him what the witness had said he told him that there was no way that happened. He had been running radar at the main gate with his car pointed at the southbound lane for a minimum of twenty minutes before the accident occurred and not a single vehicle had entered Fort Leonard Wood during that 2:45am time period. The MP said he had watched as the first car suddenly pulled to the shoulder at the intersection and then watched two more cars stopping. At that point he drove down to see what was going on. There had been no cars circling three times through the main gate, the witness had been in total shock and hysteria and her story was from a mind that had gone haywire.
Within a matter of hours I was able to locate a group of people who had been drinking with the pedestrian at a location on the spur and they all reported that the pedestrian had left the party walking toward her residence on Fort Leonard Wood. Weeks later the toxicology report on her blood came back with a very high BAC level which confirmed the drinking party.
But the story has a postscript, the driver of the vehicle that hit the pedestrian could not handle the emotional trauma of the event and was transferred from the Fort Wood Hospital to the stress center of a civilian hospital in the area. A few days later, on my day off, I went to visit with her and tell her that the accident was not her fault. I talked to her for at least two hours that day and in my recent interview with her I found out she did not remember my visit. I also found out she spent six weeks confined in the stress center and was discharged in much the same condition as she had arrived.
The driver from this accident worked at a job location that I frequently visited and as a result we spoke several times in the months after this accident and she told me that she could no longer drive her car and her husband had to take her to and from work every day. I again told her that the accident was not her fault and my statements did not seem to help her.
However a few months later while I was on patrol I looked up in time to see a vehicle getting ready to pass by me in the opposite direction and the lady was driving. As I watched her in the rearview mirror my thought was victory! She had been able to overcome the emotional trauma of this event. Over the course of the next few years we bumped into each other several more times and we usually spoke of this event.
It wasn’t until about four years after the accident that she finally confessed to me that when she started driving again and she would see me in my patrol car, she would wave as we passed each other and then immediately barf all over the dashboard, steering wheel, and windshield every time she met me. She said there for several years she hated me and did not want to ever see me again.
Today I am happy to say that our friendship has survived. Every time we meet I get a big hug from her and we have been known to laugh and joke and cut up like a couple two-year-old kids. I thought this story might help people understand that sometimes coping with the emotional trauma that can come from a motor vehicle accident can be difficult because such tragic accidents can produce very unusual reactions and leave you with lifelong damage. And I would also like to remind everybody once again that I do have the ladies permission and blessing to tell this story.
JB King is the author of “The Tilley Treasure,” a Civil War buried treasure true story, and “Justice: Military Tribunals in Civil War Missouri.” The books can be bought locally at the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau and online at www.amazon.com/J.B.-King/e/B06XKXV6JK. King can be contacted at Sheriff330ret@gmail.com. King is currently working on a book about Pulaski County's notorious murders by Johnny Lee Thornton and is looking for anyone with any information relevant to the story.
Editor's note: Tales from Law Enforcement is not a feature section exclusive to JB King and other members of law enforcement are welcome to submit stories for print under that feature's heading as guest writers. If you are a member of law enforcement interested in submitting a story, please contact Daily Guide editor Natalie Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 573-336-3711.