My first partner became very special to me. He took me as a rookie and taught me to be a police officer. He showed me what it took to stay alive on the street.
Right from the start I tried to do what my partner wanted; however, there were a couple of rough times. About the second night I rode with him, we took a coffee break. It was about 3 a.m., we were working from 9 p.m. until 8 a.m.
After the coffee break my partner got into the passenger side of the patrol car. This was the first time he had allowed me to drive. He took a cloth napkin and spread it out on the floor, then he took off his boots, leaned back in the seat and pulled a baseball cap down over his eyes. He said, "Stay on the main roads, don't hit any bumps, don't drive under any lights and don't get me into anything!" With that sage advice I drove off into the darkness.
I pulled out of the parking lot and decided to just drive around. I did not know the Island, since this was the first time I had ever been on it. I had to go right on the traffic circle and I took the first road I came to on the right. I was driving slowly trying not to make any mistakes. I drove about 3 miles and the road ended. Just like that it ended. There was a metal barrier across the road. I did not think the road was wide enough to turn around on, so I looked and I saw a two track path on the right. I figured if I could back onto that I could then pull forward back onto the road headed in the right direction. I started to back onto the path and the back bumper hit bottom. My partner sat straight up and pulled his cap off his eyes. He just looked at me for a moment or two. I was sure he was trying to decide if it was legal to kill a rookie for wrecking your car!
He must have decided it was not legal because he very calmly asked me if I thought I could get out of the ditch. I told him I thought so. I was lucky and it pulled right out.
I felt I wasn't doing too well so I told myself I would try harder to do exactly what my partner told me to do. I didn't have long to wait. We received a call of a head on collision on the curve leading off the island.
Upon our arrival we found we had a fatality. It was 7 a.m. and traffic was backed up for miles in both directions. My orders were clear enough, "Stand here and don't let anybody by, I don't care who it is!" I did just fine for about 45 minutes, then a big black caddie came up on the shoulder of the road. The balding, heavy-set older man behind the wheel honked his horn and pointed past me. I shook my head no. Again he pointed past me, wanting to go, but I refused. He got out of his car and walked past me toward my partner. I noticed the man had on a suit but so did half the other people coming and going from Hilton Head Island that time of day.
He reached my partner and started talking to him. Even though I could not hear them, I knew the gist of the conversation. The balding, short man was waving his arms and pointing at me, my partner just stood there, shook his head slowly and looked back in my direction.
The man in the suit turned and walked back to his car. As he passed me, I looked at my partner who was headed toward me, bent slightly forward pulling his pants up. One pants leg was stuck in the top of his Wellington boot. He rubbed his hand with its permanently bent little finger across his flat top hair cut.
When he got to me he told me to let the car go by. I told him I was just doing what he told me to do. He said he knew, but let the car go anyway, because it was the Solicitor. It did not take me long to realize that the Solicitor was the same as the District Attorney.
Over the next seven years I saw and worked with the Solicitor many times in General Sessions court. He never mentioned that incident, but I always felt that he respected me and thought of me as someone who would try his best to do what he was told.
by R.L. Dettwiler