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A High Speed Scare

When I first started in law enforcement one of the things I enjoyed, was turning on my blue light and siren and then driving fast. There was a sense of power and excitement every time an emergency call came in. My heart would pound, my adrenaline would flow and I would feel cold chills run up my back. It was living on the edge. There is something about danger that heightens a person's senses and gives a feeling of euphoria.

I never got over those feelings. I always enjoyed going to something unknown which might be dangerous However, as time went by, I began to dislike running blue light and siren. I found that it was dangerous to turn the blue light and siren on. Once you turned it on you were able to go through intersections, but you would still be at fault if you had an accident. Also the state law said that anyone who is approached from behind by an emergency vehicle must pull over to the right side of the road. For this reason we were required to pass only on the left. That was fine as long as people did pull to the right. But all too often people would pull to the left or just stop right in the middle of the road. At times like this, you had no choice but to pass on the right. However, you knew that if at the last second the person decided to pull to the right and you hit them, then you would be at fault.

I found that I could drive faster and safer without blue light and siren than I could with them. I realized I would be in trouble, if I had an accident, but it was a trade-off. I would rather take a chance like that and be safer than to be in the right and have an accident.

The public does not understand police work and the way police officers drive. Many times when I was speeding without blue light and siren, I was responding to an emergency. Sometimes I was not running blue light and siren for the reasons I have already covered. At other times it was because of the kind of call I was going to. For example, you never responded to a bank alarm with your blue light and siren on, or if you did you turned them off about a mile away. This was done because if there really was a bank robbery in progress you did not want the robbers to know you were coming. If they knew you were coming they might panic and start shooting people or they might barricade themselves in with hostages. It was much safer for everyone if you could catch them after they left the bank.

One evening shortly after sunset, when I was a Sergeant, the dispatcher gave a 'fight in progress' call to one of my men. The fight was at a bar on Lady's Island. The Deputy who received the call was not on the island and neither was I. I called him on the radio and told him I would back him up.

I was approximately five miles away from the island, and I headed that way without blue light and siren. The closest way for me to go was past Parris Island over the narrow Battery Creek bridge, across the Port Royal causeway and then into Port Royal city limits to get to the bridge to the island. I was driving at a moderate speed of about seventy miles an hour as I rounded the Parris Island curve and went over the Battery Creek bridge. As I came off the bridge onto the causeway I saw the other Deputy coming up behind me. He was running blue light and siren. He was coming up on me fast, so I sped up to match his speed. This way he would not have to slow down or try to pass me on that narrow causeway which had very little shoulder beside the road and which dropped off about eight feet to the marsh. Not a very good place to go off the road. We were both doing about eighty now. I still had not turned my light or siren on and he had not turned off his. Three cars were coming toward us from the Port Royal. When we were about 200 feet from the lead car, the driver hit me with his bright lights and came over into my lane.

I knew instantly what had happened. He thought I was running from the police and was trying to help the officer get me stopped. At eighty miles an hour it does not take long to cover 200 feet. I couldn't go into his lane because the two other cars behind him were still in it. I didn't have time to turn on my blue light for him to see and I was determined not to go off the causeway into the marsh, except as a last resort.

It takes much longer to read then it did to take place. The car swerved back into its own lane and both of us went by him in a streak. My heart rate had just about settled back down by the time we arrived at the fight, which we found out was over anyway.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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