DesertExile: A risky routine for officers: Traffic stops

14 March 2007

A risky routine for officers: Traffic stops

Narrow escape by a pair of Sacramento County deputies is a chilling reminder of danger.
By Kim Minugh - Bee Staff Writer

Stopped on the shoulder of Highway 50 in the early morning darkness, Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputies Aaron Marino and Zachary Hatch were sitting ducks for the drunken driver careening their way.
Marino, walking along the shoulder, saw the van approaching and yelled at his partner to get out of his parked patrol car. And then he watched helplessly as the pair of headlights -- swerving erratically and rapidly -- crashed into the car where Hatch had just been sitting.
As the van sped off, Marino looked back at the cruiser. Hatch was nowhere to be seen. His friend's heart sank.
"I thought he was dead," remembers Marino. When he saw Hatch's body several yards away -- moving -- "I was just thanking God for it."
Hatch, who remembers exiting his cruiser right before the collision, survived the February 2006 accident with a broken leg. Marino dragged him from the middle of the highway, where his body had been thrown into the path of oncoming traffic.
Their story is an uplifting one of sacrifice and survival -- but also one of danger and reality. It provides a chilling reminder of one risk law enforcement officers face on a daily basis.
Traffic stops are a routine part of police work. But they are rarely predictable and almost always risky.
"You have to have eyes in the back of your head," said Officer Steve Merchant of the California Highway Patrol. "In this job, you're routinely told over and over and over again: 'Watch out for traffic. It'll kill you.' "
During the last 10 years, 146 law enforcement officers nationwide have died after being struck by a vehicle while outside their own vehicle, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Those cases made up 9 percent of all officer fatalities in that period.
Look at the picture above. You see guys with "Safety Vests". Those are guys from the towing company.
You see Firemen. Where are they? Not exposed to traffic!
If you are an Officer, and this is YOUR crash, you have to get out there for:
To see what visual obstructions or distractions there are.
It always got me that most drivers have the attitude: "Slow DOWN. They couldn't MEAN ME!"
NOW--add in these factors:
Drivers on Cell phones, Drunk Drivers, drivers looking at navigation systems.
You have a real recipe for an officer death.
In 2002, I was walking bak to my car at a gas station. I was coming from the cahier's booth, and looking to my right--the way cars came. I was backed over by a woman that had decided to back next to a pump --from my left--while engaged in conversation with three other women passengers.
I was able to get up, but could not hardly walk ( I later had surgery on my left -Good-knee).
I hardly said anything, but when I did, it was evident that I was not pleased.
One passenger said," You don't have to be hard on her--why are you so mad anyway?"
My response: " I'm tired of people driving around with their head up their ass."


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