Two of a Kind

Right before dark, I was patrolling on US 74 East (Independence Blvd), in the Matthews area and near the Union County line.  Our Dispatcher was advising us of an ongoing chase.  Union County Public Safety Officers were in pursuit of a Blue Ford Pickup truck.  At first, I didn’t pay much attention, because I was not assigned to work in Union County and the chase was about fifteen miles away.  I listened as Union County Troopers tried to get into position to intercept the vehicle, without any luck.

It sounded like the driver of the pickup truck was doing some fancy driving, with frequent turns and changes in direction and then accelerating to speeds well above 100mph.  The train behind him was growing in length, with ever-increasing numbers of Police Officers in hot pursuit.  Slowly but surely, it sounded to me like they were making headway in my direction.  I eased just inside Union County to the intersection of Stallings Road and pulled off onto the grass median at the traffic light.  US 74 was straight and flat in this area, and I could see down the road for a couple of miles.

Sure enough, in the distance I could see lots of blue lights approaching and then abruptly turn off to the right and go out of sight.  That had to be the chase!  I decided to just sit right where I was and wait … Maybe it would come to me.  From the descriptions I was hearing on the radio, it sounded like they were right on his tail.   I waited.

The light on US74 was red for me and I watched as traffic on Stallings Road crossed.  There was a slight break in traffic and then a Blue Pickup came thru rather quickly.  Could that be him?  I pulled out and fell in behind him.  If that was him, where were all those Officers who were supposedly chasing him?  Oh, what the heck! …  I’ll just go stop him and check him out.

When I turned on my blue light and siren, he didn’t stop … He floored it!  Stallings Road was narrow and curvy and we drove it hard.  He couldn’t leave me and I couldn’t catch him.  Mostly, I stayed about three car lengths back.  A couple of times, I tried to pull up beside him, but he’d swerve over, blocking me off.  Finally, I fell back in behind him and became focused on maintaining the pressure on him, by keeping the nose of my car up his rear end.

I kept the Dispatcher and other Troopers informed as to our whereabouts, and could hear that welcoming committees, in his honor, were being prepared at various locations … But we’d breeze right on by them before they could get set up.  As we twisted and turned on the narrow roads, the Police population was increasing, but none were within sight behind me.  We crisscrossed our way back across US74 and then into beautiful downtown Indian Trail, and at the railroad tracks, we became airborne for about 30 feet.  He led and I followed.

It was getting dark now as we made a right turn towards the Elementary School and then did a few donuts in the schoolyard.  Then, we pulled back onto Indian Trail Road heading back toward US74.  (The hornets were really mad now, and were swarming everywhere.)  Once again, we approached the railroad tracks with me right on his bumper.  Two Patrol Cars were now meeting us head-on with all their resources turned on, and were obviously trying to force him off the road.  We took to the shoulder and went around them, and US74 was coming up fast.  By now, I knew that both our engines were about equal.  Boy! He could drive that truck!

He hit his brakes and slowed some as we came up to the intersection.  As we made a right turn onto US74, I kept mine in low gear.  (This roadway has two lanes in each direction, and is divided by a grass median.)  He got into the right lane and I wound mine up pretty tight in low gear, and was still on his bumper.  When I shifted to second, that gave me a short burst of energy, just enough to where I was able to get into the left lane and get my front bumper parallel to his left rear wheel.  We were running about 80mph now and he swerved to the left to block me off, but it was too late … I was already there.  I let him come over into my lane and make contact with my car.  I was ready for him.  Without leaving that left lane, I swerved to the right and into him as I hit my brakes.  My front bumper hooked his rear bumper and he lost it.

That truck fishtailed from the median to the shoulder several times and then overturned on the shoulder, right in front of The Crystal Shoppe.  I pulled over onto the emergency lane and that’s when all the other Police Officers arrived.  The Public Safety Officers, who had initiated the chase, drove directly up to the truck and pulled out the driver.  They got to him before I did!   He didn’t appear to be injured, and they had cuffed him and were preparing to put him in one of their vehicles when I walked up.

I smiled at him.  He smiled back.  I introduced myself and he told me his name was Karl Strickland.

“Karl,” I said, “You sure were doing some fancy driving.” 

He returned the compliment and I told him…

“Karl, they’re gonna take you to Jail now and I’ll be along in a little while.”

They hauled him off to the Union County Jail and I stayed around the scene, for about ½ hour, while the local Highway Patrol Supervisor collected my information (He was investigating the collision that I had just been involved in.) … Then I also headed for the Jailhouse.

I arrived at the Jail about 45 minutes later and the Public Safety Officers were just winding up their paperwork.  Karl had a stack of driving charges, about an inch thick, that they’d made against him.  That upset me some, because I’d done the hard work and they were grabbing the glory.  I noticed a few bruises on him that I hadn’t seen before.

 “Karl,” I asked him,” What happened?”

 “Oh, on the way here, they roughed me up a little bit,” he said,” But I probably deserved it.  I didn’t stop for em when they wanted me to.”

Although he’d been drinking some, I was impressed by his honesty and humility.  I made three significant charges against him and set my court date for the same day as the other officers.

When that day came, I located Karl in the courtroom and walked over to him.

“Karl, where’s your Lawyer?”  I asked him.

“Mr. Gregory, I can’t afford a Lawyer,” he replied, “And besides, I don’t need one, cause I’m gonna plead guilty to it all anyway.” 

All in all, Karl had about 15 charges against him, probably even “Spitting on the Sidewalk”.  Immediately, I walked out into the hallway and grabbed the first friendly looking Lawyer I could find, told him Karl’s story and then asked him to help Karl.  Without hesitation … He did!   I know it’s hard to believe, but there are a few good ones out there.

It took about a month for all the cases to be finalized in Court, and after his Lawyer had a lot of them dismissed and consolidated as many of the rest as he could, my charges were about the only ones that stuck.  When I testified, I stated the facts and made it short and sweet.  Karl’s fines totaled about $1000 and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was notified to revoke his driver’s license.

From time to time, I’d stop by Karl’s house to see how he was doing.  I learned that he was a Racecar Mechanic who built motors for some pretty big-name Drivers.   About six months passed and one day he told me…

“Mr. Gregory, the DMV was supposed to revoke my driver’s license but I’ve never heard anything from them.  What should I do?” 

For several days, I did some careful checking and found that, somehow, Karl had slipped thru the cracks … His license was still valid!  The DMV must’ve slipped up.

Sure, I could’ve squealed on him, but instead, I sought him out.

“Unless you hear otherwise,” I told him,” Keep on driving, my friend.”  

I think I would’ve loved racing, but couldn’t take that chance.  If injured or disabled, I’d be out of a job … And a livelihood that I really enjoyed.