As I was writing a scene this morning that involved a highway patrolman, I thought of a friend who was a trooper for many years. He told this story and swore it was true, so I can only guess that it was. And, of course, I have changed every name to protect both the innocent and guilty.
Trooper Justin Bachmann matched the suspect turn for turn as they raced down the country roads. For over an hour, the trooper and a bevy of highway patrol and sheriff deputies’ cars had pursued the old four-door sedan across three rural counties.
The reason for the suspect fleeing wasn’t known. A deputy had attempted to stop the vehicle for a minor traffic violation, but the car had sped off. As the deputy raced to catch up, the dispatcher informed him that the license plate did not match the make and model of the car.
Was the car stolen? Was the driver a wanted serial killer? Would they find the trunk of the car stuffed with drugs? Was the driver armed?
Or maybe the driver had simply panicked at the sight of flashing lights and made a bad decision to run.
In his dozen years as a trooper, Bachmann had seen all variations of the answer to why someone had run. His goal was simply to end this chase without anyone getting hurt. The why could be sorted out after getting things stopped. By now, he knew, the driver was tired and probably running low on fuel.
The chase took an unexpected turn when the suspect turned into a church parking lot. The large, white clapboard church sat in the middle of flat farmland. Its doors were locked and no cars were in the lot. They had him cornered.
Trooper Bachmann directed deputies to block the return access to the highway. The sedan couldn’t drive across the tilled dirt. The driver was out of options.
The driver stopped his car in the middle of the empty parking lot and watched as the police cars surrounded his own vehicle. He scrambled over the front seat and disappeared into the backseat.
Concerned the man might have a gun, the trooper motioned to the deputies to stay behind their vehicles. The driver couldn’t escape, so time was on their side. The hot Southern sun would bake the interior of the car, eventually forcing the man to step out of the vehicle. They only had to wait.
Ten minutes went by. Then twenty. Thirty. No movement from inside the vehicle. Sweat dripped down the waiting officers’ faces. Heat waves rose from the asphalt.
“Sir?” Trooper Bachmann called out. “Can we just end this? I have some cool water. Come on out and you can have some water.”
Only silence replied.
Concerned the suspect may have passed out from the heat, Trooper Bachmann decided to approach the car. He motioned for two deputies to follow on his flanks and for the others to stay behind their cars.
As he crept toward the vehicle, he eyed the windows carefully for any sign of movement, but saw nothing. He reached the side of the car and glanced into the backseat. The suspect was stretched across the floor board face down, his hands over his head. No weapons were in sight.
The trooper scanned the rest of the vehicle. The front seat contained only empty cans and candy bar wrappers. The back seat had a ball cap. Nothing else was in sight.
He reached for the door handle and slowly opened the door, his gun trained at the suspect’s back. “Sir?”
“It wasn’t me! I wasn’t driving! I swear it wasn’t me!”
The suspect kept his hands visible as he crawled out of the car. The trooper snapped cuffs on his wrists and checked his empty pockets. Through it all, he kept up his cry. “I swear it wasn’t me! I wasn’t driving.”
Trooper Bachmann looked inside the empty car. Opened the empty trunk. Scanned the parking lot, occupied only by police cars and the suspect’s car. Looked across the acres of empty fields.
“Ok, I’ll bite. If you weren’t driving, who was?”
“I don’t know his name. He kidnapped me. Made me hide in the backseat. And then he just ran off.”
Dumbfounded, Trooper Bachmann studied the man’s face. “Sir, you do know I have been behind you for over an hour, right? And I pulled into this parking lot with you, right? No one else is here. And my dash cam will show that no one ran away.”
The man looked around at the flashing lights and mingling deputies. “No one is going to believe I was kidnapped?”
“Nope, you are going to need a better story than that.”
The man looked toward his empty car and nodded. “Ok, let me think for a minute.”