For my second ride along, I chose a Wednesday. I met up with Sgt. Mike Pierce around 10 am at Indian River County Sheriff's Office, put on my bullet proof vest and away we went. Our first stop was just a few miles up the road, where we saw a large container in an intersection, oozing chemicals. Mike got out to remove it. As soon as he was back in the car, we received a private call to meet with Lt. Lew Beckerdite to discuss a situation. Things were about to get hairy!
We met in a parking lot. The patrol cars were parked side by side so the two men could talk. I can't reveal any of the details, so let it suffice to say that a really bad dude who had committed despicable crimes that you and I would never even DREAM of doing was thought to be holed up in an apartment in the area, and most probably armed.
As the two officers worked, making phone calls and searching their databases and the internet to gather further information, they began to discuss possible scenarios. Sgt. Pierce said we needed back-up and that meant getting on-duty S.W.A.T. members to the scene to evaluate and then handle this most delicate situation. Without hesitation, he rattled off two names I knew as instructors from when I took the Citizen's Academy - Deputy Brian Aguiar and Sgt. Pat White - and I thought back to my very first class when Deputy Aguiar said, "When we get up in the morning, we never know how our day is going to go and what is going to happen. It may be a relatively quiet day, or we may have a bad car crash with fatalities, have to respond to a suicide, or face someone with a weapon.”
Yep. Case in point. Here we were. Again we all met in a random parking lot, this time close to the scene, and the group had a special briefing to discuss their plan of action. It was fascinating to first see them in the classroom and now to see them responding in real life, my respect level rising by the second.
A few moments later we headed back to the scene. Long story short, Mike had to wait with me in the patrol car at a very safe distance instead of being the one to knock on the door. He was disappointed and stuck out his bottom lip. "I love catching the bad guys," my friend from high school said. I felt like his personal liability in this case. But I was also happy to be far away from the danger, my thoughts and prayers with Deputy Aguiar and Sgt. White as they entered the apartment.
Then like the flip of a switch, it was all wrapped up and we were on our way back to the roadway to wait for the next situation to flare up. Having spent a great deal of time with Fire Rescue creating my book, I cannot help but compare the differences in my ride-alongs. Fire Rescue is always on the scene to help people, and thank god for them, but LE has to constantly face life-threatening situations like this, and I begin to feel a renewed respect for our officers. This goes on every day and most people go about their business having absolutely no idea! I cannot help but think about all those officers out there every day risking their lives. Just think, even as you read this, they are out there putting their lives on the line keeping us safe. GRATITUDE TIME!
As we drove, Mike shared some of his experiences with me.
"Four years ago Labor Day, a car rolled over into one of our canals and I was on the scene," he says. "As I got down into the water, I could hear a girl calling out for help and I stayed with her to calm her. Next Fire Rescue arrived with the jaws of life and cut her out. As she emerged, here was this 16-year-old girl completely black with mud and she's crying. Another deputy arrived just as we were wiping her face clean, and he realized it was his daughter."
Mike goes on to explain that just a few weeks before the crash, that deputy, the girl's father, had felt the need to have a talk with her about what to do and how to survive if she ever crashed into a canal! Mike then said how, after this crash, she was taken to the hospital where she received a CAT scan that revealed she had a brain tumor! If not for the accident and subsequent CAT scan, they would not have known in time about the brain tumor. She lives today!
"This goes at the top of my 'You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me' book," says Mike. "I truly believe things happen for a reason and here it was in living color. The term 'coincidence' is a non-believer's word for divine intervention."
Mike went on to give me some lessons in 'Fresh Pursuit' and 'Probable Cause' and details of search warrants. I learned that the term 'Fruit of the Poisonous Tree' means they always have to be extremely careful and deliberate about any searches they make. There must be reasonable suspicion that can be proved later on, or any results cannot be used in court. Those results, no matter how incriminating, are the bad 'fruit of the poisonous tree.'
Next Mike brought me to another parking lot where we met up with Deputies Jonathan Lozada and Andrew Sebris. Mike wanted me to have a different perspective so he passed me off to Deputy Lozada and away we went.
I learned that Deputy Lozada is 22 years old and joined IRCSO on August 6, 2012. He was born in Puerto Rico and moved with his family to Vero Beach when he was 7 years old. "I always liked law enforcement, although I am the first in my family to become an officer," he says. "I like helping people out. I wouldn't trade this for anything. What I like best is working in the community I grew up in."
He became an IRCSO Explorer (a volunteer LE training program for youth) when he was only 14, and rose to the highest rank of Captain. He is now a part-time advisor for the Explorers.
"The Explorers really help prepare you for the job and instill confidence," he says. "That's what our Sheriff wants too - to build deputies from the Explorer generations. I tell the Explorers to never give up. To do it right and put hard work into everything they do."
We are patrolling the South County area. "South County is my favorite," he says. "I live down here and I know it inside and out."
Only a few minutes have gone by and a call comes in for 'Accident: Unknown Injuries.' We hit it, sirens and lights and the whole works. It is my first time with lights and sirens! I am exhilarated! As we get close, we get an update that there are no injuries, so we take it down a notch, turning off sirens and slowing down.
Next we spend time on regular traffic patrol. On our 'beat' is Deputy Ben Buffington. Lozada shows me a few of his favorite spots where people tend to run stop signs and make illegal turns. I notice he gives mostly warnings, and he explains he is not out to make a quota, just to potentially save lives. "There's a reason why the sign is there," he says, pointing to the no left turn sign at Carrabba's and US 1.
We make a few more stops, and run into Deputy Buffington quite a bit. I mention to him that another of the major differences I can see between IRCSO and Fire Rescue is that the deputies are out there alone so much, while Fire Rescue has the family-team-environment that I loved so much during my time with them. He shares how they do keep an eye on each other out on the road, as I witness with our interactions with Ben, and how they often spend their down time together fishing or just hanging out. As the day progressed, I realized these men are like brothers, and I was relieved that they are not so alone all the time. The job is hard enough as it is, for heaven's sake!
At one point while we are parked, I look over and see a man walking up to Deputy Buffington's patrol car to ask for directions. "We're lost and we trust you," I suspect the man is thinking.
My time was about up - I had to get back to my office to give a singing lesson (what a contrast!) and then a call came about a car accident with injuries. Lights and sirens engaged, we were on our way. There we ran into some of my Fire Rescue friends from Station 4. Deputy Lozada got out to direct traffic which was piling up. Look in the photos just how close he is to the traffic as people are rubber-necking the accident! This makes me so aware of how dangerous even directing traffic is for LE. Be sure to keep an eye out for their safety next time you are driving past an accident!
As soon as it started, it was over, and away we went. I can see how it would be hard for me to be in LE for the reason that you never really get closure on any situation. You deal with what is right in front of you and then you have to move on, to be ready to respond to the next event.
I am looking forward to my next ride-along and am grateful for the opportunity to ride and share with you what it is like day to day for our brave hometown heroes in law enforcement!
I am an official, fully vetted volunteer with the Indian River County Sheriff's Office (Citizen's Academy, background checks, fingerprinted, etc.). Since my expertise is photo-journalism, producing these stories is one way I give back to my community.
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