real life motorcycle drama
As some of you know, I was sort-of a police officer for a few years (15+ actually). I was a precocious little snot in my career…a surprise to some of you, I know. I wrecked 7 police cars and 1 police motorcycle…totaling 2 of the cars and the motor. One time, I managed to put the lights out in a fair-sized city, total a police car, total another car, AND set a building on fire all in about 5 seconds. One year, I nearly snatched an Alabama Army National Guard helicopter out of the sky during a marihuana eradication program, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the bird and nearly got the program summarily cancelled nationwide…and those are just the beginnings of the highlight reels.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that I was rather assertive in my policing style and I was used as a counter-balance to the overly ‘Officer Friendly’ types. The trick was figuring out the balance and knowing when Officer Friendly was the right officer to send, or when it was time to send in the cavalry on a slash-n-burn campaign when the bad guys didn’t get the message or thought they had figured-out the system. It was one of the latter assignments were I really did run-over a guy with a motorcycle.
In the late 1980s, some of our citizens thought it a grand idea to shoot ‘craps’ against the curbs in the street-side parking bays within one of our many government-assisted housing ‘projects’. We Officers knew these were nickel, dime and quarter games…solidly in no-harm/no-foul territory and as long as the folk showed enough respect to at least get off their knee as we patrolled by, we would conspicuously ignore them and go about our business so they could get back to theirs.
Unfortunately, our least civilized project straddled one of the major streets that all of the self-declared Pretty-People who lived up on “the Mountain” used as a short-cut going to-n-fro between their homes and downtown. Being ‘Pretty People’ they didn’t understand that a casual game of pick-up craps was not the final sign of the Apocalypse, and even if it was, we had it under control. One thing they DID know was that we had NO problem arresting them and their kids for any of numerous violations ranging from DUI to pederasty, and …well…that just wasn’t ‘fair’ in their view of things so they complained to the Powers.
In any conflict between the Pretty People and the Little Folk, the Powers always align themselves with who they believe themselves to be…the Pretty People. Sure enough, it weren’t long before orders came down from the Powers to their resident “fixer”: ‘Sgt Nessler, make it stop.’. One of the qualities of being a good ‘fixer’ is being able to discern the true intent of the Powers without having to ask inconvenient questions. I knew that I wasn’t being told to make the Little Folk stop shooting craps against the curbs…that would be potentially inconvenient should the Little Folk complain to, say, the ACLU, NAACP, or the wrong Justice Department. What I WAS being told was to make the Pretty People stop complaining to the Powers about the Little People shooting craps against the curbs. That is a subtle but significant difference and being able to discern that difference is what made me such a good ‘Fixer of Inconvenient Things’.
My plan was simple, get a couple of my trusted tac team members in on the act and gently nudge the games off the main street and onto the side-streets where the Pretty People would NEVER go (unless they were picking up a ‘friend’ for a ‘date’ based on a to-be-negotiated cash transaction or they were craving their favorite illicit narcotic du’jour). Our negative reinforcement for the relocation program was simply seizing the money in the pot, which we would immediately and gleefully redistribute to the kids in the area. That way, we were achieving the goal, making lots of new friends, plus even the players knew we weren’t pocketing their meager amounts of money (which they would have believed if we went ‘by the book’ and turned the ‘abandoned property’ into the property room).
Two or three times a day, if I wasn’t already on one of our PD motors I’d go get one and meet my teammates near the targeted project. We were on some of the first mid-80‘s Honda Gold Wing Police-specific bikes. They were naked, except for a clear plexi-windshield, A MONSTER round headlight, and we hacked some of the saddlebags off of our old H-Ds onto them to hold our crap when we rode them. We were offered the opportunity to run the bikes for a couple of years as a test PD and jumped at the chance. We didn’t even have enough stickers, logos, and radios to befarkle all of them and the one I usually used was, basically, an unmarked bike and I could roll right up on just about anyone. We usually called it the ‘sneaker bike’, and it was good for just that.
On the day of all days, I had gone to get the sneaker bike, met my partners, rolled into the projects and sure enough, there was a game right where it didn’t need to be. I eased along, knowing that in just a few moments they’d figure out what I was up to, run, and I’d just roll-up get the money and hand it out to the kids who’d always gather around (they knew how it worked and were always close by when we grabbed a pot).
Except, they were REALLY focused on the game and weren’t looking around…
As I rolled closer, I could see that there was something odd about the pot…there were bills in it and I had NEVER seen that before! Closer yet and I still hadn’t been seen so I double-clicked my lapel-mic, the signal for my back-up to come-on-in. Closer…still not seen…LOTS of bills on the ground…lots of folk in the game…interesting…
I picked my opening and slowly turned off the road just as the player rolls the dice. As everyone in the game focuses on the numbers, I slip my front wheel between two gamers and stop with the pot trapped under my front wheel…and all hell breaks loose when someone screams ‘FIVE OH!-FIVE OH!-FIVE OH!”
Those that are already standing run-off in different directions, those on their knees scramble to get on their feet, grabbing and pulling on each other to get moving. In the scrimmage, a couple of them end up rolling-around on the ground trying to figure-out which way to go, and I see the guy that had rolled the dice grab them and run off-toward my left, which was in the direction I was facing.
For some reason he’s looking back at me and I’m looking right at his face so I can ID and grab him later when we both notice the $20 bill falling out of the sky like a leaf between us. First, I was awestruck…I didn’t know there was a $20 bill anywhere in those projects…but here it was! Everyone else had run away but Dice Guy and he had stopped, watching the $20 fall to the ground. When it hit the ground, I looked back up to see where he was, only then realizing he had stopped running away. Then I saw that smile spread across his face…
He had realized what I already knew…I was stuck on the motorcycle and he could make a grab at the pot and go before I could even flinch…and that is EXACTLY what the SOB did!
WHOOSH! he reached down and WHOOSH! He was headed away again and all I saw was a HUGE wad of bills in his hand as he ran off laughing…right up the sidewalk…in the direction I was already pointed.
‘F’k that, You F’king, F’ker’ I remember thinking as I eased-out the clutch, bumped the curb, and headed down the sidewalk after him. He had a little distance on me, but the way was clear between us so I gassed it a little. I knew my back-up was rolling in behind me and would follow me to the fun but I wanted one of them to stay with the pot…there was still plenty of cash in it…and I reached for my mic clipped to my uniform.
Police lapel-mics are not meant for use on a moving motorcycle and you have to get your mouth as close as you can to the mic to be heard. To do that, you develop a habit of turning your head to toward the mic (for me that was to my right) and leaning down toward the mic as far as you can while you pull the mic as far up as you can. Well, when I did that, the little sunshade on the half-helmets we wore would block my peripheral vision to the front. In 99 & 44/100ths percent of the time, not a problem…but this wasn’t one of those times.
Unbeknownst to me, Dice Guy had realized the futility of his actions and he decided to surrender…which he did by stopping, turning to face me, and standing spread-eagle in the middle of the sidewalk.
Unfortunately, I did not know he had done that soonly enough…
Something caught my eye to the front and I looked-up just in time to see my front wheel passing between his spread legs…and….it…..all……slowed…….way……..way………down.
Somehow I got my left hand off my mic, back on the bar, and clamped-down on the bars and with my knees against the tank just as that monster headlight hit him right in the belly. The momentum of the bike drove his midsection backward while his legs and arms extended straight toward the back of the bike along each side of the shield as the air just blasted out of him in a loud ‘HUUUUuuuuuuhhhhhh’.
I saw that his face had planted hard against the center of the plexi-windscreen and was turned to my left side. His mouth was open and something pink had spritzed across the screen…then there was his eye…
It was plastered flat against the upper part of the screen…right in the center…looking like a big, flat fish-eye…and it was staring right at me! I’m here to tell you…that freaked me out a little!
I grabbed the brakes and he began to peel-off the front of the bike…almost like he was sitting on the front fender and was slowly falling over backwards…but the bike began to wiggle a little (I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on some sand that was on the sidewalk, probably from rain run-off). I could see that he was still peeling-off the front of the bike, falling away faster than I was going, but I instinctively released the brakes to regain control of the bike.
Just as I let go of the brakes, he landed on the sidewalk…HARD! It seemed like I could feel his head hit the concrete and he skidded a little ways before he stopped.
Then it got bad…
He was still spread-eagle, lying on his back on the sidewalk, the wide end of the “V” of his legs toward me with his head away from me.
By that point it had devolved into the surreal and I was just along for the ride…
The bike was still moving forward at a fair speed and from the wiggles, it was slightly leaning and turning to the left as it rolled between his legs again. The front tire rolled up the inside of his right leg, forcing the front of the bike to the right. The front tire rolled across the top of his right thigh, tracked to the right of his crotch, across his abdomen from his right-to-left, to where it dropped off his left shoulder about halfway between his head and point of his shoulder.
The rear tire rolled up high on the inside of his left thigh, bursting his thigh with a loud “POP!”, then it tracked across his hips, abdomen and chest angled slightly from his left-to-right. His face was turned to his right and the rear tire tracked across the left side of his face, leaving an imprint of the tire tread in the skin on his forehead (that lasted for several days) before it dropped off his head back onto the sidewalk.
Once back on solid ground, I was able to get the bike stopped pretty quickly and all I could do was sit there trying to figure-out what had just happened. In no time, the screech of tires, people running, kids screaming, high-pitched radio calls for the fire medics snapped me back to reality.
Yeah…it really happened…I had just run over a man with a motorcycle…and the world saw me do it.
The medics were there in just a few moments and they were working on him furiously. I knew there was a lot of concern about his left thigh. From prior training and a previous incident I was involved in, I knew there were a large artery and vein in there and that if either of those were ruptured it’d be difficult for him to survive.
I’d worked on him a little before the medics arrived and believed that both were intact…I kept trying to tell the medics if they’d just look they were right there and they could see they were fine (I was being more wishful than knowing, but I could tell from the amount of blood on the ground that as bad as it looked, he still had plenty in him). They finally bundled him up and got him on the road to the ER just in as my command staff started arriving.
In the whirlwind of Very Important People Trying to Appear Important, I ended up stuffed in the rear seat of a marked unit and unceremoniously sent-off to the hospital for the blood alcohol and drug screenings I had requested. I ended-up in the station next to the Dice Guy…both fortunately and unfortunately. Fortunately because I learned that, other than the thigh, he was remarkably uninjured and the thigh, while gruesome looking, was still pretty intact and could probably be repaired with minimal risk of extended impairment. Unfortunate because it was rather disheartening to hear people say how truly and sincerely screwed I was…as in, please tell me something I DIDN’T know already!
…and that, as weaving and drifting a story as it is, is how I ran-over someone with a motorcycle to the best of my recollection and memory.
When I share this story, people usually have two basic questions: “What happened to him?” and “What happened to you?”
He recovered fine. Last I knew he is alive & well, and STILL living in the same projects but that has been many years ago. He has some nasty-looking scarring on the inside of his thigh but suffered no particular impairment despite being run-over by a solid half-ton of motorcycle and me. While he could have easily sued for a gabazillion dollars and certainly have received some substantial money, he never did. After the statutory period to initiate a suit passed we spoke about it and he said that he realized that he was wrong and he knew I would never have done anything like that on purpose.
I was both in a predicament and was A predicament for the City.
Yeah, accidents happen and people that don’t deserve to get hurt, do…but the ‘optics’ of it were bad for me (if it hasn’t been accurately inferred, he was black and I am obviously not), Crack cocaine was really hammering the black community in our city hard and we…as a PD and as a Tac Team I was the Commander of…were pounding the dealers harder. Sometimes our tactics were harsh and I was one of the ‘faces’ of those tactics. I was honestly concerned that I’d be sold for scrap just as an example. Fortunately, I discovered I had some very surprising friends within the black community and the few people that barked were silenced pretty quickly from within.
From the City’s perspective, there was always the innate motivation to ‘do something’ when the optics are as they were, but their predicament was whatever they did would, for all intents and purposes, be seen as admitting culpability and risk opening-up the city treasury to the victim’s cash vacuum (in a cost-saving measure, the City had self-insured and would be completely exposed in case of a lawsuit). So, as many large organizations are prone to, they found themselves with a self-inflicted case of ‘analysis induced paralysis’ until it was too late to act against me without appearing to be acting in an unnecessarily retaliatory manner, thereby handing ME the cash vacuum (and they KNEW very well what I’d do with it).
I worked for that PD a few more years and I’d see the Dice Guy regularly. The standing joke between us when he’d show his ass while drinking was that I’d tell him to go inside or I’d run him over again…and in he’d go without another peep. I will admit that he got special consideration from me and there were many, many times he may should have gone to jail for Public Intoxication. Instead, he and I walked back to his place, me carrying him more than him walking, and his family would come-out to get him and they were always gracious and thankful. I just figured he had earned that privilege the hard way.
Michael J. Nessler