Wednesday, March 9, 2011

War Story Wednesday: Halloween Tragedy

My first night in the Public Information Bureau (a unit located at the front desk of Headquarters; liaison between the department and the media, among many other functions) was October 31, 1989. Even if it hadn't been Halloween night, I would always remember my first tour after transferring from patrol.

This four-to-twelve tour remains memorable for two particular reasons.

It rained something awful -- which cut down on the 911 calls as far the "usual" Halloween pranks, such as egg-throwing, shaving cream spraying, and toilet-papering. I was answering the media phone calls, which was every hour on the hour as they prepared their Halloween stories for the evening news and the following day's papers. The officers training me that night said I should respond, "Nothing's going on" when asked by reporters, since nothing was going on. One particular reporter kept pushing, though. After he asked several times, I said something like "the weather must be doing it in" as the reason for such a quiet Halloween night.

It appeared in the paper the next day. I learned my very first lesson in PIB (although Public Info is widely known in agencies as PIO, Public Information Office or Officer): whatever I say better be printable. I certainly would have said something more intelligent had I known he was going to QUOTE me. Can you imagine, I actually expected the reporter to warn me? (Lesson #2).

Back to Halloween night:

Anyway, before the tour was over, something DID happen.

I responded with Officer Randy Jaret to my first scene while assigned to PIB -- and it was tragic.

I listened as Randy gave interviews to reporters near the train tracks in Shirley as we all stood in the rain with our umbrellas.

When the railroad crossing gate had lowered, a 20-year-old male driver stopped to wait for the train to pass.

Meanwhile, a 17-year-old driver, speeding on the wet pavement, couldn't stop his car in time. He plowed into the back of that waiting car and pushed it right into the path of the oncoming train.

The driver of the crushed vehicle was injured, but survived.

His passenger, however, was killed.

His 61-year-old mother.


  1. What a terrible tragedy. Serves as a reminder that many times bad decisions have consequences for others and not the actual person making the bad decision.

  2. You make an excellent point, Kourtney.
    That 17 yr old kid is nearly 40 now (if he's still alive), and I wonder if it has bothered him over the years. I know it would cripple me if my negligence caused someone's death. I often wonder about the woman who killed my brother. She was 20, and failed to yield right of way, and of course, was an inexperienced driver. But she caused my brother's death and his loss was and has been devastating. My nephew was only 5 months old. I'm very close to him, and he's now 10. It was four days before my brother's fifth wedding anniversary, and his wife had just turned 30 and instantly became a single parent.
    If only the inexperienced drivers would SLOW DOWN!

  3. Thanks for stopping by today, Charles. It's a sad tale, I know :-(