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Pursuit of a DUI suspect driving a tractor trailer.

Early in my career as a Police Officer I bought a police scanner for my home so that I could keep up with what was happening when I was off duty. Because the scanner had ten channels, I got used to listening to the other local departments including the Emergency Medical Service and the Fire Department.

Many times while I was working, I would see a State Trooper or and EMS unit going code four (lights and siren) somewhere and I would have to call my dispatcher and ask her to call their dispatcher to find out if they needed help. I got tired of this, so I bought a scanner to go into my patrol car. I always thought it was stupid that the county and the state officers could not talk to each other on the radio. It would have been possible for a State Trooper to be calling for help on his radio and the closest unit, being a county officer, just blocks away never to know that the State Trooper needed assistance. The scanner was my way of fighting this. Before I left the Sheriff's Department, it even became possible for me to talk to several of the Troopers directly because they had also put scanners in their patrol cars. We drove our dispatchers crazy. They could only hear half of the conversation since we would talk to each other over our radio network and listen to the reply being transmitted over the other department's net, picked up by our scanners.

Not long after I put the scanner in my patrol car I was working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. It was about 1 a.m. and I was headed home from the office. I was headed north on highway 21. Ahead of me I saw a State Trooper with a tractor trailer stopped on the right side of the road going the same direction as me. The Trooper was standing at the cab looking up at the driver.
As I got closer I saw the Trooper start to climb up on the step of the cab, he then jumped down and ran to his patrol car. I slowed down to about 30 miles an hour, as I passed them and I noticed that the truck was slowly moving away from the curb.

At first I didn't know what was going on, I thought that the Trooper was really motivated and couldn't wait to get back on patrol to write another ticket. I soon forgot that as I heard the Trooper call his dispatcher on the radio.

"Beaufort, F93, I'm 10-80 (in pursuit) he's running from me!" He was out of breath from his run and excitement, "We are north bound on highway 21!"

I still didn't really understand what had happened. I thought maybe somehow the trucker didn't realize the trooper wasn't done with him and had started to pull away. Because I thought that was all that was going on, I slowed down in front of the truck and turned on my blue light so he would stop again. I calmly called my dispatcher and told her where I was and that I was assisting a Highway Patrolman stop a tractor trailer.

I then heard the Trooper again talking to his dispatcher. He was really excited now, screaming into the radio, "Beaufort, he's going to hit the Deputy!! Get me some help out here!!"
I was still slowing down trying to get the trucker's attention. I looked into my rear view mirror and realized I was the Deputy the Trooper was yelling about, and that I already had more of the trucker's attention than I really wanted.

I took my foot off the brake and slammed it as hard and as far as I could on the accelerator, pushing it to the floor. I felt my patrol car start moving forward as I saw the front bumper of the truck just inches from the rear of my car. I remembered grabbing the microphone to my radio, but I don't remember what I said. I was told later that I shouted "That scum bag is trying to run me down!! Get me some help fast!!"

As I pulled away from the truck we came to highway 20, which branched off at an angle to our left. The truck turned left onto highway 20 without slowing down. The Trooper followed. I had to turn around and fall in behind the Trooper.

Needless to say all the screaming the two of us had done over our respective radios had gotten every Officer within 50 miles headed our way. Even the Beaufort Police and Port Royal Police Officers, who had their own radio net, but who could talk to us by changing channels and had been monitoring our net, got into the act. They all went to the northern- most limits of their cities just in case we ended up headed that way.

Every time we passed a landmark the Trooper and I would let everyone know where we were. We came up to a stop sign at highway 280. The trucker didn't even slow down, he went right through it and turned left onto highway 280. The Trooper thought this was an opportune time to get in front of the truck, so started around on the left in the oncoming lane. The truck driver saw him start around and swerved over forcing the Trooper into the ditch at about 45 miles an hour. The Trooper was able to keep control of his vehicle and drive back out of the ditch, but he was now behind me.

We both advised everyone on our radios that this driver would ram them or run them over if he got the chance. We were all now coming up to the intersection of 280 and 170. The truck slowed so we were sure he was going to turn onto 170 but until the last moment we were not sure which way he was going to go. He turned left heading east back towards Beaufort, in fact back towards the area where he was pulled over.

Again we radioed everyone where we were and which way we were headed. The truck picked up speed once he was on 170 and was traveling about 50 miles per hour. I tried several times to swing wide to the left to see what was coming and decide if I wanted to try to get in front of him, but he would swing in front of me.

On one of my swings to the left, I saw a patrol car sitting sideways in the road ahead. I got on the radio and started yelling for the Deputy to get out of the way. I told him that this guy would not stop or even slow down. The Deputy had to gun his patrol car and drive into the ditch to get out of the way. The trucker never even let up on the gas as he roared by the patrol car missing him by inches.

We were coming up to the intersection of Hwy 21. North on Hwy 21 about a block is where the Trooper had first pulled the truck over. The truck slowed a little bit as we came up to the intersection and then turned right, headed towards Beaufort City limits. Again both the Trooper and I informed our dispatchers and everyone listening the direction we were heading.

As I turned behind the truck onto Hwy 21 I heard from several Beaufort P.D. officers who said they were at the city limit waiting, but out of the way. Just before we got to the city limits the trucker made a left turn into a housing subdivision.

The Trooper called his dispatcher (I heard him over my scanner) and told her that he thought the man was trying to get to his residence. The address on the drivers license, which the Trooper still had, was in this subdivision. I passed this information on to my dispatcher.

Two Beaufort P.D. patrol cars entered the subdivision a couple of blocks south of where we had entered. As they turned a corner in the subdivision one of the officers lost control and hit a chain link fence. The top rail (which is a metal pipe) came loose and went through the windshield just missing the officer's head. He was shaken but uninjured.

The truck made several turns and then pulled over in front of a house on the right side of the street. We all jumped out of our patrol cars with our weapons drawn and started yelling for the driver to come out of the cab with his hands visible. The door did not open.

This was a very dangerous situation for the officers. The cab of the truck put the driver about three feet over our heads looking down at us and kept us from seeing anything other than his head and shoulders. We could not see his hands and were very vulnerable if he had a weapon.

We kept yelling for him to open the door, but got no response from him at all. He just sat there looking at us. Finally we decided that we would have to approach the cab. About this time the subject's father came out of the house and wanted to know what was going on. I had an officer grab him and pull him out of the possible danger zone.

I and two other officers approached the cab. Two of us covered the other officer as he reached up and pulled the cab door open. The driver still just sat there looking at us but now we could see that his hands were empty, so we rushed the door and pulled him out of the truck and onto the ground. We hand cuffed him and put him in a patrol car.

The truck and trailer were released to the custody of the driver's father. The Trooper and I thanked everyone for their help and headed to the jail. At the jail we had another officer, who had not been involved in the pursuit administer a Breathalyzer test to the driver. I don't remember the reading other than it was over the State's 1.0 BAC level which is considered intoxicated.

The driver was booked and placed in jail. It was now about 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. and I had been off since midnight, but I still had to write the report of the incident before going home.

The driver was charged with DUI, and failure to stop for blue light and siren. The DUI charge would go before the local Magistrate but the failure to stop would go before General Sessions Court.

The DUI charge came up first. It was tried before the local Magistrate in Beaufort. This happened to be the same Magistrate who had accused me of killing the man I had chased soon after starting on the Sheriff's Department. He had been on a motorcycle and had hit a telephone pole head on. We (the Trooper and I) were informed that the defendant had requested a jury trail. So the date was set and a jury pool was pulled.

The Trooper and I talked about the case and we both felt that it should be a pretty easy case. After all this man was first seen drive erratically by the Trooper and stopped. The Trooper smelled the odor of alcohol on his breath and asked him to step out of the truck for a field sobriety test. That is when the subject took off, almost hitting me and causing a total of 8 patrol cars to chase him. Purposely running the Trooper off the road and almost hitting another Deputy while running from us. After all of this and nearly two hours after the initial traffic stop the man still blew over the 1.0 blood alcohol level which mandated a DUI charge in the State of South Carolina. What kind of a defense could he possibly come up with?

We soon got our answer. He hired one of the most expensive and best trial lawyers in the county. Because this was a 'simple' DUI trial in front of a Magistrate the State did not have an Attorney. The Officers acted as the State's Attorney.

As the prosecution we went first. The Trooper laid out his case and called me and the Breathalyzer Operator as witnesses. The Defense Attorney did not question us on the Breathalyzer at all, but he did ask us questions about whether any of us had ever operated a tracker trailer in the past. None of us had, so we answered no. He also asked us if we had stopped the tracker trailer or if the driver had stopped on his own in front of his residence. Of course we answered that we had tried to stop the truck but could not get it stopped and yes he had stopped himself in front of his residence. That was the extent of the cross examination, but it gave us an idea of where the defense was going. We (the Officers involved) knew that a jury could be very unpredictable and this no longer looked like a slam dunk case. The mere fact that the defendant has a lawyer and we were just Police Officers would weigh in favor of the defendant in many jurists eyes.

Then the defense put on it's case. The first thing the Attorney did was call his well dressed, polite defendant to the stand. He started by asking him if he remembered the evening in question and the defendant said he did. Then he asked him if he could tell the jury why he had run from the Officers. In what was obviously a carefully coached statement the defendant told the jury how the Trooper and stopped him for no reason and then accused him of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The defendant stated that he had not been drinking that evening, but he had taken some cold medicine. He said he tried to explain that to the Trooper but he was unreasonable and would not listen to anything the driver had to say. Then the defendant stated that the Trooper ordered him out of the truck and told him that he was going to arrest him for DUI. The poor distraught truck driver asked the big mean Trooper what would happen to his truck. The Trooper told him that it would be towed to the impound lot. The driver respectfully told the Trooper that the truck might be damaged if it was towed and asked if the Trooper would please call his father to come pick up the truck. The Trooper would not even listen to the man's concerns, he just kept demanding that the driver get out of the truck.

Fearing that his means of making a living might be damaged the driver saw no other alternative but to go park his truck at home, even though that meant running from the Police. Under cross examination the Trooper asked the defendant why he tried to run two officers off the road if all he wanted to do was park the truck at home. The defendant answered that he was afraid of what we might try to do. He was afraid we might try to shoot out his tires or shoot him, so he tried to keep us from getting in front of him. The Trooper asked if the driver had been at all concerned for the safety of the officers. The driver stated that of course he was but we were the ones chasing him, he was not the cause of all this, he just wanted to take his truck home and park it. We were the ones driving crazy and trying to pass him, etc...

Next the Defense Attorney tried to place a video tape into evidence to be shown to the jury. We objected because we did not know what this tape was or how it was relevant. The Magistrate agreed that we should watch it out of the sight of the jury and then determine if it could be used as part of the defenses case and shown to the jury.

The jury was given a lunch break and told to be back in a hour or so and we watched the tape. It was a tape made by the Defense Attorney's office. It showed the defendant with his tractor trailer and the Attorney interviewing him about the difficulty of operating such a monstrous piece of equipment. At one point in the video the defendant easily climbed into the cab, then the camera went to the other side of the truck and showed the Attorney laboriously climbing into the cab with the use of a six foot step latter.

After getting into the cab the Attorney (out of breath from the climb) talked to the defendant and had him show how difficult it was for a 'sober' person to drive the truck. The Attorney asked the defendant if he felt that he would even be able to operate the truck while intoxicated. Of course the defendant stated that there was no way, it took too much concentration and skill, there was no way he or anyone else would be able to drive this truck if they were under the influence.

When the tape was finished we again objected to it's use. We objected because the tape was another rehash of the testimony that the defendant had already given, but when shown as a tape we (the defense) could not cross examine the testimony. The Magistrate overruled us and allowed the tape to be shown to the jury.

While watching the tape the jury laughed at appropriate times, such as when the Lawyer had trouble climbing into the cab. I watched the jury as they watched the tape and noticed several of them nodding in agreement when the Lawyer said things to the affect that the truck sure was intimidating to him.

The defense closed their case, without even mentioning the blood alcohol level of the defendant. They did not try to argue that the Breathalyzer was not working correctly, or not administered correctly, or that the level of blood alcohol in the defendants body was caused by cold medication (an old trick), or anything. They just totally ignored the test.

The only thing left was the closing argument from both the prosecution and the defense. We went first and we stressed the evidence; the erratic driving which caused the Trooper to pull the man over in the first place, the odor of alcohol on his breath, the pursuit and the Breathalyzer result which was over the legal limit in South Carolina. We also stressed to the jury that when a person does something every day for a living, they are much more capable of at least going through the motions after drinking.

The defense closed by just reminding the jury, that this was all our (the officers) fault. If the Trooper had just agreed in the first place to call the father this would not have happened. The Attorney also reminded the jury that this was a very difficult piece of equipment to operate and that no one in their right mind would believe a drunken driver could drive as well as this man did in going back to his residence. Also he told them that if the man was trying to escape the last place he would have gone was his own residence. Then he appealed to their hearts. He explained how this man had been a truck driver for over 10 years and how he supported his family by driving truck and that if he lost his license how his family would be the one's to suffer.

The jury, deliberated for less than an hour and come back with a not guilty verdict. Just like that, they dismissed the risk 8 police officers took that evening trying to stop this truck. They dismissed the legal limit for blood alcohol. They dismissed the authority of a police officer to have a person take a field sobriety test, and the authority of police officers to stop a vehicle on the highway. They dismissed all the innocent lives which were endangered while this man ran from us. They dismissed the truthfulness of at least three police officers over the testimony of a person whose claims went against the evidence in the case.

They drove another nail in the wall that separated police officers from the people they are sworn to protect at the risk of their own lives. The General Sessions case (failure to stop) was dropped because without the DUI conviction, the case would be almost impossible to win in front of a jury and it costs money to prosecute cases, so why spend money on a hopeless case?

Pursuits are exciting, but not fun. They are not fun because you realize the danger. Danger to the public, to the officers and to the subject. They are, however, necessary. If a department makes a policy not to chase people who run from them, you can believe that more and more people will run instead of stopping, even for minor offenses. You would not solve the problem you would compound it.

As an officer involved in a case like this, you walk out of the courtroom in a quandary. Why would a jury let this guy off? Could they really believe that a Police Officer would stop a tractor trailer at 1:00 a.m. for no reason? Could they believe that a Police Officer would then lie under oath that he smelled alcohol on the man's breath? Could they really believe that a rational (sober) person would run from the Police and try to hit two Police vehicles? Could they really believe that the State would set the BAC level at 1.0 when a person could be that level and not be drunk?

Or was the whole thing much more simple; the jury didn't care about the law, they just felt bad for this guy because "there for the grace of God, go I."

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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