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Fatal Auto Accident with a Surprise

I responded one evening to an auto accident in which a jeep that had been speeding ran off the road. The driver was thrown clear, but the passenger was pinned under the jeep.

The jeep left the right side of the road in a curve. The jeep had been traveling at approximately ninety miles an hour. It traveled about fifty feet before going into the ditch, which was about ten feet deep. The jeep turned upside down and snapped several small pine trees before coming to rest on an up-rooted pine tree.

The Highway Patrol and Beaufort County Emergency Medical Services were also at the scene. Several of us went down into the ditch, which had about six inches of water in it, to see if we could help the passenger. He was lying face down. From the middle of his shoulder blades on up he was hidden by the jeep on top of him and pinned against the tree below. We searched for a pulse but he did not have one. The Coroner was notified and came to the scene.

Once the investigation was through it was up to us to get the body out. The Highway Patrolman, the EMS assistant director and I ended up with the job. By this time there was quite a crowd of onlookers standing on the edge of the ditch by the road. What we could see of the body did not appear to be in too bad shape. The body was wedged tightly between the jeep and the tree. We thought the man had died of a crushed chest.

We were having a hard time getting the body out so we finally tied a line to the jeep and tied it off so the jeep could not settle any lower then it already was. The Trooper and I pushed down on the tree trunk and as we got it to move several inches the EMS assistant director would pull the body a little further each time.

The EMS assistant director was on the right side of the body, I was on the left side, right beside the legs and the Trooper was to my left. The EMS assistant director told us he almost had it free, one more time should do it. We pushed down once more as hard as we could. The EMS assistant director pulled hard and the body came free. As it came free I heard the EMS assistant director exclaim, "Oh s***!!" At the same time he let the body go, which he had pulled out by he shoulders. The body fell backwards toward me.

I looked down as the shoulders came to rest against my legs. What I saw sent a cold chill up my spine. The body had been decapitated. I took a couple of quick steps back and got control of myself. I looked around and found the State Trooper standing on the top of the ditch with the Coroner looking down at the EMS assistant director and me. I looked over to the other side of the ditch toward the road. All the on-lookers had apparently seen all they cared to, not one of them was still there.

The body was transported to the morgue at the county hospital where we finished our investigation. After we were through, the Coroner, the Trooper, and I all went to a 24-hour restaurant for a cup of coffee. We were talking about the accident. I looked at my coffee cup and I thought of the body hitting my legs. The Trooper, who was sitting across from me, said something. I looked up and for a second I saw him sitting there without a head. It had been a long night, and I was ready to go home and get some rest.

Many people, who do not work as police officers, cannot understand what seeing and dealing with hurt, dead or dying people day after day does to a person. You have to deal with the violence in your own way, often that is done by drawing into yourself and opening up to only other people who understand.

In the seven years and four months that I was a Deputy Sheriff, there were many nights that I went home at the end of the shift, just to lie awake and try to get my emotions on an even keel. The more you beat your emotions down the less things bother you. On the surface this seems good but I didn't realize that it carried over into my private life too. Without meaning to I became cold toward my family as well as the problems of the street.

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

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