18 – 1501 Sgt. Foster Mayo
They were a stunning couple. John was a ‘hunky’ weight lifter and Patsy was a drop-dead gorgeous brunette. They were just starting their family with Patsy’s first pregnancy. They said that they had the best and most compatible jobs for a couple: John was a police officer and Patsy was a nurse. When they got off work and wanted to talk about their day, it was usually about the same events and the same people.
I met John in class, we were both Police Science majors at New Mexico State University and they were our neighbors across the quadrangle in married student housing. John taught me how to reload and a lot about shooting which we did every chance we got.
I was a reserve for the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Department and rode with John whenever I could. Dona Ana County is like Boundary County in that it borders against another country (Mexico) and another state. It is huge, more than 75 miles long north to south. Pat Garrett was the Sheriff in Dona Ana County in 1899-1900. He is infamous, of course, for killing Billy the Kid in 1881. No, I never met either one of them in person but thanks for asking.
I was riding with John one Friday afternoon when we were dispatched to find a drunk driver eastbound on the Alamogordo highway. The highway had a reputation of being a very DANGEROUS place to be, especially on the weekends. It is a connecting highway between intoxicated college kids from Las Cruces, intoxicated airmen from Alamogordo, and intoxicated soldiers from Fort Bliss in El Paso. I never heard of an accident involving any of the personnel from nearby White Sands, most of them, I suppose, really were rocket scientists.
The vehicle we were looking for was a small compact pickup with a camper shell. The reported male driver was supposedly weaving from shoulder to shoulder. John hated drunk drivers so…. we went eastbound looking for him. John’s cruiser was a MOPAR Plymouth with a 440 cubic inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor the size of a five-gallon bucket. Every time John went somewhere in a hurry I closed my eyes and got born-again religious.
We did not see the truck but we did see the dust cloud. At the point of the accident, the highway had two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes separated by a 100+ foot cactus strewn desert median. The truck had left the eastbound lanes, traversed across the 100’ wide median and side swiped a westbound pickup truck. Another couple of feet and the two trucks could have missed each other, but that was not the case. And rather than hitting head-on, the small compact truck was clipped on the right rear which turned it violently sideways and caused it to turn over, and over, and over. The camper shell was torn off the truck, thrown into the air and then slammed into the ground as if it had been uprooted by a tornado.
The occupants of the westbound truck were injured but not seriously. The occupants of the compact truck were not so lucky. The two adults that were still mostly inside the truck were obviously dead. Don’t ask me to be more specific. And, NO, they had not been wearing seat belts. The two children that had been riding in the back of the truck in the camper shell had been thrown into the air like rag dolls after the shell was torn from the truck. The four year old landed in the path of the tumbling truck and had been crushed underneath. The 12 year old had been spiked into the ground just outside the vehicle’s path. She might have a chance.
John found her and started CPR. She was put in the first responding ambulance while John continued the CPR. I did what little I knew how to do until the New Mexico State Police arrived to take over the accident investigation. I drove John’s car to the hospital.
I’m sure it was organized but the emergency room looked like chaos. Relatives were everywhere, whispering back and forth, and two of the treatment rooms were crowded with staff members. The door to the main trauma room was closed. No one would make eye contact with me. John was nowhere to be seen. Then a city police Captain that I recognized from university classes came out of the trauma room. He nodded recognition, pointed back into the room, and then walked past me grim faced, leaving the building. I knew that he knew a County Reserve had violated several city department policies by driving the city police car to the hospital but nothing was ever said about it.
I opened the door to find John sitting in a chair, holding his head in his hands, crying. Patsy was kneeling by him rubbing the back of his massive neck. The 12 year old was on the table, under the sheet. I later learned that there had been a major confrontation between John and the ER doctor. The little girl had a massive head injury and was probably clinically dead at the accident scene. John, an expectant father, would not give up and pushed the doctor aside, trying to start the CPR again. The Captain and Patsy had to pull John off and away so the little girl could “go”.
An autopsy indicated that the little girl’s father had a blood alcohol level of 0.28% when he was driving the truck. This is more than three times the legal limit in New Mexico (and Idaho). But there is more to be learned here than drunk driving, or seat belts, or passengers riding in a truck bed without seats or seat belts. It was the first time that John or I had seen a child die. It is NOT the same as an adult.
What does an incident in southern New Mexico have to do with northern Idaho? To help prevent this type of incident, Idaho, like New Mexico, has a Child Injury statute.
Idaho Code 18 - 1501 says, in part: “that any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits a child to placed in such a situation that its person or health is endangered” is guilty of a crime. Subsection three of 18 – 1501 specifically states that a person over the age of 18 commits the crime of “injury to a child” by transporting a minor in a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.
If you drink, DON’T DRIVE.
If you are going to ignore this warning, please DON’T TAKE YOUR CHILDREN WITH YOU!
I didn’t see John for a while. He used some vacation time and took a trip with Patsy to visit relatives in Texas. Later, John thanked me for driving his car to the hospital, and that is all he ever said about the accident. Just before graduation, John applied to and was hired by the Texas Department of Public Safety. I helped him load his U-haul and waved as they drove away. I have not seen or heard from him since.
I have heard that the ranks of the Texas Rangers are filled from the cadre of the Texas DPS. I know in my heart that somewhere in Texas there is a ‘hunky’ guy, who, as we speak, is carrying a large caliber pistol, is wearing a “good guy” white Stetson, and a star stamped from a Mexican five pesos silver coin. I will bet my next paycheck his name isn’t Walker, it’s JOHN.