In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 14, as newly graduated seniors were still celebrating the end of their high school years, Onslow County, North Carolina, enjoyed being reassigned to the road while school was out for summer vacation.
At 36 years of age, Steve Boehm had spent a decade in the sheriff's khaki uniforms, never regretting his career choice. He loved everything about his job, even though he always knew some day he might not finish his shift. It's something all cops know; but for a school resource officer (SRO) in coastal North Carolina the chances of a duty-related death seemed unlikely — especially for someone who grew up in the community where he policed, graduated from the same high school where he served as an SRO and even coached sports there.
Boehm was an exceptional SRO. Here's what someone who worked with him said: "Steve really knew those kids — who was in a gang and who wasn't. He knew the names of their brothers and sisters and parents. He got on their level and kept his finger right on the pulse of that school. He put his heart into his job."
And that's why the students respected him so much. He was tough, but he was also shrewd. Word got around that you couldn't con the easy-going, laid-back deputy. He already knew what you were up to before you did it. Boehm was that kind of officer.
But he was also there for the kids who needed him, who were at that mid-point in their lives trying to decide whether to take the high road or the low. Boehm had an instinct about these kids. He knew the ones who were tipping the wrong way and he made it his business to put a hand on their shoulders and steer them right. Some listened, some didn't, but if they did go wrong, it wasn't because Boehm gave up. He never wrote any kid off, no matter what.
On June 12, White Oak sent its 2008 senior class out into the world and Boehm prepared to move back to the line until school started again in August. His wife, Kim, told Boehm's boss that he was excited to get back to regular duties for awhile. It would be a nice change of pace for him.
Then, a little before five in the morning of June 14, on a stretch of U.S. Hwy. 17 South, between the areas known as Dixon and Verona, a problem developed: fog mixed with smoke from a range fire at the nearby Marine Corps base created hazardous driving. The military asked for civilian assistance directing traffic through the area where visibility was down to nil. What happened next was unthinkable.
First an accident took place in the southbound lane, then another in the northbound lane. Emergency crews were everywhere: ambulances, volunteer firemen, troopers, deputies. Meanwhile, Boehm and Gene Thomas, a volunteer fireman, were on foot, rushing to help a wreck victim, when a second deputy nearby looked up and saw a tractor trailer headed right for the three.
This second deputy screamed out a warning to Boehm and Thomas, who were directly in the path of the truck, then threw himself out of the way. The enormous truck slammed into a patrol car, knocking it sideways, then continued on, hitting Boehm and Thomas full force, before striking several other emergency vehicles. Both men died instantly.
Steve Boehm, the guy who knew every kid at White Oak High School, won't be there to welcome this year's incoming freshmen and the Class of 2009. He won't be there to see his own kids grow up, either. And even though that was the risk he knew he took when he picked up his badge and gun, it's still a damned shame.
And it goes to illustrate just how dangerous this job really is. Stay safe out there.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.