I recently had the opportunity to do one of the more gratifying things any person can do to help keep our streets safe: getting a drunk driver off the road. While driving on my local highway I noticed an old pickup truck swerving in and out of lanes and on occasion, driving off the road and onto a dirt embankment. Having seen and followed many drunk drivers while on duty, I immediately became suspicious of the driver and followed him at a safe distance for a few more miles to further observe his condition before dialing 911. It didn't take too much longer to confirm that this was one of the worst cases of drunk driving that I had ever seen and if he was not stopped soon, he was going to crash and very possibly hurt or kill some innocent people.
I dialed 911 and reported what I was observing to the highway patrol operator, gave our location, direction of travel, vehicle description, etc., all the standard information needed to call out a BOLO and hopefully get an officer en route. When I finished providing the basic information, I told the operator I would stay on the line with her, maintaining a safe distance from the DUI suspect, until an officer could arrive and take over. The operator replied, "Sir, there is no need for you to stay behind the vehicle any longer, we have the vehicle description and direction of travel, we'll pass it on to our officers..."
Having been a radioman for four years in the Coast Guard many, many years ago, I can appreciate what it's like to be on the other end of a radio or telephone call, taking information from a "citizen" about some type of incident that requires a public safety response, without actually being there to see what they're seeing and reporting. And while I understand the typical protocol is to not have the public get involved in something like this, what about the hundreds of other cars that have passed by me during the five minutes that I've been talking to the dispatcher? Aren't they potentially in harm's way, considering the suspected DUI driver has swerved in and out of lanes over ten times since talking to her, in several instances coming extremely close to hitting one of them? At least in my case, I know the guys is drunk and I have no intention of trying to pass him. Further, I'm keeping a safe distance behind him, should he jam on the brakes or collide with another vehicle.
I lost a close friend to a DUI driver years ago and have seen the end result of what they can do dozens of times while on patrol over the years. Considering how extremely bad this guy was, I had no intention of just letting him drive off into the sunset with the highway patrol having no real idea of where he was, considering the dozens of potential exits and alternate highways he could transition onto.
I politely explained to the dispatcher that I understood her concern, and if she needed to hang up, that's fine. However, considering the extreme threat this person posed to the public, I would continue to follow him until an officer made contact or perhaps more likely, he TCs, at which time I would call her back to let her know where to send the ambulance and/or the coroner.
I think she finally realized it would probably be better to work with me rather than hang up, which turned out to be a great decision. Shortly after our talk, the DUI suspect exited the freeway, blew two lights, swerved across all three lanes of the street several times and just barely missed a row of parked cars. As luck would have it for the good guys, the city he entered has a number of officers on the streets and we were able to guide them right up to the rear bumper of his pick up to initiate a traffic stop. I waited back a safe distance in my car so the officers could do their thing without worrying about me. Once the suspect was hooked up, they came over to get my information and statement. The first words out of the officer's mouth were, "Thanks for calling this in, this guy is so drunk he can hardly talk." In return I thanked the officer for his prompt and professional response, wished him a good day, shook hands and headed back home.