Traffic Hazards

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, things go wrong.

Back when I was still working midnights, often patrolling as the only "general" car for the county, we used to lock up a lot of drunk drivers. In the rural/suburban county where I was policing, weeknights could get kind of slow, except for the "magic hour" of 0200-0300. That's when the bars closed, and it was a pretty good bet that many of the cars on the road at that time were driven by locals that had tipped a few too many, and were trying to make it home without getting arrested.

Twice during those years I was out on traffic stops when drunk drivers plowed into the rear end of my parked patrol unit. As luck would have it, both times we were pulled over on "country" roads, as in two-lane blacktop, rather than expressways. That meant that when the irresistible force met the immovable (parked) object, it was only at around 35-40 mph, as opposed to freeway speeds. Still, it was pretty harrowing. Fortunately, my partner and I were out of the vehicle both times. On each occasion, one arrest turned into two, although we had to get another unit to help us with transport.

I thought about those two incidents the other day as I was doing my daily review of The Officer Down Memorial Page on the Internet. One of the most recent entries that day was for a young officer from the Beaumont, Texas, Police Department. Her name was Lisa Beaulieu, and she had been on the job for ten years; four as a dispatcher, then the last six as a police officer. I didn't know her, and have never been to Beaumont, but I think I know a little about her career. I'll bet she was a great dispatcher, but really always wanted to be a Cop.

Having worked as a shift sergeant for several years, I had a couple of excellent dispatchers on my shift--one of whom always wanted to become a deputy sheriff. I remember talking with her about it many times over the years. Sometime after I left the department, I learned that she had finally gotten her wish, had attended the academy and become a road patrol deputy. Subsequently, she was promoted to detective, and turned out to be an excellent officer.

I'll bet Lisa Beaulieu was a lot like her.

Anyway, one night Lisa was policing a traffic accident on the freeway. It wasn't quite the magic hour, but it was getting close. The accident was on an overpass, and her options were limited for pulling off the road--so she did what each of us has done many times; she stopped in the traffic lane with her emergency lights activated, in order to protect the scene.

While she was there, another car pulled up behind hers, and she walked back to talk with the occupants. Being a safety conscious officer, she approached on the passenger side, between the passenger's door and the guardrail, in order to keep herself out of the traffic flow.

While she was heading back to talk with the occupants of the vehicle, a drunk driver came from behind the other vehicle, but instead of swerving around the vehicle on the driver's side, the drunk swerved to the right, passing between the other vehicle and the guardrail, right where Lisa was walking. She was hit, and was thrown over the guardrail to the service drive below. She did not survive.

The drunk driver stopped and was arrested at the scene. That is little consolation.

Officer Lisa Beaulieu did the right thing. In fact, she did several right things. She was killed anyway.

If you watch the news, or follow the FBI's Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted reports or The Officer Down Memorial Page, you will see that an average of 23 officers are killed each year through either being "Struck by Vehicle" or by "Vehicular Assault." This represents almost 15% of the officers that die each year.

Some of those officers probably made mistakes--or at least did things that we would look back on and see as mistakes. Others probably did everything right, like Lisa.

At the time they acted, most of them were probably doing what they thought was right, handling things as they thought they should be handled--positioning their vehicles as safely as possible, and trying to watch the traffic as they kept an eye on suspects and other bystanders. Taking precautions, while still trying to get their job done. Protecting the public and their fellow officers.

We've all been there.

Just like Officer Lisa Beaulieu.

Stay safe, and wear your vest! (and Buckle Up!)