Russ’s Legacy: Ode to a Fallen Officer

An officer confined to a wheelchair unable to speak – talks to you now

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” 

Something’s are easy to write, some are not.  Some topics are easier to cover; we can talk about policing, equipment, war stories about a good arrest or a nincompoop and their actions.  Could be funny or sad but they’re easier to talk about and easier to write about.

Not so with tragedy.  You see Russ’s passing was the Good Lord’s will.  We may not understand the whys of the Lord’s plan but we understand that in the end it was a blessing.  Cancer in a young man only in his 50’s is tragic but when the man is a former police officer confined to a wheelchair from a tragic pursuit crash, it’s even more tragic and harder to understand.

At the time of the accident Russ was a young, vibrant, and full of life police officer.  Although I didn’t know Russ that well, he was on afternoons and I was on 7:30 at night till 3:30 in the morning, we worked for the same agency and that made him my Brother.  Occasionally when my partner and I had a Monday night off, we would play volleyball with members of the three to eleven shift at a local Salvation Army gym.  I can remember Russ as an athlete; kind of reminded me of a pro baseball shortstop.  I was diehard volleyball player and Russ was competitive and that made for some interesting games – fun but intense.  Postgame we’d all go to a local wing joint for beers and hot wings.  Cops socializing with other cops, it was fun and all of us enjoyed it.

Russ was a hustler on the street as a cop which meant that he was active answering calls and initiating police activity.  He was not just in the game to collect a paycheck.  He was a real cop, a cop’s cop.

Tragedy Strikes

It was a stupid reason to flee from the police.  The driver was blasting his car stereo when Russ and his partner attempted to pull him over.  Taking off through the residential streets fleeing from the police, the driver put himself and every other motorist in the area at risk for what, nothing more than a summons for loud music.

Rounding a curve the patrol car lost control and impacted with the utility pole.  The police vehicle impacted with a wooden utility pole, and wrapped around the pole with Russ’s side, the passenger side pushed into half of the width of the car.

Russ survived but with traumatic injuries which put him into a coma and left him unable to walk and to talk.  Confined to a wheelchair after coming out of the coma, Russ was lucky to be alive.

Over the years Russ would learn to communicate by typing out his statements onto a keyboard which was translated by computer into a synthetic voice which would become Russ’s voice for over twenty years.

Russ could still smile and laugh though, that was all his own.

Brought into police academies by his loving mother Barb, Russ would tell the cadets about how proud he was to be a police officer, have that silver badge pinned on his chest and the chance to do police work.  Russ and his Mom even went to the National Police Officer’s Memorial ceremony in D.C. as guest of our honor guard.  I remember he even had his picture taken with John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted and Sheriff John Bunnell from the wacky police video show.

Lessons Learned

There are a lot of lessons we can learn from Russ’s legacy.  At the time of Russ’s crash ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes) were brand new.  The patrol cars with the ABS were very fast.  The only problem was that we received absolutely no training in the ABS system.  I can remember driving down a city side street trying to come to a stop at an intersection on the bumpy road and having the pedal drop down and begin to pulse as we drifted into the intersection.  We didn’t know what it was and being trained to pump the brakes, didn’t understand that the computer system of ABS was more efficient for stopping.

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