By Duane Preimsberger
Most of the time I spent at a Sheriff’s Station was in the 1960s and 70s, I worked as a Deputy, Sergeant and Lieutenant at Firestone Station. This facility was located at the corner of Compton Ave. and Nadeau St. in South Central Los Angeles. It was a busy place and filled with a mixture of people who were very interesting, some of them carried Deputy Sheriff badges and others were found on the streets of the station area. Going to work there on any given day could often bring a chuckle to the most cynical of human beings; the opportunity to meet and deal with unusual individuals was pretty high.
One day watch I was working Car 12 with my training officer, Almus Stewart, a seasoned veteran of the street. We were given a call regarding a suspicious person and the dispatcher began to give us a physical description. As she did so I stopped writing down the information when I learned that it wouldn’t be difficult to locate the guy.
“Male, white, approximately 35-40 years old, 5’10”, 165 lbs., blonde hair, subject is wearing a white tee shirt, a newspaper delivery bag and blue jeans.
Additionally, the subject has on a full scuba facemask and swim flippers.
He was last seen eastbound on 71 St. from Compton Ave. going door to door.”
Almus looked at me with a little smirk on his face. “Relative of yours from the beach I suppose?” At the time I lived in a Seal Beach, a small ocean front town about 25 miles from the station.
“Nope, if he was related to me he’d be carrying a boogie board, I’m not into scuba.”
“ So you still get to talk to him, I’m not good at ocean jive.”
We pulled to the curb on 71 St. just as our subject completed the delivery of a throwaway newspaper to the front door of a residence. As he turned and began his walk down the path to the sidewalk it was all I could do to keep from laughing as our subjects fins slapped noisily on the concrete announcing each of his steps. Almus almost got to me as he started chuckling to himself.
“O.K. beach boy you handle this one, I’ll just watch.”
“Good afternoon, sir. May I ask what business you have here in the neighborhood?”
A face peered out of a scuba mask at me and it’s voice answered:
“I’m a delivery person for Daily Door-to-Door, I’m dropping off these here newspapers, see I got a whole bunch left in my sack and there’s others in piles on corners waiting for me. I even got a card with my name and picture on it that says I’m an employee.”
“What’s your name?”
“Washington Monroe Jackson, but you can call me Scuba King.”
Alright Mr. King, can I ask why you’re wearing a scuba mask and swim fins and incidentally, I notice that your mask doesn’t seem to have any glass in it.”
“Tidal waves dude, never do ya know when a giant Tsunami could hit the shore. I’ll be ready.”
“What about the glass?”
“Ya, fog, when I walk a long way the inside fogs up no matter how much I spit it in. So I pop the glass out and keep it here in my sack. Ya wanna see it?”
“How long have you had this job?”
“Almost a month, I really like it ‘cause I’m outside in the sunshine mostly
and if it rains I just puts on my wet suit.”
“Do the police often stop you?”
“Almost everyday, they ask me the same questions you’all do.”
“Any of them ever take you to jail?”
“No, but one cop took me in his car and dropped me off about 5 miles from my route that day. He almost got me fired.”
I ran a want and warrant check on Mr. Washington Monroe Jackson, a.k.a. Scuba King and found out that there was no reason to detain him.
Then I had a brief conversation with Almus and told him that I was going to let Scuba King go.
He smiled and replied, “ Good choice beach boy.”
As we watched him slap and flap on down the street I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight and I wasn’t really too surprised when Scuba King turned and gave us a little bit of advice in case of a big wave.
“Look out for the Kelp,” he told us.
Months later, after I’d completed my in-service training I was working a day watch car by myself and was dispatched to meet the Court Deputy at South Gate Municipal Court in the City of South Gate. Firestone Station’s area encompassed several Municipal Court districts and maintained a court officer at each facility in order to co-ordinate appearances by the Deputy Sheriffs assigned to the Station.
I pulled my Ford patrol car into the parking lot and found a space not far from the back door. I entered the building and headed for the Court Deputy’s small office. Gruff voiced, obnoxious and irreverent Deputy Kenny Wagner: who underneath his bluster was a decent caring guy; acknowledged my arrival.
“Hello puke, I asked for a Deputy Sheriff and they sent me some blonde headed surf rat. Are you all that’s available today, God help us.”
“I’m the only guy available to help a guy who’s as crude as you, don’t pollute my delicate ears with too much of your B.S., O.K.”
“Aw jeez, and on top of it all ya gotta be smart ass. O.K. kid here’s the deal; one of our judges just committed a defendant to the Psychiatric Ward at General Hospital for a forthwith evaluation. That means I can’t wait until later in the day when the Sheriff’s transport bus arrives. You gotta take him now.”
“I can do that, is he violent?”
“I’ll let you see for yourself, come with me.’
We entered the Court’s holding cell area where prisoners waiting trial or transportation to the County Jail were kept. There, in a cell by himself was a quiet individual dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie. He looked more like a businessman than anything else.
He looked at the two of us, blinked and then made a clicking sound.
“He doesn’t talk,” said Kenny, “All you get out of him are those clicks. He was in here in a civil case as a defendant and he began acting so weird that the judge has ordered that a shrink take a good look at him. So you get to haul him over to the Psychiatric Ward.”
“Alright, open the cell and I’ll cuff him and get him out of your hair.”
We were soon on the freeway heading for the Hospital and as we drove my
Prisoner, who I’d learned was Thomas Ewens, kept clicking away. I tried to make conversation with him to no avail. Finally, after listening to the frequent clicking I asked what that was about and Mr. Ewens finally spoke his first words to me, “Camera in my eye, I’m a spy.”
“Where do you get your film developed?” I asked.
“Thrifty Drugs is a good place, but usually I just send the rolls to headquarters and they take care of it for me.”
We reached the Psychiatric Ward and soon Mr. Ewens and I found ourselves in a small examination room talking to a very nice, very young, very attractive intern. The lady doc asked a series of questions to the previously mute Mr. Ewens and for some reason he couldn’t stop talking and soon regaled us with a tale of having been recruited by creatures from another dimension to provide them information about everyday life in our three dimensional world. Mr. Ewens was so sincere in his description of what had occurred that it was almost believable.
After about 20 minutes of listening, the lady doc made a decision to admit him for at least 72 hours in order to accomplish a complete diagnosis. She told Mr. Ewens that he was going to be staying with them and he replied that he was happy to be there. Doc signed the necessary paper work relieving me of the custody of my prisoner and I was free to go.
As I stood to leave, I said goodbye to Mr. Ewens and he asked me for a favor.
“Would you get close to the doctor, I’d like to take some shots of the two of you together. Doc and I humored him and the two of us stood side by side as Mr. Ewens used about half a roll of film.
Click-blink, click-blink, click-blink, click-blink…
HIGH, HIGHER, HIGHEST
Being a Patrol Sergeant at a busy place like Firestone Station gives you a great deal of flexibility. You can roll to any calls in the jurisdiction and oversee or observe the action of the Deputies who are assigned to the specific incidents. Calls to Sergeants are an uncommon occurrence and when they do occur it’s usually because something pretty unique is happening.
I was Car 10 Sam during a cool spring evening when the radio brought me to a full alert and the Dispatcher began his broadcast: 18 handle, 17, 16, 15 Adam, and 14 assist, attention 10 Sam, an attempt hijacking of the Goodyear Blimp in progress at Main Street and the San Diego Freeway. 18 and 10 Sam only respond Code Three.
I was feeling the adrenaline rush that comes from driving Code Three in a heavily trafficked urban area when I saw 18 a few car lengths ahead of me; the two of us continued in tandem until we reached the Blimp field. When we arrived, a half dozen workers wearing gray-blue Goodyear uniforms all started talking at once and it took a few seconds to get them calmed down enough to extract a story of what was happening.
The employees were the night maintenance crew, it was their job to keep the Blimp spiffy looking and mechanically sound in between flights and this evening they’d been doing their jobs when they were interrupted by the hijacker. They described him as a young man with long hair, a tie-dyed shirt, blue jeans, sandals and that he was carrying a bomb. The explosive device looked like it consisted of several sticks of dynamite and an electronic detonator, taped together with duct tape.
The hijacker had startled the crew when he appeared at the tethered Blimp that was sitting on the ground in an open area the size of three football fields. He’d shown them the device and told them that he’d blow up the Blimp and himself and anyone else around unless they provided him with a pilot who could fly him to a John Denver concert in Aspen, Colorado. He ordered the ground crew to get away from the Blimp and to obtain a pilot for him or someone would die. Then he climbed on board and was awaiting the arrival of the pilot.
The assisting units arrived and after making a rapid survey of the area we decided to close Main Street and the San Diego Freeway. We evacuated buildings in close proximity to the Blimp in an effort to protect motorists and others from the force of the blast, should an explosion occur.
We set up a perimeter with Deputies crouching behind buildings and cars keeping an eye on the hijacker and his bomb.
The Goodyear Blimp is quite large but most of its size is the Helium envelope that contains the lighter than air gas that keeps it aloft. The gondola or passenger area is just slightly larger than a passenger van and holds no more than a dozen people. There is a large center door into the gondola and it was open so we could see our crook sitting on the floor inside in the middle of the Ship. The Blimp was securely tethered and it rode slowly up and down on the single wheel and shock absorber system that makes up its landing gear.
As we watched and waited for the arrival of the Bomb Squad and others to help in concluding the incident we noticed a strange set of events occurring in the gondola. Our bomber, who had come prepared for the journey had put on headphones connected to a small tape recorder and was listening to some music while hammering out the beat with his hands on the floor of gondola.
As he listened and drummed he produced what appeared a first glance to be a cigar but soon proved to be one of the largest marijuana cigarettes ever smoked on board the Goodyear Blimp and probably in the immediately surrounding community. It took him awhile but he managed to finish most of it and then he began to nod. His chin would drop to his chest and then he’d startle himself awake and the process would restart itself until finally he was pretty much sound asleep.
I decided to take a calculate risk and see if I could sneak out to the Blimp without being seen and then haul the slumbering hijacker out of the gondola and onto the ground, away from the bomb, before he was conscious of what was going on. If I were successful we’d tilt the odds in our favor and save his life. I made an approach while relying on my Deputies to tell me if the hijacker came awake during my stealth approach. He didn’t.
The headset was on and the music was throbbing in his ears and the bomb was several feet away from him as I reached quickly across the floor of the gondola and grabbed the hijackers ankles. I jerked hard and the feet and the rest of him came flying out the door, he dropped about 4 feet to the ground and landed on his butt. I had him on his stomach and handcuffed in less than 15 seconds.
“It’s not a real bomb man! I just made it out of an old radio and some flares.
Blowin somethin up …like wow that’s a bummer man. All I wanna do is go to Aspen and get a Rocky Mountain high in Colorado.”
The bomb squad arrived and found that our crook was in deed telling the truth.
Later at the station, after the deputies booked our bomber I happened by the booking area and saw him huddled in a corner on the floor.
“HEY, does this mean I’m not gonna go to the concert man?”
“HEY, next time hitchhike or take the bus.” Man!”
The Detective Bureau at Firestone Station was a large version of the old Barney Miller Television program. The cast of characters was not just unusual some of them were incredible. Freddy had two sets of car keys, jackets, daily journals, and glasses. A look at Freddys desk could convince you he was at work and just away from his desk when in fact he was at a local saloon. Non-Stop Joe actually had a crook tell him to shut up so that he (the crook) could confess during Non-Stops lengthy, one-sided interrogation. Muscles Mike worked auto theft cases and his partner Jim bragged that he had his own two legged jack for a partner. Mike was easily capable of lifting the backend of a Volkswagen off the ground. There were 4 dozen detectives assigned to this circus and I was the ringmaster. Almost every day brought something that seemed to stretch the limits of believability to my desk.
Danny Waldner worked the crimes against person squad he and his fellow squad members worked robbery, assault, kidnaps, and other similar offenses.
Danny was quick of wit and an easy going individual who had the capacity to get along with almost anyone, including the victims he came in contact with.
On this particular day he was on vacation and my administrative sergeant Jumbo Jim Kuehner was fielding the phones for absent detectives.
Jumbo Jim and I shared an office and our desks were less than four feet away. Sometimes when both of us were on the phones at the same time we had to lower our voices so that we could converse without too many “whats”.
When Waldners phone rang, Jumbo picked it up.
“Firestone Detectives, this is Sergeant Kuhner, may I help you?”
After listening for a few minutes, Jumbo shifted in his chair and began to pay close attention to what was being told to him from the other end.
“Well what did Detective Waldner tell you what to do ma’am?”
He won’t be back until next Monday, can’t you wait until then?
“So it’s got to absolutely be done today, is that right ma’am?”
“O.K., this is a little out of my league so I’m going to transfer your call to our Lieutenant, he’s the person who can advise you on this matter. Please hold for a minute.”
“Lieutenant P., I’m transferring a call to you, it sounds like a personnel complaint. I think you need to know about this one.”
I’ve got to give Jumbo credit he never blinked or smiled or gave me any indication that I was being set up; as a matter of fact after seeing him sit up in his chair during the initial conversation I thought he was serious.
“This is Preimsberger, how can I help?”
This is Mildred Anderson, Detective Waldner is handling my case and I want to complain about him. He’s fixed it so I’ve got ice build up and I can’t put anything in there anymore.”
I looked across the room at Jumbo who was listening intently and had just the slightest vestige of a smile sneaking into the corners of his mouth.
“Ice build up? Can you be more specific about what is taking place?”
“It’s because of the aliens.”
What about the aliens?”
“The ones that landed in my backyard when I was on my hands and knees weeding my flower beds. They snuck up on me, snatched me naked and raped me front and rear with a Polish sausage. After they flew away in that silver space machine I called the Sheriffs and a young man came out here and wrote it all down. The very next morning, Detective Waldner called me and he and his partner came out to interview me.
I showed them where it happened and explained to them the young man had me wrap up the Polish sausage in wax paper and keep it in the refrigerator. It was evidence he said. They agreed and told me that I should freeze it, and then if they needed it for court it would be available. So I did.”
Well, what’s the problem?”
“Ice build up! I’ve got an old Amana refrigerator with a small freezer and it’s got so much ice built up that the only thing in there is that Polish sausage and I want to defrost It’s been almost a year and a half.”
By now Jumbos big face was even bigger as his cheeks puffed out as he tried to restrain the laugh that was hiding close to the top of his throat. His complexion had gone beet red and small tears were making their way down his face. Other detectives who noticed Jumbos antics gathered around to see the source of his amusement.
“Well ma’am I think that what I’ll do is have Sergeant Kuehner come out to your house and pick up that evidence so you won’t have to worry about it anymore, then you’ll be able to defrost and not have to worry about that Polish sausage.”
“Oh thank you, that will be very nice and when he’s here can he check on the deflection device that Detective Waldner installed for me?”
“The deflection device?”
As I looked across the desk at Jumbo, he seemed to be losing just a little of his bottled mirth.
“The deflection device is made out of wire coat hangers and aluminum foil.
The two detectives put it together and it’s in my water heater closet so that all my pipes are deflecting the aliens. I just want to make sure it’s all right.”
“Ma’am, Sergeant Kuehner is an expert in alien deflection devices, He’ll be happy to help you later this afternoon. Thank you for calling it’s been a pleasure to be of service. Be assured that I’ll counsel Detective Waldner about ice build up when he returns”
“Well thank you Lieutenant, you’re very nice and it will be a pleasure to see Sergeant Kuehner pick up this Polish sausage, and check on the alien protection shield, goodbye.”
“O.K. Jumbo, guess what you’re going to do…”