Stuck In the Mud
by Duane Preimsberger
The Mantra of a 1960’s street cop was stay warm and dry, don’t miss a chance to eat or pee! Based upon that maxim working the late Fall early morning watch in South Central Los Angeles could violate ones precepts. And so it was on a gloomy, combination light rain and wispy foggy morning that my partner, Almus Stewart and I were working Car 16 in the Athens area of Firestone Sheriff’s Stations patrol area.
Almus was driving and I was the bookman in the front passenger seat, writing the reports of crimes we’d been to in the early morning hours as well as trying to keep our log of activities up to date. We were responding, as the assisting unit, to a robbery in progress at a Winchell’s Donut Shop on Carson Street, a good distance south of our area and Almus was driving at a pretty good clip to get to our call.
Almus had a well earned reputation as one of the worst drivers at the station; he hit curbs with an amazing frequency, he’d make left turns in front of oncoming traffic that should have resulted in collisions but somehow because of the grace of God, Almus was spared. Once, before we’d even left the station’s parking lot, Almus managed to tear off the
passenger side view mirror on our radio car and the drivers side view mirror of the car next to us simply by backing out of a marked parking space. He was known for his practice of driving with one foot on the gas pedal and the other foot on the brake!
What made matters even more caustic was Almus’ refusal to admit that he ever did anything worthy of criticism while behind the wheel. Periodically, the Station brass would send him to Driver Training at the Department’s facilities at Pomona but nothing ever changed, Almus was Almus! Laughing at any one of his vehicular foibles resulted in
his being grumpy for the remainder of the shift; sulking in the drivers seat while periodically sending woeful glances at the despicable individual who dared to make fun of him.
I was busy completing a Battery Report, detailing the “whupping” that had been administered to a young man by an older fellow who’d come home several hours early from work only to find the partial clad young man in his bed, drinking his whiskey and
sharing both with the older fellows rather attractive wife. The two of us were of the opinion that letting anybody know what had occurred, especially the cops, took more sand than either of us would have, given the circumstances. However, the young man needed to get back into the house where his dalliance had occurred to recover his watch, billfold, car keys, shirt, shoes and pants. Hanging around a phone booth in his underwear on a cold and dreary night wasn’t his favorite pastime. We’d managed to reunite him with his stuff and then were amazed when he demanded to make a police report about his bloody nose.
I was just finishing proof reading the report when I heard Almus make one of those noises that indicated something either very unusual or bad was either about to occur or was occurring. “OOOeeeewwwbuddyboy!!!” At the same instant I felt the loss of traction in the radio car as we began to perform 360 degree spinning maneuvers southbound on Main Street at the junction of Broadway just north of the San Diego Freeway.
Until that exact moment I’d never realized just how much steel reinforced concrete there is in a freeway underpass. It’s an enormous amount! And, I’d never stopped to think what would happen to the occupants of a radio car that was making perfect circles while hydroplaning down the road at significant speed when it collided with such a large immoveable object… it seemed that I was about to find out! I was amazed that I was calm, although I did manage to tighten my seat belt and toss the clipboard with the report into the backseat and, at the same time, I managed to pray.
I’d never had my prayers answered miraculously until that early morning, but somehow or another Almus managed to hit the west curb with the rear wheels of our vehicle and we shot up over the curb and then down a muddy slope into the slow moving and blessedly shallow earthen storm drain/creek that ran alongside Main Street.
When we came to rest at the bottom, Almus was frozen with his hands gripping the steering with in a death grip while his left foot pressed on the brake while his right foot forced the gas pedal to the floor. As the engine roared, the bent rear wheels shot a flurry of sloppy mud yards into the air until he recovered and put the gear shift selector into neutral. I didn’t say anything to Almus, I just decided it was instantly required for me to follow the street cop mantra and I exited the radio just in time to avoid wetting my pants!
Fortunately, the “robbery” turned out to be a petty theft of a dozen donuts and our presence wasn’t required. Since there was no way out of the storm drain other than through the services of a tow truck with a winch, we sat in the mud while the tow driver hooked us up. As that happened, other radio cars filled with chuckling jokers and even some firemen arrived to make fun of our predicament and I knew that if we could drive back to the station, the trip would be most unpleasant. Our patrol car got winched up to flat asphalt surface and we ended up replacing the two rear wheels with our spare and another borrowed from another radio car. By the time we were finished we looked like a couple of folks from behind a plow somewhere in the farmbelt.
I was right about the trip returning to the station, Almus sat starring fixedly ahead and aside from radio traffic as the dispatcher sent radio cars to various assignments our trip was made in total silence. When we reached the gas pumps, Almus finally spoke to me and asked if I get the car set up for the next shift, unload the damaged wheels and spray off some of the mud while he went inside and took his butt- chewing from the desk sergeant.
I walked into the station about 20 minutes later and found that Sgt. Jack Parmalee was still explaining, rather forcefully and with a very colorful choice of words, that Almus must have set by now the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s world record for driving with his head up a very dark and difficult to reach anatomical opening. I immediately sensed a perfectly good opportunity to make a rapid turn and quickly disappear before some of that butt chewing rubbed off on me!
Later, in the locker room, a rather downcast partner approached me and told me that for the remainder of the month I’d be working a day watch car by myself while Almus did some penance for his less than perfect driving experience and would ride a desk chair answering phones from citizens who were calling about police problems.
“Buddy Boy, it seems I’m the only Deputy Sheriff ever to have a little difficulty with my driving a radio car.? Who knows if this don’t get resolved maybe I’ll end up being a detective driving my own car and getting mileage reimbursement!” Amazingly, that’s exactly what happened.
It was easy to see if Almus was on duty, his personal car parked in the area reserved for detectives was the one with the most dents in it. I missed working with him, he taught me a lot about being a street cop and I never had another partner who could make that very special, spine tingling “OOOeeeewwwbuddyboy,” noise!