by: B. J. Wilson
In the side-view mirror I watched officer Vincent saunter up to the driver’s window of my car. He had a cocky demeanor to him, mixed with a hint of excessive caution, his right hand resting on the shiny, black holster bearing his Glock 9. It made me nervous, as intended, so I kept both hands on top of the steering wheel where he could see them clearly.
“License, registration and insurance, sir,” he demanded with cold proficiency, not offering so much as a, “Good morning.”
Vincent began his prosecution while I dug for the documents, handing them out the window, one at a time as I found them, license first.
“You know what the speed limit is in here,” he asked, examining my driver’s license, then adding, “Mr. Wilson?”
I handed my registration and insurance card through the opened window, answering, “Thirty, isn’t it?”
He looked over the documents I’d handed him and said, “This insurance card is expired. Do you have a current one?”
“Sorry,” I said, diving back into the glove box in search of the updated card.
Vincent did this kind of thing every day. He looked at the date on the insurance card first, knowing that, nine times out of ten, the card would be expired, excuse enough to proceed with probable cause for any further, necessary abuse.
“Sit tight, Mr. Wilson, I’ll be back in a moment.”
With that, officer Vincent sauntered back to his cruiser, taking note of my tag number as he went, then sitting down to type all my information into his mobile, tablet computer. I continued searching for my latest proof of insurance, all the while cursing under my breath, certain I would not find it, supposing that, as in the past, it must be at home, buried in the pile of papers the insurance company sent out each quarter.
I couldn’t help but wonder again why it was done this way, knowing that, if my insurance should lapse, an alert was sent immediately to the state’s DMV computer system. Why, if officer Vincent can find out every other thing about me on his little dash mounted laptop, can’t he see the status of my insurance policy. I conclude that it’s intentional, another source of revenue for local, and thus, state governments, a predatory tool for the “Speed Trap” mentality that permeates law enforcement.
I gave up on the search of my glove box, sat back in my seat and tried to relax, to overcome the frustration that was consuming me at the moment. In the mirror I could see Officer Vincent scribbling away, as if he were writing a book. After the longest five minutes ever, he climbed out of his cruiser and sauntered back up to my driver’s window.
“You know how fast you were going, Mr. Wilson?” He wanted to know.
I’m familiar with the ploy cop’s use to get you to confess so that he won’t need to argue the case, should it go to court. I answered with all the caution of the fifth amendment.
“I do,” I said.
Officer Vincent stood for the longest time, waiting for me to tell him how fast I was going. When he realized the information was not forthcoming, he said, “I clocked you at thirty three.”
I suppose I should have just nodded, but the words came out all by themselves, before I could bite them off.
“So, your writing me up for three miles per hour, is that it?”
“Speed limit’s thirty,” he responded. Filling in the information on the ticket form, he added, “and strictly enforced.”
“Are you sure your radar is calibrated to three miles per hour?” I asked him.
He gave me a scornful look and answered, “It’s a Laser,” as if that satisfied the matter.
“We’ve had a number of deaths here, in the park, over the last couple of months,” he informed me, referring to the industrial park where he pulled me over.
“Traffic deaths?” I asked, surprised at having not heard about that.
“Yeah, five,” Officer Vincent answered. “The chief sent us out to slow people down. Can’t let that number go any higher. Should never have let it get that high in the first place.”
The number “five”, struck a chord with me, I soon remembered why. I said, “Is the chief aware that it was an airplane accident. The five people died when their plane crashed in the park,” I looked around, knowing it had happened not far from where we were. I pointed and said, “Right over there.”
Officer Vincent turned to look in the direction I was pointing. He knew full well of the crash. I’m sure he was on duty the day it happened. He turned back, handed me the ticket and grinned, saying, “Sign right here, Mr. Wilson. It’s not an admission of guilt, only an acknowledgment that you are aware of the ticket.”
When I had signed, he tore off my copy, pink, and handed it to me along with my license, registration and expired insurance card.
“When you find your proof of insurance you can bring it with you to the courthouse, they will remove the charge from your ticket. In the mean time, Mr. Wilson, drive safely and, have a nice day.”
With that he sauntered back to his cruiser, climbed in and drove away. When I finished replacing the items in the glove box, I started the car, rolled up my window and turned the air on full blast. As I put the car in drive, I looked front, through the windshield, seeing, again, the place where the plane had crashed a couple of weeks before. I pulled forward, slowly, to the parking lot entrance and looked in.
I could see the tall, straight pine trees at the back of the lot, most probably forty feet in height. Morbid curiosity overcame me and I pulled into the empty lot for a closer look. A large, blackened area marred the far edge of the cement parking surface. Nearby, the bark on the trees was burned and blackened, the pine needles on the branches higher up were brown and dying from their exposure to the heat. This was the spot where the plane had gone in, nose first. I could see holes left by missing chunks of cement and a spider’s web of cracks radiating out from the center, where white, radial patterns of striations bore testimony to a powerful explosion.
The twin engine piper had developed some sort of fuel problem shortly after taking off from the airport, less than a mile to the east. The pilot turned back to make an emergency landing in a pitched effort to save his four passengers. Unfortunately he ran out of fuel before he could make the runway.
I stood there in the place where he died, wondering what it must have been like for them when the plane’s engines began to sputter and cough. I imagined their panic as the Piper twin banked sharply, its engines faltering, then stopping, one at a time. I imagined the pilot fighting to remain calm as he tried desperately to keep the plane in the air. I imagined the roller coaster feeling of the world going out from under, stomach’s floating upward, white knuckled hands grasping for hold, feet pressed against the floor seeking ever elusive perch, the disoriented minds horrified, rushing ahead to paralysis against an insurmountable wall of fear.
In this terrible tableau, only the pilot sees the building ahead of them. A strange construct for an industrial park, looking more like a private home than a business; angled on the lot to catch the prevailing breezes, occupied by perhaps a dozen people working on software and designs for knew products. He can see, by the plane’s angle of attack, that he is going to strike the building square in the middle on the west side. At the same moment he can hear and feel the planes fuselage brushing the tops of forty foot pines at the edge of the building’s parking lot. Out of fuel, out of space, out of time, the pilot commits himself to saving lives on the ground and forces the yoke forward, driving the nose of the plane down, in a split second slamming into the cement surface of the parking lot with a force that disintegrates the plane in an explosion of flames, smoke, dust and debris.
“Expired,” I thought to myself, standing there in silent memorial to those who lost their lives, wondering what happens to a soul when we die, what happens when a life is consumed so quickly that we are dead before we know it. How can the mind comprehend such an event? Is there a place where consciousness continues, or does life just fade to black? Are these five in some other place now, or are they left as shadows, to haunt this parking lot, huddling together, hiding among the burnt trees even now, separated from the living world, but able to observe, watching life around them, watching me, hoping, someday, to live again.