Every law enforcement officer says it: “We were on routine patrol.” However, law enforcement work is becoming anything but routine these days, and that includes the life of a Tennessee wildlife officer. That became all too true for Eddie Carter and me on a warm day last summer.
We were cruising Dale Hollow Lake when a 2006 yellow Supra caught our eye as it sped down the lake. We could see a young child in the boat who wasn't wearing a required life preserver.
We tried to initiate a stop by turning on our blue lights and sirens. The man who was driving continued as if he had no clue we were around. I got closer, and a woman finally looked at us with a huge smile and a wave. She turned away, and they just kept going. I got close enough that Eddie could yell at the man, and after a word in his ear from the woman, the man finally slowed to a stop.
Beginning the safety inspection, Eddie asked the boat “captain” (whom we will call "Bill," to protect the guilty) to produce the necessary safety equipment. It quickly became clear that Bill was in no condition to be driving a boat.
“Please put a life jacket on, Bill, and get into our boat,” Eddie told him. It took him five minutes to accomplish that much, but once in our vessel, it became even more clear that Bill was highly impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.
Eddie and I radioed for backup as Bill begged us not to take him in. We could tell he was getting agitated, so we asked our sergeant to hurry to our location.
Once he arrived to stay with the woman and child, we headed toward the nearest marina with Bill. As I approached the no-wake zone, I told Eddie to keep an eye on Bill in case he tried to run once we hit shore.
Before Eddie could make a move, however, Bill yanked his life jacket off and ran toward the front of the boat with the clear intent of diving off while the boat was still at speed and on plane. Bill had one leg and one arm over the side of the boat, and Eddie was hanging onto him, trying not to go overboard himself. Suddenly, the phrase "routine patrol" seemed anything but routine.
That's when Eddie made his move, taking Bill down as I got the boat off plane. However, it was still in gear as I helped Eddie restrain and handcuff a very irate Bill. Only then could I reach back to kick the boat out of gear.
It is one thing to fight someone on dry land. But it is a different monster when you are on a boat that is in gear. Spinning propellers can do bad things to anyone who falls—or jumps—overboard.
I radioed Clay County deputies for backup and transport. Looking at the bloody floor of our boat, I also requested EMS to treat a few wounds sustained in the altercation.
A short time later, our sergeant told us that the female passenger said Bill was suicidal. He had been drinking for five days straight and threatened to shoot himself that night, but she talked him out of pulling the trigger.
As Eddie and I headed off to meet the officers at the jail, our emotions went from high to low as adrenaline kicked in. We both realized at the same time that things could have turned out much worse.
I learned several things that day. First, I learned it is important to have a partner like Eddie who is all in when things go bad.
Secondly, I learned that every day I report to dispatch that I am “10-7 station R” (off duty and back home) is a day I am thankful that the Lord brought me back to my family safely.
And third, I learned that every day I go “10-8” (on duty) I better really be “10-8” because routine patrol is anything but routine.
We learned later that Bill offered a Clay County deputy a hefty amount of money to let him go. However, he ended up checking himself into a rehab center and successfully completed the program. He later pleaded guilty to boating under the influence and assault. Because he completed his alcohol program, the charges will be expunged at the end of his diversionary period. Even though he put our lives in danger, I know that the incident was a wake-up call for him and probably saved his life, and that gives me the satisfaction of knowing we may have made a difference.
Nick Luper is an officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, stationed in White County. Luper writes a blog called The Tennessee Game Warden. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.