It was a beautiful summer day, and I had just spent most of it in the 22nd District Court of Michigan, in the city of Inkster, a notoriously high-crime suburb west of Detroit. I was there because, three months before, on Thursday, March 4, 1976, a drunk ran a stop sign and slammed into my shiny black ’73 Ford LTD on Michigan Avenue in Inkster. I was still in uniform after finishing my shift in the scout car and making six arrests. So Jackie Wayne Giles, 36, became my seventh arrest that day.
Inkster police towed both vehicles and drove me back to my station so I could write up the report. By the time I finished, I was exhausted, so instead of asking the shift commander for a scout car to drive me to my flat in Detroit, I decided to call my ex, Sheila. We were divorced, but I thought she might show a little much-needed sympathy—I loved that car—and give me a lift home. I called her apartment, and a male voice said, “Hello?”
I hung up the phone, marveling at what a stupid idea that was, and asked a fellow officer to drive me home. The accident had injured my wrist and wrecked my LTD, my only transportation.
Three months and two adjournments later, Jackie Wayne Giles and I finally got our day in court, and since it wasn't his first time sloshed behind a wheel, his driver’s license was revoked.
With justice served and my LTD finally like new again, I was feeling good and made a date with my new girlfriend, Penney. We went to Sindbad’s Restaurant and Marina, overlooking the Detroit River on the east side of town. She was cute, and we were having a good time, and after a leisurely meal, we left the restaurant and walked back to where my car was parked. We got to the parking space, and as l reached for my keys, it occurred to me that my newly repaired and repainted black ’73 Ford LTD wasn’t there. Shit! I thought. This isn’t happening.
I called Detroit Police, identified myself as an officer, and reported the stolen car, also mentioning that I had a .38-caliber revolver and some police gear in the car. Then Penny and I took a cab to my flat in Detroit. Crime and survival are all part of business as usual in Detroit: the police don’t respond for stolen cars or much else, and victims are left to find their own way home.
The next morning, DPD called and said they had found my car on Garland Street north of Jefferson, but it was stripped to the ground and they didn’t recover stolen vehicles. No surprise there, but at least they had found my car. My problem was, it was in a very nasty area of town, and I had to get it out of there before the local lowlifes stripped it to the frame or torched it.
Penny had left by then, so I called Waltz Garage in south Wayne County, where I did a lot of patrolling. I enjoyed being a sheriff where I had a vast area of patrol, and I loved clearing bad guys off the streets. In most incidents, whenever an arrest is made, the driver’s car is impounded. Since I also patrolled the I-75 freeway and all the area highways and dirt roads, I towed lots of abandoned cars (which posed traffic hazards). All those cars racked up huge towing and impounding fees, and Waltz Garage did a lot of business because I was out there. Now I needed a favor, and they were only too happy to help. They sent a big wrecker with a driver I knew, right to my flat. Armed with a shotgun and another pistol, I got in, and we took off for the east side.
We found my car resting on its brake drums on the pavement, with the trunk wide open and emptied. My pistol was gone from under the seat, and with it my riot helmet, five-cell Kel-lite flashlight, ticket book, and vehicle code book; and my briefcase full of police and accident report forms was gone from the trunk. This felt like payback for all the stuff I had stolen as a teenager, but right then I wasn’t appreciating the karmic justice of it all. Happily, the tow-truck operator knew what he was doing, and he quickly bolted two wheels onto the rear of my car and we drove off to his shop in the rural town of Waltz. The garage gave me a car to use while they did the insurance repairs, and a week later, they met me outside the Sheriff's Patrol and Investigation Division in western Wayne County, with the keys to my ’73 Ford. For the third time in its existence so far, it looked brand new.
Through every kind of weather, my ’73 Ford got me to work so I could serve the public. And when I was promoted to detective and then detective sergeant, I got paid for mileage, and my trusty Ford served not just for investigations but also as a scout car. Always a firm believer that the scout car is the bedrock of police work, I kept a blue emergency flasher, ticket book, shotgun, and other police gear in it at all times.
When I remarried on Friday, March 3, 1978, my Ford was there, and my wife, Cathy, and I drove it to Niagara Falls, Canada, for our honeymoon. And it was there at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, June 15, 1980, when I arrested a young man for reckless driving after he crossed the center line at high speed, directly into oncoming traffic, forcing Cathy and me and another vehicle off the road in our hometown of Grosse Ile.
My Ford got me through much more, including an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, and two master’s degrees, and well into my third master’s and my PhD. But the years and miles took a toll, and eventually, I could no longer hold her aging body together with Bondo alone. On Sunday evening, August 16, 1987, she served as a scout car one last time when we responded to the second most disastrous airplane crash in U.S. history (See: Flight 255).