EDITORíS NOTE: This is the third and final part of a three-part series involving a ride-along with the Okaloosa County Sheriffís Office on the Destin beat. Click here to read Part One and Part Two.
Itís nearly midnight now and we are sweeping slowly through the heavily packed throngs of happy-go-lucky party-goers along the harbor. Thousands of people within such a confined place are nerve wracking, and we have only two deputies doing their best to see and be seen. I ask my ride-along chaperone Deputy Tom Piaget his highest concern for crowds like this.
ďMost of the people crowded here are filled with bullet-proof bravado,Ē he says. ďThe area is chock-full of milling people and vehicles moving around. My major concern is fights and drunk drivers.Ē
The call comes over loud and clear, male/female altercation, male fleeing toward the west. Our patrol car eases through the thick crowd and comes to the entrance to one of the bars. Piaget spots the female seated on the ground and goes over to talk. Her face is examined and is without bruising or cuts. The male suspect is found. He explains that the lady had a bit much to drink and had actually fallen and had not been abused by him. The deputy agrees with this explanation. No charges are filed.
We barely get the doors of the patrol car closed before a 911 call comes in with a report that a bomb has exploded in a trash can in an area near Old Time Pottery. When we arrive, several squad cars are there along with a K-9 unit. While this is going on, we get another call. A female has spotted a male standing in her front yard. Now on the porch, he has dragged something heavy against her front door. She needs help quickly.
We speed out and park across from her front door; Piaget grabs his flashlight and heads out to search her yard and apprehend the perpetrator. After a thorough search, he finds no one. We head away from this home and within two minutes get another call, same lady. The male has appeared again. This time backup is called in for a complete search, including the K-9 unit. Iím looking through the bushes from the end of the block.
Here they come with someone handcuffed. They got him! Wait a minute, itís the lady caller and she is placed into the back seat, handcuffed. The deputy makes the decision to check her into the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center under the Baker Act because she has threatened to end her life. All the way over, she pleads for the lights to be turned on inside the car. The man is sitting next to her, donít we see him? She pleads to stop the seat from moving back and forth. Get him, help her!
I have the greatest respect for the calm actions of Piaget. They are picture book perfect as he assures her he had checked out the back seat before she got in. He keeps assuring her things will be alright, told her 10 times there was no one in the backseat with her. He even flips on the inside light briefly to show her the man is not there and assures her he can see her in his camera and is watching out for her. I give kudos to you, sir, for your compassion, patience, and outstanding professionalism.
Leaving Fort Walton around 2 a.m., we race to get back to the zone partners because they are left without a man just when the night hour is likely to call for more manpower. We hit the city limits and get a call that there is a female down and unresponsive in front of one of the bars. As we pull up to the front, we find her collapsed on the front area and an ambulance is being called. Calls come rapidly and we are pulled away to answer to an assault call on a 40-year -old female. Within moments we locate her hiding behind a tall fenced area in a rather well-to-do part of Destin. She has her lip nearly bitten off, is yelling, screaming and crying all at one time. She needs clothes to cover up and the decision is made to call EMS for transport to a local hospital. This is a complicated call and we remain here nearly 30 minutes. End result, female refuses to be transported to the hospital and she refuses to press charges. Youíll have to figure this one out yourself.
Itís closing in on 3 a.m., the flashing red lights from the ambulance pulse through the charged air over and over and over again. My head is spinning and a migraine is looming large. Piaget is on the way back to the office to write up reports. I call it quits for the night.
Iím writing up this report in the peace and quiet of my home on a late Saturday night. I glance down at my watch and wonder where Deputy Piaget is at this moment. I will never forget my Friday night riding zone 25 with him and will forever hope for his safety wherever he may be.
Laura Hall is a longtime Destin resident. She writes about area topics of interest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org