It was dark out, as usual, as I pulled over near the flashing lights that always told me where I needed to be. I parked as close behind a patrol car as I could in my old dark green Dodge station wagon. It became mine as part of the divorce. I paid my ex-wife $1,600 for it – the same amount of money she got for selling her old car when she needed money to go to India with me in our first year of marriage. The wheels were out of alignment, and unbalanced, because it was fond of blowing tires, and I nick-named it “the Chopper,” because the noise the wheels made when I drove the highways in the Texas Panhandle sounded like the “whup-whup-whup” of a rotor. I knew the noise well because I had to drive with all four windows open on hot days, as it had no air conditioning. At nights like this one, though, having all four windows open cooled everything down and left the taste of purple sage in my nose and mouth.
I walked up to where the Department of Public Safety troopers – the same department as the fabled Texas Rangers, who had become the department’s detective division – stood and asked a sergeant what appeared to have happened.
“Looks like a sleepy driver or something,” he said. He led me to where the station wagon the family was driving had run off the road and began to roll down the hill in the dark. I started taking notes describing where the station wagon was found. As I was looking at my reporter’s notebook and backing up, my right heel bumped something. I looked down and behind me and in the light of the troopers’ crimson flares and blue strobes and white constant headlights, I saw a small folded brown wool blanket draped over something. I was about to ask the trooper what it was when I realized as I looked around it wasn’t the only brown felt blanket draped over something,
“Careful,” the sergeant said as I turned to look. “You almost stepped on one of the kids.”
“Three kids. And their mom.”
He indicated a larger, unfolded blanket draped over something bigger than what I’d almost stepped on.
“Nobody wearing their seatbelts,” he said.
Another night I drove to the intersection of the highway and county road indicated by the police scanner I took from my desk and kept with me in “the Chopper.” The scene was lit by the flashing yellow light that indicated drivers should be cautious when approaching the intersection. The lone yellow traffic light hung by its wires above the intersection, between four wooden telephone poles. It flashed on-and-off the scene at the middle of the intersection below it.
A woman in a sporty Datsun Z-210 had apparently decided it was safe to blow through the intersection at the time of night. She was wrong. The front of the Datsun was a mangled bunch of twisted and ripped and compressed metal. Her windshield had been smashed. A Ford F-150 pickup truck, light blue with a white roof over the cab, appeared to have collided with her. That driver had apparently been taken to the hospital by ambulance when the DPS troopers first arrived. The woman – a gorgeous, sexy young woman with long, soft blonde hair falling from her bleeding face – was placed on a stretcher.
“Is she OK?” I asked. I could see blood in the gashes above her forehead, in her hair, and one above an eye – but they weren’t bleeding profusely and her eyes were open, perhaps in shock.
“What? Her?” the trooper asked. “No. She’s dead.”
Just then, the coroner from the Texas Panhandle town where I worked as a newspaper reporter arrived in a gray van. He got out, and stood right over the woman’s body. As he squatted down from standing above where her head was, the television cameraman for the local station switched on his portable lamp so he could help the coroner get a better look. The coroner was looking at the woman’s eyes.
“Yep,” the coroner said. “I think they’ll be OK.”
“What’s he looking for?” I asked the trooper.
“Donatable organs. She was an organ donor, according to her license.”
Bathed in the light of the television camera, below the flashing yellow of the caution light above the intersection, the coroner and his assistants zipped a yellow, plastic-looking body bag over the woman. Her hair fell off a shoulder, and her arm fell from where it had been placed on her abdomen to drape out of the plastic bag. Her arm, which also had red gash on it, bled somewhat on the plastic, making it look as if she were being disposed of in a giant yellow garbage bag.
A beautiful, young, sexy and vibrant woman. You could tell just looking at her body. One minute, she was full of life and in the next – garbage to be picked over.
You began to know the town based on the stories you’d covered. There was the intersection where they’d caught the guy who shot the woman after she’d robbed the liquor store. There was the place where the father of the serial killer blamed all his son’s problems on his mother, the drunken bitch. There was the convent where the 76-year-old nun had been raped by the 17-year-old boy who killed her afterwards and was caught with the help of a psychic. There was the spot where the young girl had been riding in the back of her father’s pickup truck as they moved the mattress – and fell out of the back of the truck and landed on her head and was killed. And there was the school where the girl had been electrocuted because the school district had wanted to save money by awarding the lighting contract for the football field to the cheapest bidder – and the contractor hadn’t wired the lights safely enough so when it rained that day of the game, the wires arc-ed inside the junction box and electrified the lamp post the girl was leaning up against. There was the apartment where that man with the sad eyes raped and stabbed to death two neighbor girls in the laundry room while their mother was away at work, and the swimming pool of the complex where the policewoman found the murder weapon.
And there was the apartment complex where the Indian man from a small village who ran a video store had been sitting outside of his house with his head in his hands as police detectives went through the crime scene that had been his home and contended the bodies of his son and daughter in the living room and his wife in the bathtub “screamed out” who killed them. There was no blood on his shoes, after he'd told them of walking through his home discovering his families' bodies.
Causes Terin Miller Supports
Civil and Human Rights.
Amnesty International; March of Dimes; Operation Smile; Medicines Sin Fronteras; UNICEF