Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Encounter with Birmingham's Finest

My friends know that I'm not a whiner. I'm not a victim. I am responsible for my own fate/circumstance.

Well, except for this situation in which I find myself with Officer Owens, a Birmingham Policeman, and I'm not sure how to handle it or what to do about it. I'll be as succinct as possible, but unless you know the circumstances surrounding it, you can't understand it. So here goes:

On February 7, while driving to Aaron's house to pick up his laptop, I ran over a fire hydrant that was lying in the road. It was old and rusty, so it probably fell off the back of a city truck. Anyway, it messed up the right front tire and wheel, and bounced off something under the car. I pulled into a driveway and onto the sidewalk in front of a house. (This was about the 4000 block of Clairmont Avenue.) I called Aaron to let him know I couldn't come for his laptop, but he brought it to me, along with his car, so I could get home after I handled MY car, and had a friend take him back home.

I pulled his car behind the fire hydrant that was still in the road, since I couldn't lift it, to be sure nobody else hit it. Leaving the car running, and the headlights and taillights and emergency flashers on, I call 911 for an accident report for my car. While waiting for the police, I called USAA to see about a tow, and to check benefits (repair, rental, etc.) As I'm chatting with the USAA rep, I see in the rear view mirror a car go through the 42nd Street light (about 3 blocks away) and barrel toward me. As it got closer, I realized the driver was oblivious to me, and wasn't slowing at all. I said to the USAA rep, "A car is coming, and it doesn't look like it's slowing." A few seconds later, I screamed into the phone, "OH SHIT! I'M GOING TO GET HIT!" and the car plowed into my rear so hard and fast that it knocked the shock absorbers and back wheels off the car.

Miraculously I was unhurt, except for being very shook up (and quite sore for a couple of weeks). The collision knocked the front of the car up onto the curb, and the other car was knocked up on the curb on the other side of the street. A girl (I would say mid-20s) wobbled out of the car and weaved across the street. "Are you ok?" she slurred. I assured her I was OK, and she got back into her car.

Since the police still hadn't responded to my call, I called them again. This time he came, approximately 10 minutes later. Parking behind me, he passed my winow and said, "I'll need to see your license and insurance information," and headed over to the other car.

About five minutes later, a firetruck and an ambulance arrived. Firemen and paramedics jumped out of their vehicles and came over to me with, "Are you hurt? Do you need to go to the hospital?" I said no. I was OK. So they went to the girl's car, loaded her on a stretcher, and took her away.

The policeman then came back to my car and asked what happened. I told him the whole story that I've just told you, and handed him my license and insurance card.

His first comment was, "Where did you hit the fire hydrant?"

I said, "Right back there. It was lying in the road."

He said, "It wasn't there an hour ago. Where was it when you hit it?"

I consulted my phone for the time of my first 911 call and said, "I hit it over an hour ago. It was lying in the road before that." (A while later, when neighbors started getting up and coming out to see, one man said, "See that oil spot back there? The hydrant had to have been in the road long enough for the oil to have leaked out of the top of it.")

He smirked and said, "I see you jumped the curb and hit that little tree over there."

I told him, "No. I didn't. I pulled into that driveway and onto the sidewalk."

"NO. YOU HIT THE TREE!" He repeated loudly, and walked over to the little tree and picked up a headlight on the ground. Carrying it over his head like Vulcan's torch, he marched over to the front of my car (on the sidewalk) and looked back and forth at the two headlights still on my car. Then he looked at the headlight in his hand, and again at the two on my car, as if he couldn't figure out where the third headlight was supposed to have been.

When he couldn't determine where the headlight had come from, but certainly not from my car, he returned to his car, and I called USAA back. I knew Aaron's car was a total loss, but mine looked repairable. USAA called a tow truck and gave me instructions about a rental.

The policeman finished whatever he was doing in his car, and came back over to where I was cleaning stuff out of Aaron's car and putting it in my car. It was now daylight.

He said, "I've called Weil for three wreckers. They will be here shortly." I told him USAA had already called a wrecker for my car.

"You HAVE to use Weil!" he said.

"NO. I DON'T." I said.





We were at a standoff, when three Weil trucks arrived. He told the closest driver, "Get that one first," indicating my car.

"No," I said. "I have another tow coming for THAT car."

The little policeman now looked like Rumplestilskin, hopping about and yelling. "YOU HAVE TO USE WEIL! AND BESIDES, YOU CAN'T LEAVE A CAR IN SOMEONE'S FRONT YARD ALL DAY! AND I CAN'T STAY HERE ALL DAY WAITING FOR SOME TOW TRUCK!"

About that time, the lady who lived there came outside, saw me and my friend (who I had called and who had arrived by then) and yelled, "What happened? How long have you been out here in the cold? You want to come inside and have some coffee and use my bathroom?" She also assured Officer Owens that my car could stay in her yard all weekend for all she cared.

The other two cars were being hooked up to tow trucks, and I asked for the other driver's name and insurance info, since she had left before I could ask her. Officer Owens snapped, "It will be on the accident report. You can get that in 72 hours," and then my tow truck arrived.

That's basically what happened. Although I don't have many interactions with policeman, (and aside from the fact that he was the ONLY person who came onto the scene that never once asked if I was OK), this was without a doubt the rudest bully I've ever encountered in law enforcement.

OKAY... so there's THAT. I depended on USAA to handle the cars, repair, rentals, etc... which they did.

Aaron's check for his car came, along with a letter that said, "This is payment in full, minus the $500 deductible."

Wait a minute. Why isn't this girl's insurance paying for his car? So I asked for a copy of the accident report, which USAA emailed to me immediately.

I couldn't believe what I read. The report was basically false. It said I called 911 at 0508 and that he arrived at 0512. I actually called at 0440 the first time, and 0456 the second time. I don't know what time he arrived, but it was a good 10 minutes after the second call. It said that I was "illegally parked in the road" (I wasn't parked at all). It said that the contributing factor was an "unseen object", with me ("Unit 1") being the contributing factor. (I saw her coming 3 blocks away. How could she NOT see me, lit up like 4th of July fireworks? Unless she was either drunk, asleep, or texting and not watching the road?). If I had been changing a flat tire, I would be DEAD. If I had been successful in moving the fire hydrant at the moment she came by, I would be DEAD. If Officer Owens had come when I called the first time, it would be HIS car that was hit, and probably we both would be dead.

Does anyone know what recourse I have about this?

OK. I'm finished. I think I'll contact Chief Roper about this anyway. He is serious about cleaning up the police department, and about deterring crime. And I think he needs to know about Officer Owens' unruly and ill-mannered behavior.

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