“I just couldn’t seem to let it go.”
BY ABBIE DARST
In the wee hours of a chilly October morning in 2014, western Kentucky deputies were dispatched to a two-vehicle accident where one person was ejected from a vehicle. The first deputy to arrive took in the immediate scene and located the ejected individual. As he approached the person lying face down on the roadway, just a short distance from the backseat of the car he so recently had occupied, the deputy began speaking to the victim. With mere grunts and mumblings coming from the twisted form, the deputy continued speaking to the victim. Those gathering around the crash site had not seen the accident take place and didn’t know anything about those involved.
In an effort to communicate, the young victim turned his head to the side, toward the deputy, and in that moment everything changed.
“At that time I discovered the male was my younger brother,” the deputy recalled. “I told him I was the one speaking to him, that the ambulance was on its way and that he would be OK.”
Stunned and overwhelmed, the deputy confronted those gathered at the scene, desperately trying to find out who was driving the car from which his 23-year-old little brother was thrown. A young man stepped forward, accepting the blame. The deputy recognized the young man – his brother had gone to school with him, had played baseball with him for years – and he was intoxicated.
“I approached him and asked him what was going on, and he asked me to kill him,” the deputy said. “I told him I would not do him that favor.”
Once the originally-dispatched unit arrived on the accident scene, the deputy explained the victim was his brother and he was unable to work the accident, and that officer began conducting field sobriety testing on the young driver. However, until another unit arrived, the deputy continued to collect information from the other vehicle involved in the accident. There was significant damage to the trailer it was hauling and three individuals were traveling in that vehicle at the time of impact.
Fortunately, the night shift sergeant arrived on scene. Taking the deputy’s notes, he told the deputy to accompany the ambulance to the hospital and stay there and look after his brother.
“After a couple hours at the hospital it was determined my brother’s neck and back were broken in five places,” the deputy said.
His brother was air-lifted to Vanderbilt University Medical center and despite extensive treatment, today his brother is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic – he is never expected to walk again.
For months after the accident, the deputy told everyone the accident encounter was not a big deal – it was all just part of the job. But it didn’t take long before his moods began to shift, he recalled, and he couldn’t stand to be around anyone, especially his family.
“I thought about the accident constantly – it was the last thing I thought about before bed and the first thing I thought of when I woke up,” the deputy said. “I dreamt about it often. I wouldn’t speak to family and I couldn’t seem to care about anything.”
Soon the apathetic moods crept into work. He would come on shift and go off shift only answering the calls to which he was dispatched; all proactive efforts stopped.
“I lost all drive at work,” the deputy said. “Interaction with the public suffered as I had no tolerance for, well, anything really.”
He became short tempered, speaking hatefully to people on calls, avoiding his wife when he returned home and losing all tolerance and patience for human interaction, he said.
Six months after the accident, the deputy still dreamed of the event every night in its entirety. And after a year, he still thought of it several times a day, every day.
“I just couldn’t seem to let it go,” he said.
His dad, to whom he’d always been close and talked to nearly every day, realized something was wrong and confronted him after the calls decreased to once a week, and even then seem withdrawn and tense.
Now, two and a half years later, he has not shaken the images of that night, but he says it no longer consumes his life.
“I can now drive through the scene without thinking about it every time,” the deputy said. “The silver lining, if you will, is I started going to church again and have given my life to Christ.
“But still to this day,” he continued, “I often withdraw when I go 10-7 and find myself avoiding even talking to my wife. I do still think about it from time to time.”