Tuesday, September 8, 2020

911’s Complete Failure


This last Sunday, September 6th, I was driving back from Monterey, California on Route 156 eastbound, soon to connect with Route 152 eastbound when in front of me appeared a dark coup, such as maybe a Honda of some sort.  The driver was clearly intoxicated or disabled in some way and should not have been driving.  He or she was weaving slowly between the number one lane, the number two lane, and the shoulder of the highway.  

Just to be technically correct, since it was past midnight, it was now actually Monday, September 7th, 2020.  I called 911 at 12:31am and reported the driver to them.  Within about five minutes, Route 156 had connected to Route 152 eastbound and so I updated 911, speaking with someone in the same call center.  I knew this because they instantly knew my name from my phone number.  Staying well behind the driver (about four-hundred feet or so behind with my flashers on to warn drivers coming from behind), I told them that we were now on Route 152 eastbound.  This second call was made from my phone at 12:35am.

I thought that I would see either a CHP officer or a San Benito County Sheriff swoop in.  However, no one came, and meanwhile, as I stayed back in the number two lane, the driver continued swerving into the number one lane and into the shoulder, even driving into a truck stop siding, clearly thinking he or she was still driving on the 152 because after some zig zagging, they drove back into the lanes of the 152 from the siding.  

This area, if you have ever driven it or not, is very dark.  It is simply a four lane, divided highway (two lanes each side) that climbs through the coastal range that separates the coast from the Central Valley.  It is curvy in a lot of places, and yet, people move at high speed.  The speed limit is sixty-five miles per hour, but people drive in excess of this speed through there since there are no side streets or intersections along the route.  

Driving eastbound, you will eventually make it down and around the San Luis Reservoir and then connect either with Interstate 5 in the valley, or if you go straight, you will hit the little town of Los Banos.  

For thirty minutes, this went on.  The driver drove inebriated all the way eastbound on the 152, through the hills, down to speeds of twenty-five miles per hour on uphills, and then accelerating to sixty-five miles per hour on downhills.  He or she almost hit a vehicle that was parked on the shoulder at one point.  

During this entire time, thirty minutes, no CHP or Sheriff from either San Benito or Merced Counties (we had since now crossed into Merced County) ever arrived to pull this person over.  I was shocked.  At 1:01am, I called 911 again and reported the same continuing event.  

The 911 operator this time was clearly in a different call center because she had no idea of what I was talking about.  I gave her all of the vehicle information and my name and number, and while I was talking to her, the driver pulled off of an off ramp at St. Luis Dr, which is the southern end of where Route 33 connects with Route 152.  This is all about three miles west of Interstate 5.  

I told her that the driver had pulled into a parking lot, a closed Burger King, and had shut his or her lights off with their driver side window open, probably passed out.  I then pulled into a gas station across the street and waited for a while, but no law enforcement ever came even then.  I didn't expect them to at that point. 

All of this put a terrible thought into my head.  What if this is pretty commonplace?  What if, when the 911 operator in the call center says, "Okay, thank you for the information.  Now please don't follow the vehicle and keep a safe distance away," they are indeed trying to keep drivers safe from a reported drunk driver.  But what if it's also a way to reduce accountability because the call centers know that there will seldom be enough law enforcement personnel to respond to such calls?  That's a terrible, albeit, somewhat cynical thought.  But it could be true. 

Because if you think about it, firstly, most drivers who call in won't know if an officer ever looked for the drunk driver, and secondly, how am I, a person who witnessed this complete failure of these two call centers, supposed to report that this happened?  I have no idea where these call centers are, and there is no "Google Reviews" for call centers.  Reviews such as, "***** Five Stars - This Call Center in Burbank is just great.  The operator spoke clearly and repeated everything I said to him and even knew where I was through phone triangulation.  I'm definitely driving through Burbank again some time.  Hope to use them again!"   Or.."* One Star - The Hollister and Los Banos Call Centers Suck.  Between the two of them, I called three times in thirty minutes to report an intoxicated driver, and nary a badge showed up to pull him over and check on him.  Stay off of the 156 and 152 if you are doing the valley to coastal route and think you may need help of any sort!"  

The point is, without accountability, without the public knowing if their drunk driving reports that are called in were intercepted or even taken seriously, it's all a charade, isn't it?  It's just a bunch of road and CalTrans signs that say, "Report Drunk Drivers," good for California's public relations, but bad for the victims.

So I have to write about it on my blog.  This was one of the most disappointing interactions I’ve ever had with the law enforcement system.  I am not sure if the first call center didn’t somehow take the call seriously, or if during the thirty miles of driving, there was simply no CHP or Sheriff from two counties available to stop an inebriated driver.  The reality of it, if it is the second scenario, is that it would mean that in sixty miles of road (30 miles in either direction) there was no law enforcement at all.

We all know how CHP and Sheriffs have a lot of experience driving and can haul ass to get somewhere quickly if need be.  And yet, there was no one available at that time of the morning on a road that as far as I could see had nothing else going on anywhere that could have tied up a patrolling officer?  It’s just very disappointing because that driver could have easily hit any of the passing motorists or have killed him or herself.  

One might say,  "Well, at least the person finally pulled off and slept or whatever."  But the problem with this justification is that people who drive DUI usually have a pattern of doing it. So inevitably, they will hurt someone.  I am almost always a happy, go-lucky guy.  But I personally know two people who were killed by drunk drivers. I have no tolerance for people who do this, and I believe that this should be at the very TOP of law enforcement's dispatch logs on their patrol car computers. 

The irony, and there is one, is that during the first call that I made at 12:31am, I passed one of those blue road signs on the right shoulder side that read, “REPORT DRUNK DRIVERS.”  I remember thinking as I read it, "Good, that's what I'm doing on the line with 911 right now." Well, after thirty minutes on a route that has no other exits but to go forward, somehow the 911 call system couldn’t get an officer out to stop a drunk driver.  That’s just unacceptable.