Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.

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Death Came Through the Windshield

A true story about another deputy sheriff-- name changed--who was in the absolutely wrong place at the perfect time with the tool to save four fellow law enforcement officers and himself from certain and horrible flaming death.


(Richard) was working his second 12 hour shift in what is now historically called by the department as the East Los Angeles Riot #1.  Yes, there were two of these East L.A. major incidents.  Richard had been assigned to work with tactical teams as temporary duty form his position at Norwalk Sheriff’s Station.  For Richard, this was like going into a military combat zone for the second time in his career as a Deputy Sheriff.  His memory of the 1965 Watts Riot in Central Los Angeles was still vivid with buildings on fire, bullets whizzing overhead and dead people in the streets.

Yesterday there were a lot of shots fired at deputies and firemen by persons unknown.  Fortunately no deputies or other emergency responders had been actually hit by gunfire as far as he knew, but some had been injured by thrown rocks.  A lobbed rock can severely injure or even kill a man.  For this reason the fiberglass sheriff’s helmets were mandatory.

This deputy sheriff was assigned to work with four other deputies in a marked black and white patrol car.  As he walked to the assigned car along with his team members to check it out, he observed that the car had serious dents from recent past thrown rocks—big ones.  The windshield was completely missing, as it had been kicked out by yesterday’s crew when breaks from thrown rocks at the glass completely obscured visibility.

He mused that it was already hot this morning, and since patrol cars, for the most part, still did not have air conditioning at this place and time, having a missing windshield with four other guys in the car probably was a good thing as the ventilation would be better.

The Sheriff’s Captain in charge—known as the Incident Commander--gave the assembled deputies a synopsis of yesterday incidents and responses.  The tone of this briefing was central to being alert and to be safe by taking no actions that could place the teams in a deadly situation.  After the usual statement to be careful and be safe the Captain ordered the teams to mount up.

The deputy had been assigned to work with a team of four other deputies that he never met before.  He had assembled with his new tactical members during the briefing.  Modifications in the uniform for arduous combat type duty assignments would happen in the future.  For now, he was required to, and wore the usual long sleeve wool suntan shirt with heavy wool pants.  To provide a little comfort the Department allowed the cuffs of the shirt to be rolled back one fold and no more.  Richard mused; At least it was a “Code 11” and he did not have to wear a breakaway necktie with his shirt collar buttoned up.

These shirts would be the only thing between a bullet and the deputy.  Lightweight personal Body Armor which is now also known as a “bullet-proof vest” was equipment for police in the far future.

Richard did not know the other deputies personally as they were from another Sheriff’s patrol station, but they seemed to know each other.  The driver and front passenger were engaged in small talk as they sat down.  The rear door was still open, and there was already a deputy sitting on the left side.  Richard was beckoned to sit in the middle.

He knew all too well, that rear center seat position was the worst place in the patrol car.  There was barely enough room for three grown men in that rear seat.  This was going to be an uncomfortable ride. 

To postpone the discomfort for just a moment, he looked around him before squeezing into the patrol car.  His eyes stopped at a table with a lot of vertically placed fire extinguishers that were optional for the deputies to take with them.  His first thought was a negative; that is all he needed, to have a fire extinguisher in my lap.

His next observation actually surprised him and he felt the back of his neck tingle while just looking at this table.  He then noticed a larger five pound fire extinguisher nestled among the usual two pound units that were usually found in the trunk of a patrol car.  He then surprised himself further by actually walking up to the table and picking up the one and only big extinguisher then looking at the pressure gauge.  It was in the green.  He signed a County check-out sheet and then carried this larger five pound unit back to the patrol car, assuming his place in the rear middle seat, as he laid the bulky red thing in his lap.

His possession of this large five pound unit was not unnoticed.  The general chatter in the car was directed to him if he planned to put out a large house fire today.  The embarrassed deputy did not respond, and was now actually feeling foolish as the patrol car pulled out of the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station parking lot and into the street.

The patrol car was a full size Dodge model with a 383 cubic inch interceptor engine.  It was somewhat unusual as this car had a front seat center console with a small compartment.  As usual, all switches for the red lights and siren were on a mounting plate that was positioned where the car entertainment radio was supposed to go.  There were no broadcast car radios in police cars in Los Angeles County for now.

Also, the addition of a prisoner cage would not come for many years.  The back seat was a standard issue with a heavy duty plain tan vinyl covering.  That plastic seat covering added to the general discomfort and caused the backs of the deputies to be quickly soaked with sweat.

The crew traveled through the main streets of the East Los Angeles area which was not annexed by any city at this time.  The main street, Eastern Avenue was mostly deserted except for some shop owners sweeping up their sidewalks.  Some store fronts had broken windows and there were items of trash and dropped stolen property everywhere.  The crew passed by some completely burned out parked cars, which had been set on fire by the rioters the night before.  For now, everything was very quiet.  There was no reason for the deputies to exit the vehicle.

Hours went by and the sun increased the heat in the patrol car as high noon approached.  The still air, the slow speed patrolling and an absence of any breeze made the interior of the car even more unpleasant.  Only the slow movement of the patrol car allowed the increasing hot air to enter the vehicle.  Richard’s shirt showed obvious perspiration stains in his arms and chest.  He could feel that the back of his shirt was completely soaked.  As mentioned previously body armor was only a passing thought in a developers mind and was not part of the present uniform.  However, the wool long sleeve uniform shirt and heavy material trousers of the era were making this crew even more painfully uncomfortable as the day wore on.  Richard once again shifted the now very heavy extinguisher and noticed that sweat from his legs was printing through his pants legs, where the extinguisher had been positioned.  Richard kept asking himself, who made me do this to myself?  There was no doubt that he previously had a strong feeling from within to grab that one fire extinguisher.   Now he wanted to just pitch the thing out the window, but that would be a bad thing to do.  This was a L.A. County piece of property and he had signed for it.

Then something very strange happened:

The astonished deputy sheriff felt the world he knew suddenly change.  It seemed that the world had become unreal, more like a vivid dream or terrible nightmare.  Everything was now in what he perceived as slow motion.  His gaze--almost like being pulled like a magnet--shifted to the windshield and beyond to the blue sky.  There, slowly flying through the air was a clear glass bottle with a green liquid inside.  In the neck of the bottle was a red rag.  The red rag was on fire.  He knew immediately that a Molotov cocktail fire bomb was on a collision course and would possibly strike the patrol car.

He watched the fire bomb as it arced cleanly through the windshield opening and just before it shattered on the center console of the patrol car between the driver and passenger.  This incident could only result in one ending:  Five deputy sheriffs were to die horribly as they burned alive.

He did not remember pulling the pin and squeezing the handle of the five pound fire extinguisher, but he obviously did that.  The patrol car was immediately filled with the fire killing white powder that is expelled from such a extinguishing device when the lever is depressed.

The driver of the patrol car immediately reacted to the attack, slamming on the brakes, bringing the patrol car to an abrupt screeching stop.  The engine stalled resulting in an absolute dead silence.  The fire extinguisher powder lingered in the still air as everyone silently looked at each other.  All five Deputy Sheriffs in this patrol car were now covered with the white powder and also were soaking wet with highly flammable gasoline

The fire bomb did not burn.  There was no fatal all-destroying fire.   Quickly, the crew got out of the car with guns drawn ready to fire at their assailants, but no one was visible in the area that could be identified as the attempt murder suspect.  Later it was determined that the fire bomb was hurled from the roof of a nearby store.

A backup was requested and several tactical teams subsequently searched the area for the evil suspect responsible.  The search did not find the perpetrator.  As a result no arrest was ever made.

One of the field Sergeants had responded to the request for assistance and he then interviewed Richard’s team.  Due to the fact that the deputies were soaked with gasoline and covered with white powder, they could not continue to patrol in that condition.  As a result the team was released to go home after being given dry temporary clothing at the Command Center.

The incident was later extensively reviewed by executives in the Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department.  Some Fire Department experts have stated without any doubt; that the fire bomb should have exploded, while other experts cite the perfect application of the fire smothering powder.  Finally, all the experts felt that the application of the fire extinguisher was critical but the deputies were lucky to be alive.

Some wisely stated it was a miracle.

Richard now knew why he felt compelled to take that larger fire extinguisher.

He and four other Deputy Sheriffs had been spared a fiery and horrible death.  He now knew that an Omnipotent God Himself had nudged him to grab a specific device that would later save all their lives.  Also it was determined by the Maker of the universe that the gasoline would not be allowed to catch fire.   He absolutely knew that they had been blessed to live by their Creator for the important reason that they had much more work to do on this earth.  It simply was not their time to die.


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