More Dogs on Main Street
July 11, 2008
The big news this week is that the prosecutor in Boulder, Colorado, has officially said that the family of Jon Benet Ramsey was not involved in her murder. Breathless cable news networks spent hours on the story, replaying all those videos of the little toddler tarted up like a Las Vegas showgirl. The case isn’t solved, but after 12 years they have absolved the family. I can finally sleep soundly.
Meanwhile, Iran tested missiles that have sufficient range to cause all kinds of problems in the Middle East, and Congress decided that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is merely a suggestion. They granted blanket immunity to litigation to the telecom companies who willingly delivered pretty much everybody’s phone records to the government without a search warrant.
But it was mostly about Jon Benet. The story is no less creepy with age.
We had a big police action in my neighborhood this week. Details are hard to come by, but as best I can piece it together, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office was chasing a guy driving a little blue car with expired plates. The driver thought he could elude them and drove down into my neighborhood. He abandoned the car in the middle of an intersection and took off on foot. They arrested him in a neighbor’s garage. Apparently there were high-fives all around with the perpetrator safely cuffed and seated in the patrol SUV.
Except that he didn’t stay stuck and managed to skedaddle out of the car and take off on foot. Oops! When I got home, there were more cop cars in the road than I knew existed. We had the Kamas Police, Summit County, the National Forest, Fish and Game, Highway Patrol, and search dogs the whole nine yards. They claimed that they were engaged in a careful search of the neighborhood. I’m sure they were, but to my untrained eye it looked like they were all standing around their cars eating Hostess doughnuts. Nobody really knew what the guy was up to. There were warrants out for him from Colorado (in the Jon Benet case??), but nobody knew if they were for something serious or jaywalking.
So there we were. Fifteen or twenty cops and a guy on the loose in handcuffs in a neighborhood where big excitement is the cows getting loose. You start to evaluate the situation from a personal standpoint. Mine is the kind of neighborhood where things are pretty casual. Doors aren’t always locked; cars have the keys left in them. Everybody’s got a woodshed. In my yard alone there are two outbuildings that were unlocked. Then throw in the barnyard with a dozen or so barns and sheds, and woods so thick you can’t drive a cow through them. There are lots of places to hide.
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No wonder the cops were all standing around wondering where to begin searching. I gave them my phone number just in case they needed some local knowledge and went home. The mood was more disbelief than concern. When the doorbell rang, I was relieved to see it was the UPS driver, and he was not wearing handcuffs. A new part had arrived for the Farmall. He had just received the warning about the criminal on the loose, and passed the news on as he handed me the box. Full-service, those UPS guys. I felt silly locking the house when I went out back to the tractor shed, but somebody could easily have slipped in the front door when I was in the barn. I ended up locking myself out of the house.
A neighbor came by with a gaggle of grandchildren, wondering if it was OK to play in the river when an axe murderer was running amok. She concluded that it probably was. A couple of ladies up the street searched the outbuildings around their houses armed with a shovel and a pack of elderly dogs. The threat, if there was one, seemed so completely surreal on that sunny summer afternoon that nobody really took it seriously. It took me about an hour to remember to go get the key out of the car.
Although the neighborhood is casual about locking things up, I know my neighbors well enough to know they are well armed and wouldn’t be shy about using a gun. The odds are pretty good that walking into a house unannounced would end badly for somebody. So while it would be an easy neighborhood to hide in, it’s not necessarily a safe one.
The sheriff’s office called me a few hours later. The guy they were looking for had phoned in. He’d had enough and said they should come and get him, but he didn’t know where he was. Dispatch had come up with an address from the 911 system, but it didn’t make any sense to them. That’s standard in Woodland, where we have addresses in Wasatch and Summit counties, and they are as nonsensical to each other as metric and English measures.
With a name, I was able to lead them to a cabin across the river a couple of miles from where the perpetrator had slipped out of the patrol car. Word is that they found him in the house, finishing off snacks in the fridge and wearing a pair of pajamas he’d found in the house instead of his wet clothes.
The "all clear" circulated through the neighborhood and, by nightfall, it was business as usual with the doors unlocked and the weapons stowed.
The guy’s car was still in the middle of the street the next day. I called the sheriff and was told that since it wasn’t evidence, they weren’t going to take it. So the neighborhood was supposed to come up with $200 to have it towed away.
"It’s on private property," I was told.
"What if a big gust of wind came along and moved it onto the highway right-of-way?"
"Well, then, we would come and get it."
Fortunately, a tornado came through in the night and moved it right out to the curb without damaging anything.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.