Monday, August 31, 2009

Collisions

The stock market isn't the only crash that ruins lives.
Vehicle crashes happen every day, every hour, every minute... somewhere.
Today, I investigated three vehicle collisions -- "collision" being a more politically correct word now than "accident."

It was the last case, the third,  I will blog about tonight, before I write up the case notes.

This collision, or crash, was  unusual because the Defendant driver was a police officer in an "undercover" police car everyone in the area knows is a really a cop car.
It's a sleek, black, ultra-hip, Knight Rider type vehicle known for its macho good looks and fast speed.

What this officer in the Knight Rider did was run a red light on a residential street at 55 mph.
The speed limit was 25.
My client and the car in front of it, a VW,  had the green light and were in the intersection.
First, the undercover Knight Rider struck the VW, which sent it spinning like a top. The VW spun into our client's Nissan four door, sending it into a telephone phone.

Inside my client's car was her 7 year old daughter. Both mom and  daughter were cut out of the car, and taken to the hospital by ambulance. My client's two other children, (she is a single parent) were at home with a neighbor when the hit happened.

The undercover police car had no lights flashing, no sirens blaring. Witnesses were present, they all told the same story --  the black police car was going way too fast, with no lights or sirens. And, they all said, it did not appear he was chasing anyone.

While Officer Knight Rider didn't hit our client... the VW that he did hit...  spun into our client's vehicle... then hit it twice before the our client's vehicle came to rest on the driver's side, against a telephone pole.
 
There would no doubt be a liability dispute between the police car and the VW.
And when the police are involved, one attorney told me, they protect their own.

So there I was today, my last case, sitting in her living room. They just got home from the hospital. Mom was alone with me on the sofa, while her three kids were upstairs watching TV.
She worked as a financial services rep at a major company. The accident happened Friday, so she only missed two days of work so far.

Mom had blown two discs in her lower back and sprained her neck.
She also fractured her sternum.
She  told me the Knight Rider Cop who worked for the local police apologized to her. One of the witnesses  yelled at the police officer for having no lights and sirens on.
And in what I call a very professional move, the State Patrol was dispatched to investigate an accident involving a local Police Agency.
From what I read of the State Patrol report, liability was clearly with the local officer. No favoritism, no good-old-boy-isms. 

It's easy to tell someone not to worry...
That everything's going to be all right.
Yet, at first,  this single mother would hear none of it.
It was like a dam broke in that living room as her composed mask cracked and the water works began. She told me she was alone, totally alone. She just moved to the area, has no family, no friends, no support network, and now no car.

I tried again.
One step at a time, I told her.
The attorneys will help her I said.
They will help her get a rental.
They will help her get a property damage settlement so she can get another car.
They will get the DEF to   pay her medical bills at the end of the case.
Until they do, they will help her find decent doctors the insurance companies respect who will work on a lien against the case.
And I said she is no longer alone.
Now she has the attorneys, I said.
"And me, " I added, as I handed her my business card.

There was more information she needed to know.
I told her how  insurance companies work, what her rights are and ultimately... what every woman wants to hear,
"Everything's gonna' be all right."

Rockabye.

I watched the calm sink in as the sun set  and I felt the calling home.
I said my goodbyes, told her I'd have her case into the  law firm in the morning.

It was 40 miles from her house to mine.
On the concrete sea called the highway, I was surrounded by potential enemies, collisions waiting to happen.
Yet  again, I returned here unscathed.
Perhaps it's because I am so paranoid that I have never been in a crash.
Perhaps I am just lucky.
Or perhaps someone like me needs to be out there for people who aren't so lucky,

The moral of tonight's story is a simple one.
Survival is a good thing.
No matter what shape you are in after a collision,
no matter how bleak it seems...
when you consider the alternative,
every day above ground is a good day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stalking The Stalkers

I just picked up my mail at our P.O. Box. We live off a long dirt road on rural State Hwy 104, which runs between Kingston and Port Gamble, Washington.

Our little beach house sits on the shores of Port Gamble Bay. Our home is quite far from our mailbox, which is one of many mailboxes nailed to  a long horizontal post. They all stand  unguarded at the side of the rural highway.

People steal mail. So our mail, like most of the residents' here, is delivered to the safety of a P.O. Box in Kingston.

I pass the Post Office every day coming to and from the ferry. It's no problem to stop by,  you can access the boxes 24/7. So in my P.O. box on one  foggy Sunday morning, was a handwritten note from an address on the outside of the envelope  I did not recognize.

It was my first "thank you for saving me," letter.
Inside was gift certificate from Starbucks.
I found this surprising because that client had already paid me for the job.
The case was closed about year earlier.
I had not heard from that client since, which is the norm in my profession.
Usually clients come and go.... hoping not to cross paths with me ever again on a professional basis.
Because when you are paying an investigator for an assist, that means you're in a miserable situation and have exhausted all other options. I'm someone you want to forget about once the crisis has passed.

This woman who sent me the thank you note, let's call her "Lynn," was single, just turned 47, when she hired me.  She lived in  one of those enchanting, cottage type houses painted a happy yellow, surrounded by a white picket fence with  a small but elegant garden in West Seattle. She had two cats, Abbott and Costello.

For those of you who don't know the area, West Seattle is a considered a desireable and hip place to live. From Seattle, you can get there by bridge or foot ferry. It's a city built around the water.
Its most popular beach, Alki, faces the Seattle City skyline.

West Seattle is a melting pots of neighborhoods and ethnic groups.  There are pockets of great wealth there, pockets of poverty and everything inbetween. Neighborhoods are eclectic...meaning you can have  expensive houses and delapidated ones on the same road.

When I met her, my new client Lynn, lived in a charming yellow cottage next door to a family  in a run- down rambler with a rotten roof and dead vehicles in its yard.
The rambler hadn't always been in such a decadent state Lynn said. It was only when the family became addicted to Meth that their lives... their house... then their minds fell apart.

So the scernario was this:

Lynn bought her house seven years before I met her. It was the first home she ever owned, she'd rented before that and been single all her life. When she moved into the house, the family that lived in the rambler next door  -- a husband, wife and  their 17 year old son were courteous towards her, though
Lynn and her neighbors could not have been more different.

Lynn wore white collars to her job everyday. The man next door wore blue.  His wife didn't work, the kid seldom attended school and the husband fixed cars in a shop to the side of his house.
Never friends, they would nod or say a hello in passing.
They did not engage in conversation or idle chit chat.

But since the neighbors got into using Meth, all hell had broken loose. In their paranoid state, they believed she was the enemy. Lynn was being harassed, stalked and was terrified.

I asked Lynn how she knew they were using Meth. She said she saw them injecting something once, late one night, through a crak in their curtains. Then she looked up their record at the courthouse. She found a charge for the minor son she could not  access. She saw a possessions charged for the mother. When she dug deeper it the case file,  Meth was the drug of choice and posession was the charge.

Lynn noticed they stopped looking at her and ignored her when they passed on the way to their cars.
One day the 17 year old gave her the finger.
Someone sat under her windows at night and made strange sounds animal sounds, growls, or snorts.
They ripped up her flowers.
Then one day she woke up to find a pile of poop on her front door step.
And from there all hell continued to break loose.

The breaking point was the day she found her beloved cat Costello dead in the back yard. She took it to the vet, got an autospy. There was radiator fluid in its system. Lynn had no radiator fluid at her house. She knew the neighbors did. From that point forward Abbott, the survivor,  became a indoor, housecat.

She went to the police. The officers told her they were familiar with the family, rumors of their Meth use. Problem was they had none of the evidence they needed to make an arrest.

They said they could talk to the family, which they attempted to do. And it did no good. Because the family wouldn't answer the door and the police had no reason or right to break it in.

Someone suggested she get a restraining order. The police told her that might escalate things  without evidence that it was actually them who poisoned the cat or placed the stuff on her doorstep.

Someone else suggested she get a private investigator, which was why Lynn called me. My job was to get the evidence the police could use to press charges against them so maybe they would leave her alone.

I  read the police file, spoke at length with Lynn, ran backgrounds and did the initial surveillance to scope the situation out.
Indeed, there was drug activity at the unkempt house next door.
It stood in stark contrast to Lynn's enchanting cottage.

Work long enough as a P.I. and you get a feel for the comings and goings, the behaviors, body movements of Meth Heads. They showed all the classic signs, right down to the rotted teeth.
Lynn's dilemma was difficult and I knew it.
Even with the evidence of their harassing her... what next?

Meth Heads literally develop holes in their brain that never close up again. They become paranoid, hypersexual and extremely violent.

One of my former clients,  a Dead Meth Head, was shot six times, wrapped in plastic and stuffed in the trunk of a car by his very best friend, another Meth Head. So I knew this was very difficult and treacherous terrain my client was traveling. She needed direction.

First thing I suggested Lynn do was to move.
This shocked, then angered her.
She told me she hired an investigator not a realtor.
She said she had no intention of moving. This was her house, she loved it, and she was standing her ground.

This case happened before the housing market crash. I knew Lynn would have no trouble selling her home for the right price.
I  told her my experience with Meth Heads is you don't just spray them like bugs and make them go away.
The more you feed their paranoia, the more the evil and dangerous they become.
I said we would get her evidence. Then I strongly suggested she seriously re-consider moving.

I asked if she had a gun.
She said no.
Pepper spray?
No.
Her door had a deadbolt, her windows easy to break.
"Baseball bat?" I ventured
"Not even that" she said. "I'm a liberal and a pacifist. I set spiders free."

She was an attractive woman, far more so than the paranoid Meth Head Mama next door who no doubt
had delusions about Lynn and her men that made Lynn a target.

While Lynn reluctantly pondered my moving suggestion, I put our team of investigtaors in place.

We did surveillance from the van, watching and filming the Meth House.
It wasn't two days before we caught our first image.
About 2:00 am, Meth Mama exited  her front door.
She held a small bucket by its silver handle, walked to Lynn's porch, stood on the first of three steps and flung the the contents of the bucket on her front door. The contents of that bucket turned out to be a whole shitload of human excrement, pun intended.

At the same time Meth Mama flung her bucket; her son, no longer the 17 year old he was when she moved in 7 years ago,  walked out the same front door as Meth Mama did, walked directly to Lynn's house and pissed in the flower pot next to the steps leading to Lynn's door.
Bingo, I thought. We have it!

I showed Lynn the footage.
She asked "What next?"

First, the persistent pit bull in me suggested again... she sell her house and get the heck out of Dodge.
A house can be replaced, I said. Your life can't.
I said there are a ton of homes out there, she could get one with a view of the water.
I told her she needed the sign out front as an indicator to them, that she was leaving.
It would also allow more to  people to be seen coming and going to Lynn's house.
I explained everything I knew about Meth heads and I didn't hold back.
I showed her the footage of the fluid/poop fest at her front door a second time. And then she made what I believe was the right decision.
She chose flight, over fight.
She put her house on the market.


I then suggested she bring the footage we took to the police and tell them I suggested she move.

They agreed it was good idea. They said there was other drug activity in her area.
They laid out three paths for her.

They could arrest them now, for trespassing and other charges involved in the throwing of poop on her front door and for pissing in her flowers. They had the evidence, our footage.
But the police thought the Meth Heads would bail out, or get a light sentence and Lynn might be in danger because she was the primary witness against them.

Or, the police could attempt to talk to them one more time: to keep this from escalating; to let them know they have the footage; and the only reason they are not being arrested is because the neighbor does not want to press charges. The police could tell the neighbors all Lynn wanted was  to be left alone in peace so the house can sell and she will leave.

Option three was combination of option two plus a restraining order.

Lynn didn't know what to do so she did nothing.

Meantime,  the "For Sale" signs went up. The police never talked to the Meth Heads but did an occasional drive by. And we did more surveillance.

There were two more episodes after Lynn left for work.
One more poop flinging to the front walkway by Meth Mama.
And on one occasion, just after Lynn left for work, we saw the son, then 24, go to her side kitchen window. He looked in and pushed. It was locked.
Then he moved to the front door and turned the door knob.
We hoped he would've broke in, then we would have him on serious charges.
But that's as far as it went because the day we filmed this, was the day the house sold. 

The buyer, an retired ex-cop who knew the story and paid in cash, said he could handle the nieghbors. He said he and his room mate, a retired Navy Seal were up for a fight. They were eager and willing to bring a few Meth Heads down.

We moved Lynn out in the middle of the night, police on hand to make sure the neighbors didn't follow the van.We also set her up with a PO Box and did everything we could to keep her new address out of public record.

Lynn's new house is her safe house and she loves it. It sits on a hill overlooking Puget Sound.
It's a brick Tutor, even nicer than the first.  She lives at the end of the cul de sac and has upscale, lovely elderly neighbors who watch the coming and goings all day. They too know her story and look out for her.

And I got paid.
So all was well.
Until one last phone call.

It was Lynn. She was in her car.
"They're following me" she said, panicked
"Who is?" I asked.
"The neighbors. That kid and his mother. They're in their red pick-up.  They must've seen my car in the supermarket and followed me and I'm heading  home."
She sounded desperate and asked "What do I do?"

I told her to go to the police station. And get their plate number.
Park there, enter the police station, tell them what's happening. I suspected Meth Head Mama and Junior  would split once she parked at the police station, which they did.

From there, a police report was filed.

Next, I suggested Lynn drive directly from the police station to pick up a car-savvy friend, then get to  a car dealer and trade in her Honda for a completely different make car in a different color than the one she had then.
She did so that very day.
I also suggested she go to a different supermarket for a while, or chose unusual hours to go.
And I suggested she be ever vigilant.

Since then, all the trouble stopped.
I never heard from Lynn again after I got that thank you letter and used up all the free drinks on my Starbuck's card.

Recently I drove past Lynn's old house on my way to another case. The Meth Heads' old rambler  next door was no more. That house had been grazed to the ground and replaced by a modern duplex.
The owners of the duplex were the Ex-Cop and Navy Seal who moved into Lynn's old house. They accomplished their mission. Got rid of the Meth Heads and got themselves another investment property.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Of Subpoenas And Oysters

It appears I have developed a bit of a reputation among attorneys as the "go to" person on the "deliberately missing."

With so many criminal and civil suits these days, a lot of people are getting served.
Many of those people  do not want to be found. So they move around. They don't answer doors. They change names. They hide.
No problem. I can usually find them.
However, I choose not to be shot or assaulted  in the course of serving said subpoenas, so the task can be challenging and occasionally requires back-up.

That is my work for today: the finding of three people, and then the serving of one subpoena. I also have yesterday's cases to write up, photos to process.

But first, a story to tell.
It starts  just like your day did. I woke up this morning.
That much we have in common.
What we most likely do not share is the environment I live in and the activity I engaged in during this morning's walk.

It was negative low tide, meaning, no water anywhere.
The bay was completely exposed to mud flats.
There is a wooden board walk between my house and the beach that takes you through preserved wetlands you can't mess with. As I emerged from the cover of the trees, I stepped off the wooden boardwalk planks... careful not to slip and fall off the slick wood... which I have done too many times.

I had the the big dog, Zen, on the leash.
The little one, Bubba, was running free.
Bubba barked and I looked left. The oyster harvesters were out again. They were still working the oyster bed way down the left side of the beach. They were far enough away that faces couldn't be made out. We all had hoods on, it was drizzling, the sky quite thick with clouds.

I started my walk  away from the direction of the harvesters, wished the poor little oysters -- which I hypocritically eat alive, barbecued or steamed -- would not be harvested in such quantities.

To my right was a spit of beach surrounded by water on both sides.
That's the way I walked, my back to the harvesters. I  tucked all traces of my blond hair under my hood.
Usually I am the only one on this beach, I could go through three seasons without encountering a soul except maybe a neighbor. This however, was summertime. And oysters were being harvested behind me. I was not alone.

Because of the low tide the entire bay was exposed. I saw something familiar and big up ahead, the same thing that caught my eye earlier in the week. But the tide was not low enough for me to approach it before. This time, I took Zen, the big dog with me. Bubba followed as we tentatively approached what was something yellow and green covered in mud. 

One has to be careful in the mud flats.
We had one dog, Karma, sink up to the neck just as the tide was coming and the sun was setting.
She almost drowned were it not for the assist of my heroic husband, who was a Marine, a soldier for 14 years. Despite a dislocated shoulder at the time of said dog sinking, he somehow shimmied out on a branch and pulled the dog out of the mud and saved her life.

At one point he fell in the mud during the rescue and held the dog's head above water so she could breathe while the tide came in. Then he pulled her out of the mud and dragged them both to shore. He was too weak to carry her. They were both mud covered and exhausted as they crawled through the wooded path, then lay on a road  I found, where I could park my Trailblazer and get them both home and clean.

And just a couple months ago,  two little boys across the bay took advantage of the low tide to play. I was walking the beach with friends when we heard their yells and cries  for help.  The kids were out too far and sinking fast in mud.

While I pondered my next move, knowing I would sink on my way to them, my husband, again the hero, dashed from out of nowhere carrying a door above his head he figured he'd use as some kind of support device to rescue the kids. Meantime, the kids'  parents and others heard their cries. They were closer, rescued the boys, who learned a lesson.

It was  the same lesson I learned when I was young once at a summer camp. I  sank in a quagmire on a a sandbar by the ocean that was more like quicksand. I recall my brother and his friends of his pulling me out. It was then I learned ground is not always solid. It can fall out from beneath you or devour you alive.

So suffice to say, I approach all things at a low tide with trepidation.
And this very morning, I saw the yellow and green thing in the mud and decided to approach it, cautiously.
My shoes were sinking deeper into the mud, the tide still out. No cell phone, no knife, nothing in my pockets. Dumb move, I thought. Fortunately the green and yellow thing were close enough to get to without sinking.

They were two plastic bags filled with oysters left from a harvest past. Because they were in the waters, they were still alive.

Unlike the red bags of the guys who harvested to the left of me, these bags were a different color. The bags were tied in a knot, instead of sealed with the familiar metal clip real harvesters used.  They were also not tagged with the name of the oyster company doing the work, which is mandated by the state laws and the department of Health during a legitimate harvest,

There were dozens of oysters locked in these rogue bags. I figured they could have been there for weeks before I discovered them.

I  squattted down and studied the the oysters in the bag. One bag had small to mediums, the other was full the big old guys. Grampa Oysters. They were all crunched together, in a plastic netted prison, contained, confined.
A thousand little oysters voices shouted "free me" in my head.

So I thought about it for maybe five seconds.
Then I decide I would liberate the oysters from their plastic prisons.

The Oyster Liberation Front

Without a knife, I looked around the beach for something sharp and decided on a huge, jazzed oyster shell half, left by birds who feast on the shellfish at such low tides.
The crows gathered on trees around me and watched, as did my dogs, as I sawed at one bag, then another. I opened both, and freed every single imprisoned oyster. At one point I cut my hand on the oyster shell and watched the blood drip on the shells of the oysters I was liberating.
I kept cutting until they were all free.

I then turned handfuls of oysters cup side down, and moved them  further towards the inner bay. I saw bubbles come from them, which I decided was oyster- speak for "thank you".

I felt really good about myself, the adrenalin rush a mid to high, until I heard the words "Hey!"
I looked up and saw all the oyster harvesters, way down the other side of the beach looking at me. They had stopped working and stood mesmerized. One was pointing at me.

Adrenalin reach a max at that point. First thought was to double-check the color of their bags. All red. The ones I sawed open were green and yellow. Clearly not theirs. With that reassurance I knew all I had to do was make it back to the house,  hidden by the walkway through wetlands. Waiting in the house was the same heroic husband I described earlier. He'd pick it up from there if things got sticky.

The drama, however, ends here.

They made no moves towards me. They just watched me and the dogs walk towards them. They watched me turn  left as I disappeared off the beach on the wooden boardwalk through the wetlands and woods that lead to our back sliding glass door.

As I removed my muddy shoes, wiped the dogs paws, I confessed to my sin... or rescue... to my husband. He said considered it a rescue, which was reassuring.

I felt pretty certain however,  the word would spread there is a mad oyster liberator about.
So if that alleged rumor reaches you,  just know it's true.
That mad oyster liberator... would be me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

This Morning's Walk

It occurred to me this morning, just as the sun was rising and I was walking the beach with my dogs, this blog needs to be more alive. It has to exist with daily observations rather than intermittent ones.

I have seen it so far as a place to offload stories from my brain. To share information that can help others. And to provide links (which will be updated this weekend) to free public records searches. All good, positive objectives.

The challenge for me comes in the offload.
The stories take time in the telling and even more in their editing.
This coming public... this writing of true cases without violating any confidences... is all new to me and a very time-consuming process.
There are days I  miss writing the  true case stories here because I need to investigate all  day, do the day's case notes at night and catch some zzz's and calories  between it all.

So, back to what occurred to me as I was walking my dogs on the beach this morning.
I decided to make this blog what it is. The Diary of A Private Eye...  a true diary with a post every day to fill in the gaps when I haven't got the hours it takes to write a decent case story, edit and post it.

Like most Americans who are lucky enough to have a paycheck, I live paycheck to paycheck.   I travel hundreds of miles many days, going  to injured people who can't get out of their homes, hospital beds, or head-states to get to an attorney.

I photograph people and their injuries, accident scenes, damaged vehicles and other damaged property. I find and interview witnesses. I do surveillance. I build case files, hand them to attorneys. Occasionally I go to trial to testify about what I saw. I am the eyes and ears of the attorney in the field.

But this morning I was the eyes and ears of one just person, me,  walking the beach,  waking up, planning my day. My cases across the water begin late, 3:00 pm and go into the evening.

So walking that  beach as the sun was rising, then heading back to our house, I observed three things.

First, a group of oyster pickers. I counted nine, bent over in the low receding  tide, their black rubber books, rain slickers, harvesting oysters on a  bed a long ways down the beach. The people who own those tidelands and hired the harvesters, told me they are sick of their oysters because they draw the geese and the geese poop all over their yard. The proceeds to the homeowners from the harvest will be used to pay property taxes.

The second thing I observed was what I call the death mound.
A baby seal had died a while back and washed up on the beach. It looked like it had been hit by a propeller. I figured between the tides coming and going, it would wash back to sea, as all the dead things do here on this wild beach.

This one was different. Instead, the baby seal was pushed a little closer to the shoreline by the waters of the bay and  and covered, with every  tide coming and going,  by more and more seaweed, sea grass and  green stuff until it formed a green cacoon around the seal. Now there is nothing but a big, long mound. Nature's very own version of a grave. I thought of decomposition. I thought of compost piles. Then I thought I'd better  lead  my dogs away from the death mound and head back.

It was when I arrived at the sliding glass back door of the beach house when I made my third observation. My  little dog, Bubba, a rescue pup from the wrong side of the tracks, had something in his mouth and dropped it to the ground while he waited for the door to open. 
I looked closer, it was hideous and at first glance, primordial.
Like a giant snake head and long spiny,skeleton body.
It turned out to be a long dead fish...  red, dried, hardened. I grabbed  two big leaves off the ground  and used them to pick up the dead little sea monster and unceremoniously tossed it into the wetlands.I  figured the soul had long left that hardened corpse.... and admittedly,  I felt more disgust than reverence towards it.
Bubba was heartbroken, though I suspect,  he will live through it.

So that's it for  this morning. From this point forward, I'll  do a journal entry a day and see what what happens.
Some days there will be late postings of  reasonably well-crafted stories here.
Some days there will be random observations and thoughts like now.
This space will become a diary... albeit a public one from a private person.
If it works for you, it works for me.
The truth always comes in the telling.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hit By A Train

Danny (a pseudonym) was hit by train. Simple as that.
Not quite as simple is the fact that he lived to tell me about it.

He was 18 at the time, cutting loose with friends one hot summer night at  a booze-laden beach party held on private property.

The private property was an area of the beach, surrounded by a fence.
Access was gained with a key... one of many keys distributed to members of the Homeowners Association whose residences were alongside, or close to, the beach. It's not a gated community. Just a gated beach.

My sister in New York City lives across from a gated park like that.
You need a key to get in and walk yourself, your dogs, or just sit on a bench and unwind.
I never knew there were small parks like that in cities -- with fences, locks and keys --  until I visited my sister in New York.

Fast forward many years into the future from my first learning of locked parks.... to another locked park in an area Northwest of Seattle I was investigating.

This locked park was bigger and alongside the water.  It was in an upscale neighborhood. There was a Cabana -- a big club house -- plus restroom,  a children's play area, picnic tables, and a huge expanse of green grass that led to the beach. There are railroad tracks you must cross on the green grassy area to get to the beach.

As I moved through the park towards the tracks, I noted cliffs on both sides of the private beach area. The cliffs were quite steep, the terrain covered with sticker bushes and rocks: some big and solid boulders; some loose and untethered smaller stones inbetween soil which was moist on the day I worked the scene.

A thick layer of clouds was overhead.
I was alone as I usually am.
I had my camera and my P.I. license in a waterproof pocket of a hooded jacket I wore.

I  received the case earlier that week from an attorney, I  wanted pictures before the fall rains hit.

The accident happened at the end of summer. It was a weekend  before school was to begin. The kids... about 20 of them.... were between the ages of 16 and 18 and celebrating the last weekend of summer at a night party in that locked beach area. The locked beach area closes at sunset unless reserved by someone in the Homeowners Association. On the night of the accident, the space was reserved by no one and the  kids staked their unofficial claim.

The party started about 9:30 pm, when one of the kids, whose parents belonged to the Homeowners Association, put his key in the lock at the gate of the beach park and let in the first round of friends.

One boy wedged a piece of cardboard between the base of the metal gate door and the gate post, so  the gate  would remain unlocked for the arrival of the others....  who slipped silently out of their houses or cars and into a party their parents may, or may not, have known about at the time.

Meantime, the keyholder, was in the cabana downing his second shot of tequila with his best buddy Danny.

It's hard for me to believe this may come as a surprise to many parents, yet I know it does. Most parents have no real clue what their kids are up to. They want to believe the best, so they do.
However, kids... teens...  do bad things behind their parents' backs. Guaranteed.
In this investigator's opinion, there are no saints among most teenagers.

Underage, they do drugs, mostly pot, some cocaine, meth, crack, ecstacy, mushrooms and other hallucinogens. They also take pills from their parent's own medicine cabinets.  Or have their own sources to score uppers, downers, painkillers in the schools and on the streets.

So, the keyholder, his friend Danny, and the other kids were celebrating a last free weekend before school in the park at the beach.
The sun had set late that night as it always does in the Pacific Northwest summer.
On this night, it set close to 10:00 pm.

The kids were partying hearty behind the metal gate, though they made a point of keeping the volume down. They did not want to end their party by disturbing their neighbors who would then call the cops. This particular group of kids was tight, they'd known each other since childhood, they knew to chill and keep their voices low.

When I first  studied the scene it was daylight. I planned to return again after dark to get the feel of the night. I wanted to see everything clearly first.

I had the police report in hand and followed the scene sketch on the report, impressed by the officer's accurate diagram and well-written narrative. There was great detail in the report.

Bottom line...  Danny, 17, was walking on the train tracks heading towards an on-coming train. Danny was hit by the train that sounded all requisite horns when Danny was spotted. Danny survived and was airlifted to Harborview.

I first met the victim and his parents in intensive care,  before I went to the scene. The parents were the ones who called the attorney who called me. Danny's friends filled the waiting room,

I knew what the injuries were before I got there.
Impact to the right side of his body. Brain injury, right arm amputated, right pelvis and  hip broken, right leg crushed. Right leg may also require amputation. He was right-handed.
Recently awoke from coma, brain damage affecting memory, speech, moods.

Even though I knew what to expect,  I wasn't prepared for what I saw.
Being hit by a train is ugly.

I have done five train hits. Three of the people hit died. Only two  survived.
Danny was a survivor, though I am not sure how, because he walked into an oncoming train.

It looked like his body had been ripped in half. His arm was missing from it's socket. He had bandages covering the right side of his head. He lost his right eye, the orbit crushed. There was a Frankenstein line of stitches traversing his face and what other areas of flesh I could see on the right side of his body.


They'd been partying for almost two hours. It was close to midnight.
At one point Danny walked away from the two girls and a guy he was talking to.
Then he stepped on the train tracks  and walked down the middle of them. He was walking to the cliffs, his back to and away from, the party.

Danny was stoned, drunk and had just taken a cocktail of prescription pills  that included tranquilizers, painkillers, muscle relaxants and cocaine. It's a wonder the pills didn't kill him before the train him.

Danny walked by himself, down the tracks while his wasted friends observed him.

Then  one girl saw a beam of light approach. Another person saw it. The observation spread from kid to kid as the beam of light grew in size... and the ground rumbled... and  they all realized a train was coming and Danny was walking into it.
Some guys raced towards Denny, while other people froze, or screamed out warnings.

Then the train horns sounded when  Danny's figure was a silhouette on  the tracks.
The screech of brakes blended with the screeches of the horrified young witnesses at the moment Danny was hit.

It  appeared to those witnesses that at the very last minute,  Danny realized the light at the end of his  tunnel was a train because he attempted to leap off the tracks starting with his left foot, when the train impacted his right side. It was this last leap of fate... or faith... that saved Danny.

The engineer of the train stated he didn't see Danny until it was too late to do anything.
Upon impact,  Danny  was tossed in the air, away from the train instead of under it.

When the train stopped, panic and chaos ensued until the police arrived.
Then came the usual order of such traumatic scenes....  the ambulances,  firetrucks, airlift, interviews, drug tests, there's a whole lot that goes down when someone is hit by a train.

I was sent to see Danny, to review the police reports, talk to witnesses, to study the scene, to assess the case and liability.

Danny would have a lifetime of medial bills, his health insurance was already maxed out.
The attorneys  and Danny's parents wondered if liability or fault could be placed elsewhere so there would be more insurance funds available for Danny.
I photographed studied, measured, the scene. 
And as always, the questions came with every click of the camera.


Could Amtrak be held responsible for not having a crossing at the the darkened beach area?
Were the signs posted all over the private beach club gated area that warned of trains  "adequate warning"?
Did the engineer of that train handle the situation right?
Could he have stopped sooner?
Was he under the influence?
Could the Homeowners Association be liable because it happened on their property?
Could the homeowners policy of the parents  of the keyholder who let the kids in the gated area be  partially liable because, among other things,  their son was a minor, 17 and not under supervision?

I worked the scene. Talked to witnesses. Went back a second time to talk to Danny. He remembered one thing he didn't recall when he first saw me.

Danny said he heard a voice in his head.
It said "Walk to the light. "
After that he said, everything went black.
He did not recall  an attempted to leave the tracks, the hit, nothing but the light and the voice.
Nothing until he woke up from his coma in Intensive Care.


He was broken, battered, beaten down, depressed when we talked that second time. His mother was with us.

I said, "It's a miracle you"re alive Danny."

"Am  I?" he asked.

"Are you what?"  I asked back.

"Alive?" he said, as he turned his head away from me and his mother and cried.

At that point his mother cried too.
I went into positive energy mode.

"Yes you're alive Danny. You're just feeling like crap because you were hit by a train."
I paused for effect.
"Do you get that Danny? You were hit by a train and you lived! '
Another pause for effect.
"That makes you special.  Maybe even sacred. There's a reason for your survival. All you have to do is hang on, and you'll make it back."


"How do I hang on long enough to make it back?"  he asked.

I answered his question with a question.
"Well, how do you eat an elephant Danny?"
He stared at me silently.
I repeated the question and waited him out.
Finally, he said, "How?
"One bite at at time." I said. "And you got one big elephant to eat Danny"

Danny laughed. His mom laughed. And I figured that would be the perfect time to exit.
I said my goodbyes to them, wrote up my case notes which I delivered to the attorneys.

Bottom line, Danny, higher than a kite walked head-on into that moving train about midnight.
Other kids heard and saw the train coming, he didn't.

The attorneys weighed the possibilities and costs of taking Amtrak to trial.
There were no gates, no warning signs at the park.
But there were lights, a train horn and no expectations of anyone being in a  locked park that closed after sunset.
The attorneys considered suing the parents of the boy who let the kids in the park with his key.
They considered suing the Homeowners Association.
They considered the suing parents of the minors who brought booze to the party.
They considered suing the establishments that sold alcohol to the minors.

Yet, in the end.... they stepped away from the case.
Because they thought they'd be walking into a train by representing a client who put himself there in the first place.

And in my opinion,  the attorneys were right in their decision.
Because ultimately we are the arbiters of our own fate... based the choices we make.

Danny is still eating the elephant.
All his hospital bills were paid through the hospital's charity.
He got disability payments and health insurance through the state.
And the miraculous self-healing ability of the human body and mind revealed itself to Danny.

Despite  the fact that he will live his life in  a wheelchair with just one arm,  Danny ate enough of the elephant to help heal his brain and eventually get a  High School Diploma.
Last I heard, Danny was in his second year of  College.

Every story has a moral.
There are many possible morals here because there are many issues involved:
teens, parties, pills, alcohol, blackouts,  trains,  self destruction and the tenuous line between life and death.

Perhaps the moral is this:
Think of every move you make as a choice.
Tell your kids that drinking and drugs cause your brains to shut down.
Tell them Danny's story.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One Snapshot

This is a short blog about one of many snapshots in this investigator's head.

All the images appear in my mind like black and white Polaroids with rounded white edges.
This snapshot bubbles up from the depths of the subconscious frequently, without an ounce of resistance or protest from my saner side. The image comes from so deep... and surfaces so quickly... there is no time for decompression.

I learned first-hand the fragile balance between ascent and descent while scuba diving.
The human being must not resurface from deep, dark waters too quickly. Without a slowed, controlled ascent...without stops along the way... the body can not equalize itself.
Too quick a resurface can result in death for some without decompression chambers.

There are the certain images, snapshots, that haunt the investigator who has viewed them.
Decompression is required.
Normally, they are filed away in the coldest, darkest, deepest canals of the brain.
Occasionally, the snapshots resurface.
Every now and then, they begin their uncontrolled ascent.
Unbeckoned, unrestrained, they rise up from the depths of the unknowing to the conscious... and everything goes from color... back to black and white.

Here is one of those snapshots.

There was a seaplane. It had a pilot and his wife in the front seat.
It had their best friends, another man and woman, in the back seat.
Both couples were attractive, rich, in their mid-40's. They were planning a trip to the San Juan Islands here in the Pacific Northwest.

So there they were...flying over the Puget Sound in their Float Plane.
They left from Seattle, they headed north and then somewhere along the way, something happened and the plane dropped like a boulder from the sky.

There were the words "May Day... May Day...
We're going down."
The pilot shouted out latitude and longitude.
Women's screams were heard in the background.
Then... nothing.

When the plane was finally found, it was laid on the pilot's side at the bottom of at the bottom of the Puget Sound. The plane was in tact, all four people drowned still buckled in their seats.

There was a camera under the water that got a shot of them in their watery tomb.
Their mouths were wide open, their hair was all swept back, their open eyes were nibbled by fish.
It had to be seen, though it was too surreal to absorb.

Of all the pictures in the big case file called my head, that's the one that bubbles up from my subconscious at times I can't control or predict... like tonight, when I was walking on the beach and a seaplane passed overhead.

The Viewmaster in the investigator's' head features images of the brutal and bizarre.
Most too dark, too ugly, ragged, deep and intense to move from our minds to yours.

It wouldn't free me of the images to offload mine now. And it would only burden you.
Yet some of these things we see, they cry out to be shared.
Some snapshots, truly, are "worth a thousand words."

And this image... this snapshot...these four people... would have disappeared completely were it another point in space and time.
When there was no such thing as GPS and locator beams.
Or cameras to photograph their recovery.
And, Coast Guard, Police, Recovery crews, who had the skills to bring them home.

I was told the family never saw the snapshot.
I think that was a good thing.
I can't imagine a family member seeing the way they had really gone.
I didn't even know them, and still, the image haunts me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Not So Charming Prince



Once Upon A Time


Once upon a time, little girls grew up on stories of knights on white horses, sweeping them off their feet and away from trouble. That’s when we heard of Charming Princes and Sleeping Beauties. Even Snow White, unconscious and vulnerable, remained protected by seven maladjusted little men friends who did not molest her.

In the childlike world of little girls’ minds, girls were to be cherished, protected, honored, respected.
Their men would take a sword or a bullet for their women. Men were expected to support women while they had and raised babies.

Once upon that same time, little boys wrestled and played with toy guns. They grew up on stories of Cowboys and Indians, soldiers, trucks, mud, driving, being fathered and being fathers one day.

Then somewhere along the line the world shifted on its axis.

The Beaver Cleavers of the world were over-run by Eddie Haskells. The perfect wife was more of the Stepford variety.

In my lifetime, the divorce rate and the marriage rate squared off at 50/50. Now, there are more single people on this planet than married or committed couples.

At the same time, a new generation of young women decided being a single parent was cool.

And besides being perceived as cool, being a single mother meant income at the expense of the dad. And the state. One seed from an unsuspecting man could turn into a baby and an income.

In Washington State, if a single mother can get a man to live with her a child for a requisite period of time, that man will be required to pay child support even if they aren’t the “baby daddy.”

When The Bubble Burst

Meantime, so many us older married folks rode an Internet bubble, which generated a generation of entitled kids, who have still not grown up.

We spent so much of our new-found money on our children to keep them busy and happy while we pursued our hedonistic monetary pleasures.

We gave our kids whatever they asked for while we spent big bucks on fancy cars, houses, vacations, the stock market, refinances for more spending. We believed our jobs would never change. Life would go on as it always did. We never thought the rivers of green would dry up.
We never expected the Internet bubble to burst.
And then, it did.

The economy tanked.
Everything started drying up.
Then things got blown up. Planes into buildings, wars, deaths, beheadings live on the web, our nation split into two colors, red and blue.

Our kids became addicted to video games and desensitized to violence. They sat more, exercised less. The Internet was an extension of their being, texting became talk. The college funds they took for granted were no longer there.

Mortgages payments were running late, cars were repossessed, construction halted, layoffs ensued.

TV spots for tobacco, which had been pulled off the air, were replaced by ads from drug companies with offers for every pill imaginable with side effects that can kill you.

Suffice to say, things have changed a lot since many of us here were kids. And right now, the challenges we all face most right now are two-fold: health and money.

The health part I won’t address here. The money part I will.

Because there are whole mot more murders happening, a whole lot more suicides, a whole lot more criminal cases and a whole lot more civil cases occurring over money today than I remember in the many years of my investigating.

People who do not have money want it. And will resort to all means to get it.

It’s easy to say money can’t buy you happiness. Though I do not agree. In my opinion, whoever said that was not broke.

When you don’t have enough money to keep your power on, a roof overhead, to not have your car repossessed, to see a doctor, money is the both the imperative and the immediate answer.
But not, the ultimate answer.

Some people, who have enough money, are obsessed with wanting more. That’s why there are so many murders over insurance policies and undisclosed debts.

Which leads me… and now you… to the case in point:

Meth, Murder and Mayhem

So I was in one of my favorite hangouts for supper on the Seattle side of the water, where I work. That was many moons ago, when I did stupid things even though I knew better, like have a martini and drive home.

This one place I went to was like a diner from my East Coast days. It had the same d├ęcor, the same feel for at least 25 years. When I felt like a major unwind and desire for comfort food at the end of a rough day, I would head there. I’d been going there more than a decade.

Most people in the restaurant were older folks with white or blue hair, canes and hearing aids. They had been coming there for much longer than me and I always felt young in their company.

The waitresses knew everyone by name; they all got to know me. Ultimately, word spread that I was an investigator.

Every waitress had something she needed help on.
One in particular, brought me my martini and then said, “I need your help”

“What's up?” I asked back.

“My sister’s husband killed her,” she said. “ I need you to prove it.”

The restaurant was slow because I’d always stop by early, happy hour, 4:00. She stood by my table; pen and order pad in hand and told me her story.

I will spare you the all the details. Because the devil is in those detail... the devil being the sister’s boyfriend who shot her up with an overdose of two drugs, Heroin and Meth.
It’s a very long story.
He claimed she shot herself up and was not around when it happened.
There had been prior domestic abuse police calls from the sister.

The sister’s husband, the alleged killer wanted the insurance policy. The waitress and her family did not want him to have a cent of it.

Just as I began to wonder whether this would be one of one of those stories that remained a story; or turned into a real paying case, the waitress leaned closer to me and whispered,

“I only work here because I love this place. Great people, good exercise. I don’t need money, my family is wealthy. We’ll pay whatever it costs for you to help us stop this guy from getting her insurance money and getting him locked up.”

I asked her for a summary of the facts while I sipped my martini and felt the fog descend on my weary head. I wasn’t taking notes, just listening. I made it clear to her that she was not a client yet.

I gave her my card, and said if I thought I could help, we would meet and talk later, away from the environment were in.

And so the story tumbled out of her mouth like the hundreds of stories I have heard over my many years on this planet.

In this version, he, the bad guy, married her sister within one month of meeting her. He courted her like there was no tomorrow and drove her to Vegas where he convinced her to let Elvis marry them.

He was Prince Charming on the outside.
A scumbag on the inside.
She only saw the Prince Charming because scumbags don’t usually show their scum side until after they have their targets hook, line, sinker and in the boat. Then it’s only a matter of time until the club comes out.

The scumbag-turned-husband moved into the house her sister owned, got his name on all the bank accounts, bought a Harley, Corvette, partied all the time. The he introduced the waitress’s sister to the Meth.

The rest became a most predictable history.

She was on Meth. He was on Meth. Sometime they added a little smack/heroin to the equation.
They drained the bank account. Her bank account.
He cheated on her with a lot of other women.
They fought and fought.
There was domestic violence, he hit her and she hit him. She got a restraining order against him. He got one against her. They separated. They made up.

Then one day, they got both their respective restraining orders legally unrestrained.

Things were good for 6 months. Next thing… the waitress’ sister is dead. He requested the life insurance two days later. He claimed the house she bought. He was going for everything, the waitress told me. He cleaned out her bank accounts, sold all her stocks. He had all her passwords, security codes and social security number.

So now police were involved, but not enough evidence for arrest. There were probate attorneys; a civil attorney and they needed a private investigator too.

I told her how sorry I was for her sister’s death (the sister was 28.) I told her I would need to work through her attorney on a case like this one. I told her she could expect a long and difficult road ahead and no guarantees on where it would end.

When I told her people kill people everyday and get away with it, I could see the surprise in her eyes. She stopped talking and said she’d be back; she had another table to take care of.

As I watched her carry that tray to the table of four near mine, I am not sure if her foot hit something or her brain did. But down she and the whole plate -filled tray went. She dropped on the floor. Her face was flushed.
She glanced my way, embarrassed as other waitresses hurried to help her.

I smiled at her, gave her the okay sign with my fingers. She smiled weakly back.

From that point on, I did what I could for her and her family. Which in this case, was enough to get some information to the probate court and the insurance company and the police case file to put a halt to any distribution of funds to the ex-husband.

The family ultimately won in probate. They got the insurance policy and possession of her house because it was in her name not his.

Eventually, the whole thing settled down because of the Meth the ex-husband continued to do.

Meth burns holes in your brain that never go away. Without a doubt, it will kill you if you do not end up on rehab or a jail that gets you to a rehab that works.

The ex-husband, still a Meth Head, shot and killed a buddy he was arguing with six months after he was evicted from the house. He is now in prison… still a decent looking guy on the outside, with a devil on the inside. I saw his picture. He writes to ladies on Prison Pen Pals.

And he’s up for parole in another three years.

I can’t help but wonder about the next woman he will prey on when he is released.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Look Inside"

I was supposed investigate the case of a young woman, let's call her "Jenny," who was 17 years old and driving to high school early one chilly morning. A rare winter Seattle sun was just rising. Seated beside Jennifer was her boyfriend, Jason, also a pseudoym, also 17. They commuted to school together this way every day.

As they entered an intersection, they headed straight through because they had the green light. Meantime, a man in an F-250 pick-up, blinded by the rising sun, failed to see Jenny's car yield as he was turning fast on a yellow. The pick-up collided head-on with the tiny Toyota Corrola. Jenny was killed instantly. Her boyfriend, Jason, survived, was in a coma with brain damage and many broken bones and internal complications.

Jason's parents got an attorney immediately because he would need a lifetime of medical care which is more money than any health insurance policy would cover. Their attorney would go after the insurance limits on the car that hit them. There would also be funds in Jenny's policy as well.

Jenny's parents hired a separate attorney for Jenny, because they felt the driver of the pick-up should pay -- both figuratively and literally -- for the death of their daughter. I was hired by the attorney representing Jenny, the dead girl, to go to the collision yard and photograph Jenny's car.

The car was in one of those places I call auto graveyards... cemeteries of cars, trucks and any other vehicles on wheels...
charred, ripped, crushed, jagged metal remnants of devastating accidents past.
The vehicles in the graveyard were totaled out.... stacked side by side in horizontal rows, layers deep with pathways between them, along a windy dusty dirt road that goes on for acres.

In some of these lots, the big ones, they bring the car to a viewing area for the investigator to photograph and examine.
I was one in one of biggest lots, where the car would normally be brought to me.
But on the day I was investigating Jenny's accident, I arrived when the guys who normally towed the car were having lunch or were somewhere else, so they let me drive to Jenny's car which was several turns around the six acre site. I had the requisite plate number, color, make, I.D. and releases from the attorney and their client family, so they cut me loose on their lot.

I drove my black Jeep at a snail's pace down the dusty curved road past hundreds of cars that took on life forms in their death states.

There were burnt out, bent black shells of metal that were once cars, SUV's, trucks or buses. I drove past twisted smashed front ends, cars cut in half. Some were covered with evidence tape, other just sat empty, lonely and lost. Some had roofs crushed to the floor. I had never been a yard like this one, one this big and so full of exposed unburied remains. It was a graveyard with no holes in the ground and no coffins. Raw. Exposed. Car Body Farm.

I found Jenny's car. Its rear-end was facing me.
I backed my Jeep up so the front on my car faced the rear of Jenny's.
Since the hit came head on, there was no damage to the car's rear. I grabbed my camera and approached the rear end of the car.
I stopped first for a full shot.
Then moved in tighter.
Then tighter still, until my camera focused in on the plate; then, the little Grateful Dead bear rainbow sticker in the bottom left of the rear hatchback window. I quickly looked at the rear back window of the hatchback, it was tinted. I looked at the lock and do not recall seeing a key in it at tht time.

I moved around the left side of the vehicle, where Jenny, our dead client was positioned. My first task was the exterior, as my camera clicked , so did the thoughts in my head.
No airbag deployment. It was an older model car, they were not mandated then.
Jenny's side sustained the greatest impact, its front end was pushed right up to her seat.
The engine was just about kissing the passenger compartment.

Jason's side was crushed, though not as bad as Jenny's.

I could see why Jenny was killed instantly.

I could not see how Jason survived. I could see, however, that survival came at a huge price.
There was intact area of steel around his head, the side window was unbroken. The head injury came when he bouced up and hit the roof.
Beside his brain bleed and coma, he had multiple broken bokens on his entire left side... from ankle, to hip, to elbow, to shoulder. His spleen ruptured. One lung was punctured. And his girlfriend was dead.

I photographed the car from all the requisite angles.
Then it was time to look inside.
That's when my limited view of the universe shifted exponentially.

First I looked at Jenny's seat.
It was empty... broken backwards... the seat littered with shattered shards of glass from the windshield. Police tape was all around the car exterior, it secured the vehicle as evidence. Jenny's left driver's side window was smashed out. Her door was off its hinges and
leaned vertically against the car, with just enough room to slip my camera and my head in a to take it all in.

A bent, steering wheel.
Blood and brain matter everywhere.
On the dashboard.
On the seat. On the ceiling.
I photographed the odometer through blood.
There was an odor of death still fresh I could ot capture with my camera.
When I finished with Jenny's side of the car, my mind and camera turned to Jason's passenger seat.

Jason was not my client, however, he was was our dead client's beloved boyfriend. He was still alive. And on his passenger front seat, was a big, cardboard box that filled the seat and reached almost halfway up the closed passenger side windown. There was yellow police tape on the box too.

I'd seen those boxes before. In other collision yards and in evidence rooms.
I knew in the chaos of triage on accident scenes, paramedics and police gather up all kinds of items they find on the scene like personal items and medical discards/debris, then put them in a cardboard box. Often there are bloody remnants of materials paramedics use to save lives, or cut up clothing in the box. This box on Jason's seat in Jenny's car was sealed tight by the police tape and I wasn't going to touch it.

As I was looking at that box, that's when I first heard it.
It was a voice. A girl's voice. No... a teenager's.
It's said, "Look Inside."

I stepped away from the car and looked around.
It was lunchtime in the car graveyard, there was no one there but me and hundreds of dead, mutilated vehicles.
I looked back at Jenny's car, stepped closer to the window on the driver's side, looked at the box and heard the voice again.
It said, "Look inside."

I had encountered "odd" episodes in my life. There have been times when I sensed or knew things others didn't.
It wasn't until I reached adulthood after a lifetime of some accurate intuitions/ premonitions, when I considered the possibility that I was not nuts.
It was the night my father died that I knew for sure, there was a whole lot more I didn't know for sure.
Because I had proof then, actual evidence and witnesses to my knowing/experiencing his passing despite the miles between us.

I have always been rather receptive to.... how you say.... "messages." So I was open to considering the possibility of Jenny's spirit speaking to me.
I stuck my head and camera back in Jenny's window to photograph Jason's half of what was left of the front passenger compartment.
I photographed the box.
The side window.
Then I heard the voice again. It was more insistent.
"Look Inside!"

I spoke back to the voice in my head telepathically, with my thoughts instead of words.
I figured if I spoke out loud, that would be true evidence of my insanity to both myself anyone watching.
I thought, "I can't look inside. It's got evidence tape on it."

"Look INSIDE" the voice repeated. This time, with empasis on the second word.

I stepped away from the car and stood at the side, by the door Jenny would have opened at walked out had she lived. I stared at the vehicle as I pondered my next move.

I decided against opening the box and walked back to my Jeep, climbed up on the hood, balanced my camera on my knees, zoomed in and out of the car with my telephoto, when I heard the voice again.
"Look Inside. Please... look inside." I think it was the "please" that did. I had a visceral response to the pleaI heard in that word.
I climbed off the hood, grabbed my camera and approached the rear end of the car.

The voice in my head said "Good. Look Inside"
I looked at the tinted rear hatchback window on with the Grateful Dead rainbow bear sticker on it.
I stepped towards the area where the key/handle might be.
I recalled doing the same thing when I first arrived. Only this time... this time... something was different.

I saw a key in the lock that I hadn't seen before . This surpise find led me to two conclusions:
A. The key been there before and I overlooked it.
B. The key been put there by otherworldly forces I dared and cared not contemplate.

I went with A. I studied the key before I touched it. I photographed it in the lock. It was not your average car key. It was silver, thin and flat, like a small skelton key. As I reached out to touch it, the trunk just flew open. I hadn't even had a chance to turn the key.

"Good!" the voice said, "Look inside."
I was on autopilot then, I think.
I figured... okay, this is a dead kid speaking to me and what the hey, let's just go with it.
I'll sort it all out later.

I looked inside the tiny little hatchback trunk.
First thing I saw was a platic bag. Not like a supermarket bag, but one of those big clear, thick plastic bags with zippers you get when you buy sheets or a comforter in a store. Inside was something that looked beige, soft, hand knit. I photographed the bag in its original place.
The command continued.

"Look inside."
I unzipped the zipper on the platic bag without moving the entire bag. Inside were soft beige, white and cherry colored hand-knit items: a beautiful hand-knit cashmere hat; mittens and scarf. They appeared to have bever been worn.

The voice said, "Give these to my sister."

I didn't know if Jenny had a sister.
I did believe however, that whoever was talking to me somehow got me to that trunk and to that platic bag, so odds were good something on a higher level was going down here. I continued to go with the flow.

I zipped the bag close. I moved it to the right side of the trunk, because there was something light blue under the bag. It was Jenny's school notebook.

Again the voice, "Look Inside!".
I left the notebook on the floor of the trunk and opened immediately and randomly to Jenny's calendar stuck in the spiral notebook with its three well placed holes.
When I opend the notebook, again to a random page, it opened to the very week I was there.
And when I looked at that very day, the day I was the car trunk, it said, "Mom's birthday. Tell her, love you."

I left the notebook and hatchback open, climbed back up to the hood of my Jeep and contemplated the whole situation.

On the one hand, no one in my investigative world knew I had these little gifts of perception.
On the other hand, if they found out, I could be considered a crack pot and my credibility would be shot.
I was going for the the straight and narrow path of investigation and I wanted to be perceived as a teller of truths, not a flake.

Still, there was evidence to indicate this girl, the poor dead girl was communicating with me. Maybe she did have a sister. Maybe it was her mothers birthday. It had to be. The calendar said so.

Maybe spirits do live on when the body dies. Maybe that's why all the cars in the auto graveyard surrounding me seemed alive... so full of pain, tears, and unaswered questions.

I don't know how long I sat there, contemplating the what nexts, until it occurred to me.
I am Jenny's investigator. Those are her things. And I am getting them to her family even if It means I will lose my job for screwing with police evidence.

Long story now gets short.

I took the bag with the scarf, hat and gloves. I took the notebook. I closed the trunk, looked at and photographed again the mysterious key which still remained in the truck.

I began the drive back to Seattle, to the law firm representing Jenny and while on the road, called my friend, one of those guys who knows everything about anything.

This guy knew I had a gift, he'd seen it in action. So I told him everything that happened, ending with the fact that I had the scarf and notebook with me.
He was mortified.
"You took evidence?"
Yes, I said.
"Police evidence?" he said.
"Yes, " I said again, presenting my defense. "Because it was our client's personal effects and I am hired to represent her and she wanted me to do it."
"But she's DEAD" he said.
I didn't answer him. We sat in slence for a few seconds then he said,
"Man you are soo screwed."

So I called the attorney who hired me and told him everything as I headed to his firm.
I expected I wouldn't be his investigator much longer.
Instead, he was unexpectedly calm, intrigued and then contemplative when I finished my story.
"How interesting, " he said. " She has a younger sister, you know. Two years younger. "

"I know these things happen," he continued, "because I work a lot of death cases.
So, how would you like me to handle this with the family?"

It was a question I was unprepared for. I figured I would drop the goods at the law firm, and be on my way looking for a new employer.

"Well, " I replied, "just tell them your investigator found this at the scene while photographing the vehicle."

The attorney said with a question in his voice, "But their dead daughter talked to you. "

"I know, I countered, "but that's not in keeping with an investigator's image.They'll probably think I'm crazy" I replied.

"I don't know that I agree." the attorney responded, "If I had lost a child and my child spoke to me through someone, I would certainly want to know that, wouldn't you? "

I didn't answer.

"Why don't you think about that while you drive into the firm." he said. "We'll have a meeting here and decide what's best."

During the drive back to the Seattle office, the plastic bag with its sacred contents and the notebook were secured in an evidence bag in the seat next to me. I felt Jenny's presence. The voice was no longer in my head. I drove way too slow as I contemplated what I had just experienced or imagined.

When I got everything to the law office, the attorney I worked for, who owned the firm, said,
"We all reached a decision here and hope you agree. We think the parents should know our investigator had this connection with their child. We're going to call and tell them everything you told us."

"Ok," was all I said, knowing better than to argue with an attorney.

I headed home. It wadn't 30 minutes later my cell rang. It was the attorney who said,
"You may want to pull over for this one."
I did.

He said, "The father and grandfather had gone back to the vehicle looking for the package with the scarf, hat and mitttens. The both said they looked and could not find them. And they both said they saw no key in the trunk.
Jenny was given the knitted items just the day before the accident as a gift from her grandmother who made them.
Jenny 's little sister knew about them and said she wanted a set just like them.
And Jenny's mother told me she felt the presence of God for the first time in her life when she got the Happy Birthday Message from Jenny"

I ended up with all the investigations from that law firm.
When those partners parted, their new associates used my services as well.
Still do.

Lesson learned:

There are so many dimensions of life out there. Just because you can't see them does not mean they are not there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Apple Of His Eye

I had never seen anything like it and hope never to again.
It is one of those deep images you intentionally repress, but like a body refusing to be buried in a watery grave with anonymity, it bubbles to the surface. Sometimes the image is whole, sometimes it is brief. The blink of an eye. An eye not there.

I was sent to a very small town in Eastern Washington.
Eastern Washington reminds me of the dry, desert expanses of America's Southwest with less in the natural wonders department.

I headed east from Seattle, over the Cascades, stopped at Leavenworth, past Quincy, then Moses Lake. If I kept going long enough I would have made it all the way to Spokane, the biggest city in Washington, east of the Cascades. But that was not my destination.

I can not tell you the name of the remote farm town I was sent on this case.
I can not tell you the the date it happened, or who it happened to.
However, everything I write now is public record. Though I suspect the only ones who could find any identifying info based on this post will be the inhabitants of that small town... because most of them were glued to the police scanner that night.

In many remote, rural American communities, when the sun goes down and the work is done, the police scanner provides as much, if not more, entertainment than television.

It was in one of these towns I met the attorney's client, we'll call him "Jack". Jack was 32 years old and had a four year old son that was the apple of his eyes until a police officer shot out one of those eyes. The left one.

I had my camera focused on that hole in his face after the bandages were removed. Jack sat patiently as I zoomed in and out of the shattered orbit spotted with globs of green goo and bones and things I could not comprehend.

Usually detachment is something I can turn on and off like a switch when I photograph wounds, or scenes, the injured, the maimed. But I did not have the years under my investigative belt then that I have now. And I had never seen anything like it before, never have since. I felt my stomach turn.

The bullet went through his eye and out the back of his his head, taking some brain with it. The missing brain explained Mike's new persona. He was a walking zombie who could still carry on a limited conversation.

Once a vibrant, handsome, man from a big family, Mike spoke slowly and was more child than man. The right side of his body was limp. He lived in a wheelchair by day, in the bed by night in a nursing home where I met him.

I was brought to him by his sister, brother and mother. Before I met him, I spent the morning at their farm getting stories and statements.

Here's what went down:

Jack lived in a house on farmland his family owned. He was a single father. His wife divorced him after he sustained a brain injury after a drunken night out with the guys and a fall to the concrete.
The police put him the drunk tank the night of the fall. He didn't see a doctor until he was released the next day.
The brain hit affected his memory. He didn't recall the brawl and believed it was the police who hurt him. In his altered mind, the police became the enemy.

Jack's behavior changed. He experienced mood swings. His wife took custody of their son and moved in with her family. Jack saw his son weekends. Weekdays he would work the family land. At night, he would sit alone in his little farm house, drink, listen to the police scanner and occasionally call his mother, a widow, who lived in the bigger house acres away, which was also on family land.

Jack had a crush on a attractive woman down the road he knew since elementary school. Her husband was recently killed in a car wreck.
Jack would drunk dial her every now and then, occasionally Jack would stop by. She said he was harmless, just annoying at times.
There was also Deputy in town who had a crush on the same woman.

So one night, Jack drunk, called his crush, she chatted with him briefly and politely. He kept calling her back and she kept saying "Goodbye Jack".

The same night of the drunk dialing, the Deputy stopped by this widow's house to "see if she was all right". She chatted with him a while, mentioned that Jack had been calling him all night. The Deputy said, "I'll go talk to Jack". She said, "No it's late, the calls stopped, leave it be."

That would have been the best path. Instead, the Deputy chose another.
It was around 11:00 pm, police scanner prime time.
In the dark, the Deputy drove the farm road to Jack's house. He parked his car in front of Jack's front door, left his vehicle lights, had the beam pointed right at the front wondow. Then grabbed grabbed some kind of megaphone and said, "Come out Jack. Now!"

Jack saw the car, Deputy, the lights, and panicked. He called his mother and said, "The police are coming to get to me."
His Mother called the police station and told them about Jack's brain injury and how he is afraid of the police.
Signals got crossed.
Inside the house, Jack peered at the police through his front window curtains.
Then he turned around, picked up his shotgun, walked out the back door and fired it into the air twice.
The Deputy heard but did not see the gunfire because he was at the front of the house.
He radioed for assist.
Another police car arrived.
Jack put the shotgun down, and got in his pick-up, also behind the house. He always left the keys in the front seat. He took off driving in circles around the farm fields.
At one point, the Deputy said, Jack aimed his car at him and the Deputy, feeling his life was in danger, shot Jack. Dead on, through windshield, then the eye.
Jack's head slumped forward on the steering wheel.
Over the radio, one officers called for ambulance as Jack's vehicle ultimately stopped.
They also reported the shooting over the radio to the scanners, overheard by Jack's mom and other family members and friends throughout his rural community. The family knew the police and ambulance were gathering at Jack's.

The Deputies approached Jack's vehicle, saw his head slumped over, saw brain matter leaking out.
Then one Deputy got back on the radio and canceled the aid car.
Jack's mother's heart sank. She told me she knew this meant her son was dead.

Jack's sister raced to the scene at the same time as her brother. They didn't know about about the shooting, the ambulance being called, then canceled.

When they arrived on the scene, they saw their brother's truck, stopped dead. Police were around it, they looked grim. Jack's sister ran out of her truck towards Jack's.
The Deputy who shot Jack told the family to stay put. There was nothing more to be done, he said. Jack was dead.

Jack's sister screamed "NO!" while Jack's brother contemplated his next move.
As Jack's brother stared at the truck, he saw a hand emerge from left window.
An arm moved up and down.
"He's alive!" Jack's brother screamed as he raced to the truck.

Meantime, an officer got on the radio and the whole town heard him say "Send the ambulance back"

Seventeen minutes passed before the ambulance arrived on scene.

I was there because attorneys in Seattle believed those 17 minutes... the gap created when the ambulance was cancelled... and then called back, caused further damage to Jack's poor brain.

The case had proceeded to a civil suit. It was Jack v. the Deputies and I was Jack's investigator, photographing the hole in Jack's face that used to be his eye.

It was 3 weeks after the shooting when I met him. My camera was focused on the still raw oozing wound that had been unwrapped by the nurses for my visit. I just finished photographing him in his wheelchair, with his leg and arm braces. braces. He did not recall the shooting, did not recall the Deputies. Did not recall anything. He was there and not there.

My parting shot of the day was that eye.
I remember, while photographing the inside of it, thinking of a quote I learned so many moons ago.
"The eyes are the mirror of the soul."
There was no eye in that head, just jagged, raw bone and a gruesome rainbow of green, red and cloudy white.
And Jack's souls reflected through that hole was black.

All anyone could hope for now was a civil settlement that would pay medical bills. There was also pain and suffering judgement....of which there was no shortage in this equation.
Jack's son lost his father.
Jack's family lost a son, brother.
And the lady up the street who talked to the deputy that night, lost it altogether when she felt she triggered the events of the evening. She went on a drinking binge on the one year anniversary of the shooting and crashed her car into a light pole. She was killed instantly.

Some stories have no happy endings.
The biggest settlement in the world couldn't buy a happy ending for this one.
There are only lessons.
And if we learn something from life's hardest ones, then all is never lost.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Bad Doctor

He was a huge hulk-like man, from Nigeria, drowning in a sea of horrible allegations floating around him.

I saw him in person, on a total of three separate occasions.

The first time was during my surveillances. I was not looking for something specific, just documenting everything and anything, his comings and goings.

The second time I saw him was from a closer vantage point. It was much later, at the time of his trial.
I was stopped at a red light in the heart of downtown Seattle early in the morning
I was leaving a construction site I had been photographing around dawn where a client was injured.
The Bad Doctor emerged from a parking garage that led directly to the street I was stopped on. I figured he was on the way to his criminal trial, or meeting his attorney, before heading in the direction of the courthouse.

I looked right at him through my tinted passenger window and hit the button to my left that lowered the passenger front window. All I can say is I switched into auto pilot. I felt my heart beating those familiar warning drums that you feel are audible to anyone around you.... and ignored them.
I felt mischievous.

He had no clue who I was, as my passenger side window rolled down and revealed, yours truly in the driver's seat. Our eyes locked as I flashed my my sweetest smile at him. I, the blond- haired, blue-eyed American lady in the SUV... he no doubt wondered if I was one of the many misunderstood female moths drawn to his celebrity light.

He didn't know me. And he didn't know I knew everything about him.
I knew he was a lady's man.
I knew he was born in Nigeria, was absolutely huge in height and weight. I knew he was a gynecologist/fertility doctor who primarily served the poor.
I knew he had a twin brother who was also lived in Seattle and also was a Doctor. I knew both brothers were close and looked quite similar though there were marked differences.

I knew he'd assaulted more women than I could count at this moment without my case notes, which I don't have anyway, because I handed them all to the attorney when I closed his case.
I remember being given a list of eighty women to contact.
I was brought on the case when the other two males investigators had not been successful getting statements out of the victims and witnesses. Many witnesses, including former employees, believed the Bad Doctor was connected to the Nigerian Mafia. Some spoke of threats against themselves, their families.
I was told there was a hidden CD someone had and maybe I could get it.
I was also informed the Feds were involved. There was a civil trial, a criminal trial, and an overload of information in public court records and in the media.

I was brought into the case because the attorneys involved decided a female investigator would be more successful finding and getting information from female victims.
I remember hours at my computer, skip-tracing, surname searches, address updates as I ran backgrounds on the Bad Doctor.

Then I searched for witnesses in hiding. Many miles and many more than the usual amount of doors slammed in my face. I watched tears stream down victims' eyes. And always, it involved going through walls of friends or relatives to establish credibility and a sense of safety, just to prove I was on their side of the good guys.
I had to convince his victims that that unless they stepped forward, The Bad Doctor could be found innocent of the alleged rapes, the mutilations and torture.

So... the second time I saw him in person... the first being surveillance... was many months later when my work on his case was done.
He was crossing the street near the courthouse. I presumed he was on the way to his trial which had just started. He was alone, innocent until proven guilty.

So I was stopped at the red light. He stepped out of a parking garage towards the crosswalk to my right. I rolled down the passenger side of the window as he approached
.
"Hello" I said to him.
"Well Hello My Lovely" he said back with a cavernous deep voice coated in a thick Nigerian accent. He flashed a huge Cheshire smile grin.

I waited a few seconds, wondering if I should stretch it out... or be done with it. I chose the latter.

"I just wanted to wish you good luck on your trial because you're going to need it. Big time. In my opinion, you're screwed. Oh, and by the way, have a nice day!"

As I watched his Cheshire cat grin turn upside down, I closed my window, drove away, through the red light -- figuring the threat of a "running the red" ticket vs. encountering what was a whole lot of pent up wrath, was a small price to pay for a fast exit.

I had a smile on my face then, I got that high we investigators constantly seek on the job. We too chase dragons, only this time, I felt I took a little chunk out of one at the stop light.
The trial, I hoped would take the fire out of him for good and keep him behind bars for life.

I looked back at the Bad Doctor in my rear view mirror.
He'd already turned away and was crossing the street.
I grabbed my cell, called the attorney I worked for on the case and told him what I just did.
Fortunately, that attorney had a great sense of humor and laughed heartily .
Even more fortunately, the Bad Doctor was convicted and then, sentenced.

So the third time I saw him in person, and the last, I kept my distance. It was when he was sentenced. I was off to the side, one of many people watching huge police officers who look tiny compared to this monster sized man who required three sets of handcuffs linked together to restrain him.

My last image of him is from behind, my eyes locked on those three sets of handcuffs, as he was escorted away to a cell. I drew satisfaction from the fact that I was one small keg in a giant machine that helped put him there.

Odd thing though.
Two odd things really.
He had that aforementioned twin brother.
And there were allegation that the twin also assaulted his convicted brother's victims. There were allegations of the two working as a team. However, there was only enough evidence to convict one of the Nigerian doctor brothers. Now people were looking at the other brother.

So the convicted Bad Doctor's twin brother, who was also being investigated, launched two civil suits: one against the civil attorney who helped convict his brother and the other against one of the victims, a rape victim.
For some absurd reasons, the court ruled in the twin brother's favor and slapped the attorney and victim with huge fines.

I was appalled and wondered if the Nigerian Mafia has gotten to the judge. The attorney was strong, tough and a fighter. The attorney said what enraged him was not the attack against him, but the other lawsuit and judgement against a sexual assault victim.

And true to his word, the attorney kept me out of the public/media equation.
Some P.I.'s seek out the spotlight.
I seek out the corners with no light.
It's precisely because I operated and stayed under the radar and within all legal parameters, my name was never linked to the case.
Until now.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court stepped in.
That's the sidebar link on the left.
And if you click on the title of this post, it will take you a story about the case in case you care to research further.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sushi Detective

I became a P.I. when I was single… in-between husbands.

It wasn’t a career I intended to dabble in. Rather, my goal was to be a private investigator, build a successful, ethical, well-respected business. And support my two daughters.

Like all self-employed people, I quickly learned it’s important for a P.I. to drum up business.
The way Rockford, Magnum and Bogie did it in the old days was in smoke filled bars.
The Angels had their Charlie.
There was just me.
And sitting alone in a cocktail lounge just wasn’t what I was about.

Sushi bars, on the other hand were.
They were a favorite on mine since I was first introduced to them in the 90’s when I lived in LA. Not only did I like the food (everything) , the drink (sake) and the company (like minded people), I liked the singles-friendly seating arrangement at the bar…. and the fact that you order slow and steady through the night.

I also liked the response my solo presence would evoke in other sushi customers -- always an interesting conversation that often led to a new client.

Having learned years before I moved to Seattle, from the best of the sushi easting masters in L.A., I could order in Japanese and would love the stuff most whites consider gross. The sushi chefs, inevitably, would be impressed and strike up a friendship.

Ultimately business cards would be exchanged and before I knew it, I was the investigator of choice for all the sushi chefs whose Western Washington bars I would frequent on my route up and down the highways I travel.

Problem was, a few chefs wanted me to investigate their wives who worked at their restaurants. And when I did, my great success was a great loss on many levels.

Once someone suspects a spouse or partner is cheating it’s like a DNA test, there’s a 99.9% chance cheating is really going on.
I know going into most domestic cases it’s only a matter of time – and money -- until I get the evidence my client needs.
So I would find the cheating spouses, tell their spouses, or partners -- the sushi chefs.
And after that, things got really messy.
Because either there would be a divorce.
Or they’d remain in the marriage and in the restaurant… despite the truth revealed… trapped in a tentative and treacherous alliance out of financial necessity.
Or, worst case scenario, my favorite sushi restaurant would close.

Ultimately, my identity would be exposed when my clients told their cheating wives who found them cheating. I could never go back to the restaurants I worked for two reasons: conflict of interest and fear of being poisoned by the subject of my investigation.

One of those spurned wives… who I believed didn’t know I was watching her… sprinkled my sushi with solid gold flakes when she served it to me.

“Apparently that’s a big deal in Japan,” the guy next to me told me.
“When they like you, they put solid gold flakes in your food. And if you refuse it,” he said, “it’s a sign of the ultimate disrespect”
My subject’s husband, my client, was standing behind her. He winked and nodded at me,
I felt it was a reassurance, so I ate my solid gold sushi. Despite the fact that eating gold, rather than saving it, is a waste -- literally and figuratively.

The night after eating the gold sushi I followed the wife on her day off with my partner, who was manning a camera. We found out she was not only sleeping with one man, but several, who ended up chasing our surveillance vehicle up I-5 until we lost them.

So I passed the info onto my client, her husband… simply disappeared. I moved from one sushi hot spot to another. Then another. Until I left Seattle and moved here to the Kitsap Peninsula.

Now I don’t give out my business card at sushi bars unless I really need the business or someone really needs me and I know it.

When I get to know a chef and he asks me to follow his wife, I tell him not to bother because if he thinks she is cheating, she probably is… and his money is better spent elsewhere. On a therapist. Or a divorce attorney.

If he continues to insist, I hand him the card of an investigator I trust. No way I am giving up a single sushi bar I like out here.

Morale of this story…
Be careful who you investigate.
You could be screwing with the food chain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lives of Quiet Desperation

It is Sunday, day of rest.

However, I rested yesterday, between work.
So I will write today because I have a story to tell you today about my yesterday. It’s a story about the quiet desperation I encounter daily on my rounds.

I was sent to a man at a regional library on the Kitsap Peninsula here in Washington State at about 1:00 Saturday, yesterday.

The notes from the attorney, came via Blackberry and said the potential client, male, was hit by a Suburban while in a new Hyundai he had a loan for. The Hyundai and Suburban were towed; everyone went to the hospital by ambulance.

The notes said the man I was meeting had two blown discs in the lower back. He broke his right wrist. He is steel worker with the Union for over 20 years. Since the accident, he hadn’t worked over 4 weeks now. Both parties, the Client/Plaintiff and the Defendant had full coverage. The DEF’s insurance company had accepted liability yet still hadn’t paid out the property damage settlement.

In the personal injury business, this case looked like a slam-dunk, a no-brainer. Liability clear, accepted, DEF cited, major damage to vehicles, which substantiated damages to human bodies.

The man I met at the table in the library was in his mid 50’s. He was attractive, clean-shaven, with a thick head of white hair. He appeared affluent and well educated. He had a beautiful smile yellowed by cigarette smoke.

I began my interview -- first established a rapport, then pulled out the form the attorneys provided with everything they wanted to know about the case.
I got to the part where I asked if he was single, married, had a significant other… the usual questions re: associates and contacts.
He told me he was single, and then looked at my left hand and the ring. I shook my head and he said, “Shucks.”
I smiled, handed him my business card, said I’d be happy to check out any of his future girlfriends if he’d like because there are a ton of single women out there looking for a guy like him.
I also told him to tell no one about any settlement he might get. That would make him a target.
He laughed and told me all the women he meets lately are a little “off.”

Then we talked about his accident. I looked at the police report, went through his medical papers, read the witness interviews, asked him a ton of questions and knew -- from experience and gut -- that this case would be a good fit for both him and the attorneys.
Worried, he asked if I thought the attorneys had a case.

I smiled and said, I did. The attorneys sent me out because they wanted represent him. They hired me to make sure all the evidence existed and facts were right.

I asked where we should send legal documents. That brought out the revelations. He was embarrassed to tell me sooner.

I’m homeless, he said.
I mentioned the spiffy PT cruiser I’d observed him in, parked into the parking lot with when I arrived earlier to meet him. (I tend to do surveillance on people I meet before I actually meet them).

He said it was the rental car the Defendant’s insurance company gave him while his car was in the shop. His car should have been totaled, but he was “upside down” on his loan by $6,000, which he would have to pay out of pocket if the car could not be fixed.

He said he wanted his car fixed because it was his home. He said he either slept in the PT Cruiser or at his son’s house. Though he preferred not to burden his son.

He was homeless, he said, because he was been unable to work since the accident one month ago.

I asked if he received any lost wages as result of the accident, he said no.
I looked at his insurance policy and pointed out to him a provision called P.I.P.—Personal Injury Protection.
I explained how he can get up to 10,000 in lost wages before his case settles because he has P.I.P. And that the first 10k in medical bills will also be paid through the P.I.P, so he can go to doctor’s now and the P.I.P. will pay … even though his health insurance might not pay for treatment because they say it is a third party claim.

I said after the P.I.P runs out, many doctors will work and treat on a lien against the case. I explained, he had three years from the date of his accident to settle or sue. I said if he’s better in three months or six months, no worries, the lawyers will settle. If it takes longer to get better, if he loses his job, if he loses everything, then he and the attorneys will determine whether to go to trial or not.

He told me his insurance company didn’t tell him that. I said insurance companies do that a lot. In my opinion, they lie, cheat, steal or simply keep their important info the client needs to themselves.

Tears welled in his eyes. This is not uncommon for me as an investigator, to see grown, tough men cry. I never saw that before in my in my brothers, my father, all my men in my personal life. Only in my work.
In my professional life, whole different story. Men cry. Sometimes from pain. Sometimes from hope.
This time it was the hope.

Then there was silence. Until he said he had one more thing to tell me.

He said he was going to commit suicide night before last.
A friend intervened. Through a twist of fate, or divine intervention, that friend was a client of the attorney who called me. That friend said to give the attorney, who called me, a call.

I asked my client if he has received an application for PIP benefits from his insurance company yet. He said no. I am not surprised and tell him the attorneys will get them to send it.

It’s good feeling when you see all the light bulbs go off in your client’s head at once.

He told me he has only recently begun talking to attorneys and I am the first P.I. and attorney sent out. I told him the attorney hired me to look out for their interests and I also look out for his. I said to him, it’s going to be okay.

“I almost killed myself over this, “ he said to me.
“I’m so glad you didn’t,” I replied, “because we wouldn’t have met… and you would never know how the story ends. And I think this one is likely to end in a settlement.”

He said, “Then the light ant the end of my tunnel is not another train?”

I said, “No guarantees, however -- in my opinion, the tide has turned in your favor.”
If he can hang on and keep treating to get well, then settle his case, or sue if necessary, he may be able to start a new life with his settlement.

We parted in the parking lot. He said he was going the YMCA next to take a shower but it costs
$3.50 and he didn’t want to pay it because he needed to eat. I wanted to reach in my pocket and hand him what change I had. However, that is not a good thing for an investigator to do…. to give any client or witness money. It might imply, to a jury, a payout.

Before I left I told him the city of Bremerton is opening places for homeless people to park their cars and live out of them. He got excited about that. I said to hang on, it’s going to’ get worse for everyone before it gets better.

We shook hands.
He said he is glad he did not kill himself the other day.
I smiled back and said, me too.
I said, you are a class act buddy; you just hit a run of bum luck.
And I added, many of us are one paycheck away from being homeless.
He should not be ashamed, but proud of himself, for not checking out when that would have ended all his pain.

He thanked me profusely. I thanked him with equal "perfusiveness" for his trust, climbed in my car and headed home.
I will not be sleeping in my car tonight.
For that I am grateful.