1 - The Sheriff's Chase Ends in Tragedy

The heat radiated from the sunbaked blacktop as smoke from the smoldering wreckage that was once a Dodge Caravan wafted lazily for dozens of yards in every direction. Arizona summers are always hot, and this section of the Copper State accounts for some of the highest recorded temperatures in the United States. There was absolutely no breeze today, and smoke and small particles seemed to just hang in the air. So did the awful smell. The scent was nauseating and sweet, putrid and steaky, or something like leather being tanned over a flame. Fred stood straddling the white lane markers of eastbound Interstate 10 with a look of disbelief. 

He had seen plenty of car wrecks in his 32 years as Sheriff of La Paz County, but nothing came close to equaling the carnage that had unfolded directly in front of him. His patrol car was still running directly behind him, a habit you find common in Arizona when people want to keep their interiors cooled off if they're only stepping out of their vehicles for a moment. At first, he had just wanted to focus on calling emergency services and directing looky-loos away from the crash site, including a massive fireball that had once been the Dodge minivan. Now, with the fire under control, he had time to worry his patrol car might overheat, especially after it had just been involved in a lengthy high-speed pursuit. 

"Sheriff Koontz!" his radio crackled. "Highway Patrol is on the line, and they're asking how many ADOT resources do you think you're gonna need to handle the situation at the Dome Rock Road exit?" said the dispatcher in a bland monotone voice. "I don't know yet. I have the two deputies who were on the pursuit with me blocking the eastbound lanes of I-10, and the HPD trooper who was first on the scene directing the medical first responders, but I can see the traffic is starting to back up eastbound for miles." "Tell them to bring everything they've got. We're going to be here for some time, and we need to figure out how to reroute traffic around this mess – sooner rather than later," his voice cracking as he tried to keep from inhaling the putrid smoke. 

Then a thought whizzed through Fred's mind, which sent him into a spiral of second-guessing as he looked at the mangled wreckage of what was once a young man's monster truck. "How could this have happened?" he muttered softly under his breath. Why didn't the Jankins kid just pull over when he saw it was me in the cruiser pulling up behind him? We had a good relationship that went back several years before this most recent trouble. Why did we chase him all the way to Quartzsite when the only thing he had done was to violate his restraining order? If we hadn't blocked the road under the Dome Rock Road underpass, he might not have panicked and veered onto the off-ramp and started traveling in the wrong direction of eastbound I-10 at well over 90 miles an hour! Didn't he see the big WRONG WAY signposting? Just then, his thoughts were interrupted by a distraught-looking EMT, "Sherriff, we need to call in additional resources from Parker. We're gonna need a place to land medivac choppers. Oh, and we're going to need the County Coroner's office to respond too." 

To be continued...

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