5 - A Tale of Two Sheriffs

Damian and his team completed their analysis of the crash site, but it took almost six hours. After about two hours - fearing the eastbound I-10 traffic would back up into California and nervous that the motorists stuck in the gridlock would run out of gas or become ill from heat exhaustion - Highway Patrol Division officers rerouted eastbound traffic around the accident site by converting the westbound double lanes into single lanes and directing eastbound traffic in a single-file fashion between freeway crossovers usually reserved for Emergency Vehicles Only. 

By 6 pm, ADOT teams remove all the victims, their belongings, and the wrecked vehicles. The Arizona Department of Transportation team was now cleaning the roadway of debris to allow vehicles access to the blocked-off portion of eastbound I-10. "Damian! We got confirmation on that license plate from the minivan. Wisconsin registration," said one of Damian's team members. "The Coroner is confirming it looks like there were at least six, maybe eight occupants in the vehicle, based on the recovered remains." 

Damian looks over at Sheriff Koontz, who remained on scene while his deputies went on to other calls several hours earlier. "Sheriff, I'll follow up with your office in the next couple of days after we get all this evidence sorted through," he shouted as a large fire truck passed between them. "Did you want to inform the Jankins family, Sheriff?" Koontz had a strained look on his face when he replied, "I guess I should. I know his father will want to know, and his ex-wife and daughter are probably wondering what happened to him." 

The Sheriff hopped in his Crown Vic and sped off to Parker as Damian returned to his cruiser. As Damian approached the vehicle, he opened the back door and did a quick scan of the interior. He tried to tell himself he's just following a safety protocol, but in the back of his mind, he's thinking to himself, "man, it sure did seem like something was back there earlier, and why did the car horn sound off when nobody was in the cruiser?" Feeling a little silly for even entertaining that thought, Damian slammed the door, climbed into the front seat, and took off back to Yuma to unravel the details of the crash and track down next-of-kin for the people in the minivan from Wisconsin. 

As Koontz headed back to Parker, he's getting very nervous. Fred kept running through his mind the possible scenarios that could develop as a result of the crash. How was he going to explain why he ordered a pursuit fit for a Bonnie and Clyde style bank robbery suspect instead of the meek and introverted Barry Jankins? He was the one who ordered the aggressive pursuit! He was the one who insinuated to his deputies that Barry Jankins posed a clear and present danger to the public. Koontz knew that although Barry was fond of guns, he could not maintain the proper permitting after his domestic violence convictions, as well as his 5150 confinement in a county psych ward. 

Fred knew that Barry had no firearms, because John Jankins, Barry's father, had turned Barry's guns himself at the La Paz County Sheriff's office months earlier. The elder Jankins didn't trust his son to carry out the judge's order; more importantly, he thought keeping Barry and Fred Koontz at a reasonable distance from each other was a good thing. The two had frequently clashed since Barry was in high school. There were no weapons found in Barry's truck at the crash scene. There was no alcohol or illegal substances. Nothing! Fred thought he might have some explaining to do. 

On his way back to Parker, Fred thought to himself, "I'm getting too old for this shit!" Indeed, he had just turned 65 the month before and was getting close to retirement. He had told his wife that he would retire "within a few years," and that was five years ago. Fred reached the halfway point between Quartzsite and Parker when his life just sort of flashed in front of him. 

Fred had grown up in a rural town in Arkansas, the son of a whimsical couple. They spent most of their waking hours searching for their fortune in the diamond fields near Murfreesboro when they weren't tending to their day jobs at the Shade Tree Resort - a dingy and dilapidated boarding house on the outskirts of the Crater of Diamonds State Park. When Fred was seventeen, he escaped Arkansas's boonies by joining the United States Army, although he almost flunked the psychological examination during the admission process. 

Fred was a troubled man. He had a split personality, bordering on what some would think should be an official diagnosis. One moment, Fred could be charming and effusive, and in the next, a virulent, sulking, and angry person. Fred was able to control his transition between his two personalities until he couldn't. Fred’s behavior almost caused him to be discharged from the Army due to his mercurial nature and inability to follow orders. 

After a rather undistinguished four years as a Military Policeman, he moved to Parker because he wanted to live near Lake Havasu. He always wanted to own a boat and learn how to water ski. A friend in the Army had recommended Parker because it wasn't as touristy as Lake Havasu City, and it was half the price. Fred got a job as a deputy with the Sheriff's department in 1985, and he was one of the first deputies hired by the newly created La Pa County Sheriff's Department. 

At the time, the County was desperate to fill posts - hence they didn't perform a lot of the psychological screening big-time law enforcement agencies routinely administer to potential recruits. Two years later, he became a hero when he helped stop a rampage of bikers that had temporarily taken over the city center during a violent clash between two rival gangs. 

Fred had a charm and quick wit that was exceptionally infectious. Fred married a sultry beach bunny he met while jet skiing on Lake Havasu. She loved a man in uniform, and she was star-struck by Fred's notoriety from the biker clash, not to mention his chiseled good looks. 

Together, the couple was a picture of wholesome youth and vitality, at least from all outward appearances. Judy was a compulsive organizer, and she was always involved in some sort of philanthropic venture. Through those connections, coupled with Fred's reputation as the guy who stopped the biker war, they were able to successfully campaign for his election as the Sheriff of La Paz County in 1988. 

Once in office, Fred managed to fend off his rivals for years using a Get Tough on Crime message that resonated well with the mostly elderly retirees who make up a large percentage of La Paz County's population. If you can't afford to retire in places like Palm Springs, Scottsdale, or even Sun City, then La Paz County is where you can go for bargain prices on real estate. Many blue-collar elderly types retire in La Paz County, and Fred's blue-collar persona always resonated with that demographic. 

They never had kids. Fred never liked being around children, and besides, Judy wasn't sure she could even have kids. Her doctor told her for years that her alcohol and prescription pill consumption were causing irreparable damage to her body. Judy was always high on something, but she was able to keep it a secret. No one, except Fred, was the wiser. 

Fred also has a secret. A very dark secret. When he was in the Army serving in Alaska, he drank heavily one night at a local watering hole. He was driving back to base in a car he borrowed from a friend when he vaguely remembered hitting something along the side of the road. He never stopped, though, quickly returning the vehicle to his friend without saying a word about the incident on the road. The next day he heard on the local news that an Inuit transient riding a stolen bike was hit and killed out on the same section of road he had been on the night before. Perhaps because the deceased was a transient, the bike was stolen, and this was Alaska - nobody rigorously investigated. 

Fred shipped out a couple of weeks later to a new duty station. 

Memories of this event haunt him deep down inside. No one knew his secret. Then one night, several years into his marriage, he told Judy the story when he'd had a little too much to drink. From then on, she threatened to reveal his secret when the two of them got into one of their private battles. Oh yes! Private battles! There were many. Fred had two personalities, the one he lets the public see - Mr. John Q. Lawman, civil servant, and hero of the 1987 biker rampage. 

Then there's Fred Koontz, the moody, emotionally bankrupt person with this deep dark secret. When Judy would bring a threat of exposure, Fred demeaned her by saying she never worked an honest day in her life and would threaten to divulge her “little addiction secret.” Judy would always back down. She had her demons, but the institution of marriage was the one stable constant in her life that she clung to with all her might. So, they both were living double lives, and no one in La Paz County was anymore the wiser, or at least they didn't say anything if they were. 

As Fred entered the city limits of Parker, his thoughts shifted to what he was going to say to Barry Jankins' ex-wife. More importantly, how was he going to break this to Barry's dad? Fred Koontz and John Jankins had a combative relationship for many years. John Jankins was a very straightforward man. He had this keen sense of being able to read people very well, and it served him well in his mining business. John always sensed something was off with Koontz, but he could never quite put his finger on precisely what it was about the Sheriff that he didn't trust. 

During Fred's early years as Sheriff, John would sometimes actively and openly support whoever was running against Koontz come election time. However, his son Barry was always getting into some sort of trouble. As time went on, John would need to call in favor after favor from Sheriff Koontz to keep Barry from receiving the full consequences of his sometimes bizarre actions. 

Maybe Fred would need some help from John to smooth over the furor that could potentially come if the public questioned Fred's actions regarding the chase that led to the tragic event of Barry's death. That thought made a knot churn in Fred's stomach. 

To be continued…

Leave a comment

Add comment