The car crash images flashed up on the screen during our second Pinellas County Sheriff's Citizens Academy class, and my eyes instantly welled with tears.
I was somewhat surprised at my reaction. It wasn't anything I had not seen before, but it dredged up memories I'd long since buried.
In my years as a community journalist, I've been at the scene of many a DUI-related crash. I've held someone's hand through the most heart-wrenching of interviews, interviews that often left me crying with whomever had just tragically lost their wife or child to a drunk or reckless driver. Sometimes, I can still hear their sobs.
The deputy shared some of what he remembered from the incident depicted on the screen in front of us. He told us that a group of teenagers who'd just purchased illegal drugs collided with a Lexus driven by an older married couple.
The impact was enough to kill a woman in the Lexus and send one of the teenage boys through the windshield.
The teenager was so scared of being caught for illegal activity that even after being ejected from the vehicle, he continued to crawl away from the scene despite life-threatening injuries. Rescuers followed his bloody trail over a concrete barricade, where they found his battered, lifeless body.
The sobs of stories past echoed in my mind. That's when my eyes welled up. I was relieved when the subject was changed.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Major Accident Investigation Team, known as MAIT for short, explained their role in situations like this.
They will put the crumpled vehicles back together so they can reconstruct the moment of impact. They use the most up-to-date surveying equipment to create a map of the scene — right down to every speck of shattered glass.
It's vital to the investigation, the deputy told us.
The MAIT deputy also showed us some old high-speed chases that were documented on the cruiser cameras. He told us, interestingly enough, that cameras on the cruisers capture what's happening around them every 50 seconds, and then automatically film continuous footage and sound anytime the lights are flipped. It's that footage that acts as evidence and helps investigators reconstruct the sequence of events after crashes or chases.
The MAIT deputy also let us take an up-close look at some of their equipment and vehicles, which was neat.
Two other highlights worth sharing:
First, I got my nifty, super official Sheriff's Citizens Academy ID badge with an absolutely horrible photo of myself plastered on the front (if anyone is later inspired to take this class, definitely wear your makeup, style your hair and get a good night's sleep before your first class).
The last highlight is a must-read for caregivers (which I must share in honor of my grandmother). We learned about a program meant to help track children or adults who have a tendency for wandering because of dementia, Alzheimer's disease or autism. The program, called Project Lifesaver, issues a bracelet using a radio frequency to track a loved one in the event he or she wanders.
The bracelets are roughly $350, but the sheriff's office said it can work with people who are not able to afford one. More information can be found here.
On the Docket: Defensive tactics. Watch out!
I am writing a weekly series about my experience in the 33rd class of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Citizens Academy. The three-month program offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. It is open to eligible, adult members of the community and is free of charge. (More criteria here.)