Friday, March 15, 2013

05- The Man On The Bloody Red Ground

                           THE MAN ON THE BLOODY RED GROUND

“Is he shot?” I asked the grim faced officer who was only now lowering the revolver he was gripping with both hands. “Yes,” he exhaled as the crimson shadow began to expand beneath the crumpled man on the ground….

We were returning from the mountains with a story for the 5 o’clock news. Neal Brown and I had been to Copper Mountain shooting interviews with tourist about the holiday ski business. It was still early in the afternoon when we started back down to Denver.
The roads were dry but covered with sand and grit left by the snowplows. We were eastbound on I-70, just past Idaho Springs, when we saw a white pickup with a camper shell in the opposite lanes racing uphill ahead of several police cars, red lights and sirens, in full pursuit.
We looked at each other briefly as I swerved onto the approaching off ramp at Hidden Valley for a quick turn around back to the westbound, uphill lanes.
I’d learned long ago as a member of the media not to expect any favors regarding speeding tickets  from the local police organizations but figured with all those flashing lights in front of us, there wouldn’t be anyone left to clock me, so I got on it. We closed on the convoy much faster than expected because they were barely doing 50 miles an hour. It was a slow speed chase on a four lane highway bounded in places by drop offs and cement walls.
We pulled up along side the last police car and rolled down the window. Neil asked what was going on and the patrolman yelled back, it was a DUI. This was a day or so before New Year’s. Drunk driving was topical because of the holidays, so we decided to stay with the chase for a while. We might come back with two stories instead of just one.
Falling back into the column, I noticed several other lawmen now joining in behind us. We seemed to be picking up reinforcements as we passed each new mountain jurisdiction but I held my place in the line. No one tried to pass us.
Even at the slow uphill speed, the Colorado State Patrol cars behind the white pickup couldn’t get around to cut him off. Whenever the CSP attempted to pass, the truck would swerve, trying to drive them off the road. I suppose the PIT maneuver hadn’t been developed at that time so they just stayed back and followed. We guessed they’d stop him up ahead, at the Eisenhower Tunnel, with a roadblock.
By now the procession had grown to more than a dozen vehicles; all, but our news car, with blasting sirens.
Neal reached into the back and grabbed my camera. He shot as best as he could from the passenger side but was blocked by the police cars in front of him. I shot a little of the swerving back and forth from my position behind the wheel with Neal trying to steady the camera on my shoulder. But the large awkward Beta Cam made that pretty scary for both of us. This wouldn’t be the best place to lose control of the car. The hand held video was shaky but I thought it would be pretty compelling. Combined with the upcoming arrest, it would make a strong statement about the consequences of drunk driving. The tunnel was coming up as we planned how we would shoot the approaching confrontation.
The white pickup surprised us and took
the ramp heading toward Loveland Pass
Just a few weeks before I had witnessed a very similar situation in Denver. A motorist, who turned out to be an elderly man, would not stop for a traffic officer and, at speeds under 30 miles an hour, continued to drive. I heard it on the police scanner and headed in that direction. The officer’s voice on the radio became angrier with each report of their position. I was within a block when he said he had him. I could see an altercation up ahead as I pulled over the news car and hurried to the back to get my camera. By the time I ran the 50 yards or so, the gloved police officer was straddling a man on the pavement who was bleeding from his mouth and attempting to retrieve his dentures lying on the ground beside him. It became quite an incident. If I’d have gotten there 30 seconds sooner there would have been video and it would have been an even bigger incident. Luckily there were witnesses. 

With this policeman’s overreaction still fresh on my mind, I thought there might be a similar situation building again. It was pretty clear the law was not happy with this guy. When they pulled him out of the car I wanted to be ready to tape whatever happened.
With one exit to go before the tunnel, the white pickup surprised us and took the ramp heading toward Loveland Pass. Within a half mile the truck stopped abruptly in front of the main entrance to Loveland Ski Area nearly blocking the highway as a state patrol car sped around to box him in.
The man held the long gun with
both hands in the ready position
As skiers looked on from the slopes we, and the local law enforcement with their sirens blasting, came to a screeching halt, fanning out in all directions on the crowded roadway. My camera was already fired up as I opened the car door. I never took my eyes off the man in the pickup once he pulled over. His truck was about 30 yards in front of me when he stepped out of it holding a long barreled gun. I froze.
He appeared very calm in the mist of this chaos as lawmen screamed from every direction to drop the gun. He slowly rotated his head surveying the very tense situation and turned to the State Patrolman who had rushed past, spun his car around, and was now standing outside leveling a shotgun over the roof of the patrol car.
The noise was deafening. Everybody but me had a gun and was pointing them, God knows where. Like I said, it was very tense.
I ducked back behind my still open door and shot from there. The man held the long gun with both hands in the ready position, keeping the barrel up, and walked slowly from the door of his truck toward the State Patrolman with the shot gun. There were no fast moves but the man could have fired the gun in an instant. I could see the officer shouting something at him but he kept moving steadily closer anyway. As the man closed in on the rear of the patrol car there was a boom, which I assumed was a shot, but nothing seemed to change for a few seconds. Then the man slowly dropped to all fours, laid down on his right side and rolled over on his back like he was surrendering. Nothing like I’d seen a thousand times before on TV and the movies where bodies are thrown violently backward by a bullet’s impact.
Skiers looked on as the lawman pulled the gun
from under the man on the road and tossed it aside.
Everyone rushed forward as the lawman with the, shotgun still in his left hand, pulled the long gun  from under the man on the road and tossed it aside. We quickly formed an uneasy circle around the still form. Except for my question about the man being shot and the affirmative answer from the officer beside me, everyone was quite. The sirens, wailing all around us, seemed strangely in the distance. I could clearly hear a final soft cough and see the last breath of the man lying at our feet in the spreading pool of blood. As my camera rolled and my mind recorded it all, he slipped away.
Why did this happen? Who was this man? What were his stories about? Who would care?

Left in the pickup, beer, whiskey and "Vengeance".
Later, as I was gathering other shots for the story, I photographed a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to a book titled “Vengeance” on the seat of the pickup. By then Neal was putting the pieces together as the information came in. It was the first time I’d heard someone call it suicide by cop.
The white pickup had been pulled over in Golden on a traffic stop. The officer saw the gun when he approached the truck. As he hurried back to his patrol car to call in, the guy took off. The man had  been released from a federal prison in Oklahoma just a week before. He was 57 years old and I guess he didn’t plan to go back. So a few days after Christmas, with a bottle of whiskey and a gun in his truck he took off for the top of the world with the law on his tail as he searched a final, certain end.
No innocent people were hurt. We got our story. And maybe someone out there remembered something about a guy they once knew. A guy who took a wrong turn back there a long time ago before winding up there, in front of my camera on the bloody red ground.


  1. Wow, powerful stuff Chuck. Great writing.

  2. Well written. Took me back a few years, some of the most amazing things I've ever seen happened when I was a news photographer. Life and death in black and white. Things most folks can't imagine. Nice job Chuck.