Thursday, May 15, 2008

He ain't heavy...

I didn’t know him but I feel close to him.

Zach Templeton was 27 when he died in October on a divided highway outside of Denver. He was in the grassy median where he had stopped to help a motorist wrestle a 22,000 gallon plastic water tank back onto the trailer from whence it had fallen. Scott Hinshaw, 38, was also there helping.

Traffic was crawling past the men. When I was a State Patrolman, we called these drivers who slowed down to gawk at roadside spectacles lookie-loos. They are a menace.

Seventeen year old Cody Loos was driving down the road searching the floorboard of his pickup truck for some sunflower seeds to chew on. Such is the price of a man’s life, some sunflower seeds. Loos glanced up to see that traffic was almost stopped immediately in front of him and he jammed on his brakes. His pickup skidded, slid into the median and slammed into Templeton and Hinshaw. Templeton was killed and both of Hinshaw’s legs were badly broken.

No drugs or alcohol were involved. Only sunflower seeds.

The two men lay like crumpled dolls on the ground under Loos’ truck. Moments before, both had looked powerful and resplendent in their Colorado State Patrol uniforms. The blinking emergency lights on their now-empty units added a terrible stridency to the suddenly-chaotic scene.

This is National Police Week in DC. Hundreds of police officers from all over the world are in town to honor the thousands of fallen American peace officers whose names are inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. On Saturday there was a 5K race run in commemoration of the event. Last night there was a service for fallen officers at the Memorial.

I attended and perused the personal tributes laid upon the wall in memoriam. I was a Colorado State Patrolman for seven years and I know the names of several of my then-brethren, and others, who are there.

Some are legendary in Colorado State Patrol lore, like Trooper Tom Carpenter, who was abducted and forced to drive around in his patrol car by his assailant, who held his own service weapon to his head. Before he was brutally killed, Carpenter desperately engaged in outlandish radio traffic as a signal of trouble but no one caught on, and radio protocol was changed after his tragic murder.

As I walked the wall of heroes, I saw a CSP shoulder patch laid by a picture of a virile young man familiarly dressed in sky blue epaulet shirt and french blue slacks with a charcoal gray stripe. One of my own, a Colorado State Trooper taken in October. I reflected upon the photograph showing a strong man of youth and promise, noted the name and went home to research Zachariah Templeton.

So senseless was the devastating accident that claimed the trooper's life that Colorado State Patrol Chief Colonel Mark Trostel, in assuagement, could only conclude that God must have called away Templeton for duty, because never again would Templeton’s three-year old daughter feel his strong hands holding her, nor would his family and friends ever again be cheered by his infectious smile. Hinshaw is still working determinedly to recover from his traumatic leg injuries.

Loos, now 18, expressed remorse at a hearing in March while pleading guilty to careless driving resulting in death, a misdemeanor. Perhaps worse than the sentence he received, two years probation and 300 hours of community service, was having to face several of the victims of his act and listen to their outpouring of understandable rage, bitterness and grief.

Five months afterwards, Trooper Hinshaw would need a wheelchair to attend the sentencing hearing. He felt a guilt that was "absolutely unbearable" that he had survived while Templeton hadn’t. He wished he could have changed places with Templeton. Hinshaw addressed Loos, and spoke of forgiveness.

"I am willing to stand with you and do this community service with you and help you honor this man right here. You messed up, Cody, and that one decision cost a life. [However] I refuse and do not want you to let this ruin your life. ... Be better than you can ever be, always strive to be better, always be unhappy with where you are in life. Carry on, brother, we’ll get better."

The Colorado State Patrol released a statement afterwards that said in part: After the tragic loss of Trooper Templeton and the devastating injuries to Trooper Hinshaw, "our focus has been on assisting the Templeton and Hinshaw families through these trying times." Hopefully the conclusion of the criminal case will allow the Templeton and Hinshaw families "to seek closure and turn a new chapter in the healing process. ... It is also our hope that the healing process may begin for the Loos family as well."


In Memoriam to 24 Colorado State Patrol Officers.


DawnB said...

Nice tribute Peter to the Men and Women in blue we have soo much to be thankful for.

jeanne said...

very powerful, peter. who knows why these things happen. i surely have no answers. very tragic for all.

Sunshine said...

When your comment came, I was contemplating what I could say about your powerful post.
I hear you..and I am still thinking.

ShirleyPerly said...

Very moving post and a wonderful tribute to all those in law enforcement. I'm especially in awe of Hinshaw's remarks to Loos. I don't know if I would have had the strength to be so forgiving.

Sunshine said...

Life, so incredibly precious, is so easily wasted in a moment of distraction. Sunflower seeds!

A week of remembrance, and profound sadness, for you and so many others.
Thanks to you and others who keep retelling the tragedy.
Best wishes for your weekend.

David said...

If better is even possible, good is not enough.

Lisa - Slow & Steady said...

That is a touching story. Thanks for sharing.

CewTwo said...

Nicely put, Peter! Very Poignant! Thanks for bringing it home to me.

I'd heard a NPR news article regarding the proceedings, but did not think a lot of it at the time. Boy. Am I thinking of it now!

Jade Lady said...

You always have a way of capturing my attention with posts like this. Sunflower tragic. Thank you for sharing the story of Zach Templeton and for telling us what National Police Week meant to you.

Anonymous said...

Nice Job brother. Thanks for honoring this hero we call ZACH!!! October 11th was a bad day for all of us. Wish I could have met you in Washington. This is the first time I have written or responded about this, but I was there with Zach and it means alot to me to have good things written about him, thank you!!!