July 24, 2012

"Shoot the Machete" - Leroy B. Vaughn

Editor's Note: It's a privilege to once again bring you a true crime short story from Leroy B. Vaughn. His willingness to share his experiences in law enforcement impresses me every time. This one is no different. I hope it provides perspective about the life-and-death decisions officers make in difficult situations.


* * * 

I was lucky to be able to work with Glen Webster. He was an old timer by the time I started out in law enforcement. I met Glen in 1975, after he had retired from the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

We worked together for two years. Glen was my supervisor and I was a security agent for the Los Angeles City School District. We were plain clothes agents. We worked evenings and mainly investigated burglaries on City Schools property. The job no longer exists. City Schools now has a uniformed police department, one of the largest in the county of Los Angeles.

I wasn't crazy about the job, but it did put me through the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy, the best academy in the state at that time. After I left that job I realized that it was a good experience.

Glen had a lot of experience. Besides being a highway patrol officer, he had spent World War II in the North Atlantic as a merchant marine. After the war, he kicked around with various jobs until 1951, when he joined the CHP.

We would start our shift in the afternoon, taking unmarked cars into the field. At sundown, we would meet another agent in the field and park one car at a local police or sheriff's station and ride together until one or three in the morning, depending on the day of the week.

Glen would be out in the field, and he often checked on me. I usually worked the Watts area of Los Angeles. Watts was gang territory and a dangerous place to be, if you weren't careful.

We drove unmarked cars in those days. I drove an old light blue Plymouth and Glen used a big Chrysler sedan that did not look like a cop car. It had power windows, leather seats and air conditioning.

Glen would call me on the radio, and I would meet him at an all-night hamburger stand in the Florence district. We would sit in the big Chrysler, and Glen would smoke cigarettes and talk about the old days.

He had a lot of great stories, and I didn't mind the smoke too much as he talked about the 50s and 60s. I was around in those days, but as a kid. I went into the Marines in 1965.

One night, Glen took another drag on his Lucky Strike and began to tell me about the time in 1951, when he went to the Highway Patrol Academy in Sacramento. He went to the academy with the entire Wyoming Highway Patrol. Deputy sheriffs took over for the highway patrol, and every highway patrol officer in Wyoming went to the academy in California. There were more Wyoming officers than there were officers from California in his class.

He had been stationed in Ventura, California and had worked on closed highways while a television show was filmed in the area. The studios liked to use back roads in Ventura County, and Glen picked up extra money by working on the set of the Highway Patrol, staring Broderick Crawford. The show ran from 1955-1959.

"You know why they always showed Broderick Crawford standing by the car door saying set up roadblocks?" Glen said. I didn't know.

Glen said, "Because he was always tanked on the job and the director wouldn't let him drive the car."

He finished his soda, and we talked about an incident that had occurred on our day off, to an agent on another shift. It happened in Watts, and Glen wanted his men to be careful. The agent was alone, looking for a burglar at a high school just before dark. The burglar, an ex-con, got the jump on the agent and wrestled his service revolver from him.

The agent, against district policy, was carrying a back-up gun (something I always did) and was able to shoot the bad guy, then take him into custody.

Glen lit another smoke and told me he did not want to shoot anyone else. But if some punk wanted a meal, Glen would at least get a sandwich.

Before Ventura, he had been stationed in Salinas for a few years. Even today, it is not uncommon for the highway patrol to be the first on the scene of a crime in rural areas.

It was 1953, and the day had started out quiet for Glen. He was on Highway 101 watching for speeders when he got a call. A sheriff's deputy had been dispatched to a call of a man with a machete tearing up a bar on the highway.

Glen was real close. He told the dispatcher he would be there in five minutes, or less. He was rolling code three as he slammed on the brakes and skidded into the gravel parking lot of the bar.

He drew his six-inch service revolver and approached the door carefully. He heard a person screaming like a maniac, and peeked his head into the bar far enough to see a bartender being held at bay by a little Filipino man holding a big machete.

The bartender was trying to calm the man down, but the farm worker was not listening to reason. He continued to scream in a Filipino dialect that neither the bartender or Glen could understand. Glen slipped into the bar.

The bar was empty except for the crazy man, the bartender and Glen Webster. The bartender glanced at Glen, and the little man spun around. He was about 15 feet from Glen. He turned towards Glen and began to advance on him. He held the big mean looking machete in his hand and swung it as he came closer to Glen.

Glen was one of those cops who wanted to be a peace officer. He was going to do everything he could to get the little man to drop the machete. He asked the man several times to put the weapon down and place his hands on his head. He wasn't sure the man could understand him, but he knew that pointing a pistol at him would get his point across.

The man screamed and Glen assumed that the man was cussing at him, but the man could or would not speak English. The man was now less than seven feet from Glen. Glen knew he had no choice. He was going to have to shoot the man to stop him, or Glen would be dead.

Glen was a big fan of cowboy movies, and he thought that at that distance he could shoot the machete out of the man's right hand. The man started to swing the machete as he moved closer. Glen fired one round from his .38 revolver at the man's hand.

Glen was surprised when the man went down. Glen kicked the machete out of the man's hand as he lay bleeding on the sawdust covered floor. Glen bent down to check the man as the bartender came over to look at the man on the floor. Glen looked at the bartender and told him the man was dead, having felt for a pulse on the man's carotid artery.

"Where did you hit him? I thought you went for his hand," I told him as he lit another cigarette. "I did aim for the hand, but I was the worst shot in my class at the academy. I couldn't hit an elephant with a bazooka. There was a coroners inquest the next week, and I was told that I had shot him right through the heart."


Leroy B. Vaughn is a retired law enforcement officer from Southern California. He has written several short stories, true and fiction. He has had stories published in 10 magazines in the U.S. and Mexico.


1 comment:

  1. Hand, heart, I don't care. The machete swinger needed to be stopped and Glen stopped him. Maybe if Glen had been in that theater in Colorado on Friday, there might have been fewer casualties.