July 27, 2003

Help! I really do need your comments, please!

I have just re-begun my story again. In the extended entries is the prologue, and I am wanting anyone who wants to do so to read it and give me your comments about it, what doesn't make sense, what you think should be changed, if the conversations sound real, and hopefully anyone with a Marine Corps background to check for any errors about things I might have stated dealing with the Marine Corps.

Copyright 2003 - Terence A. Russell

Prologue - July 26, 1986

The scene was hectic. There were emergency vehicles all over the place. Sergeant Johnson, LAPD, was the first officer on the scene. Despite the din of voices from the emergency crew, there was one distinguishable sound, that of a wailing baby coming from the bottom of the canyon.

"What happened?" Sergeant Johnson asked the ambulance driver.

"From the information I have received, that man over there," the driver said pointing to man sitting on a rock on the other side of the road," came around that curve a bit fast and crossed over into the other lane. There was a car approaching which veered to avoid the accident, hit a rock, flipped, slid across the road on its roof, went over the retaining wall, and ended up at the bottom of the canyon."

"How do we get down there?"

"The fire department is rigging up repelling gear right now, ready to send someone down to check on the passengers of the other vehicle." The ambulance driver pointed toward where the firemen were working on the harnesses.

Another police squad car arrived and Sergeant Johnson approached as the patrol officer was exiting his vehicle. "Talk to that man over there," he said, pointing to the man sitting on the rock. "I am going to see if I can get down to the bottom of the canyon with the firemen. Anyone else arrives, tell them to secure the area and to canvass for witnesses."

Sergeant Johnson approached the firemen. "How much longer before we get someone to the bottom of that canyon. I can hear a baby crying down there, so we have a survivor."

"We are about ready."

"Any chance I can go along?"

"Can you repel?"

"It has been awhile, but I did do a bit of that when I was in the service."

"Then get in a harness, and come on down. We are all ready to begin our descent." The fireman turned to another fireman and stated, "Get the officer rigged for descent," and then hooked a D-ring onto the rope secured to a hook on the front of the big red fire engine, backed over the edge of the canyon lip and jumped backwards, falling out of sight.

Sergeant Johnson waited a brief moment for the fireman to retrieve another seat harness from a compartment on the rescue vehicle. When the young fireman returned and handed him the nylon mesh contraption, Sergeant Johnson stepped into it, and cinched it tightly around his waste. He tugged on one of the ropes which was weightless, thus insuring no one was still using such rope on a descent into the canyon. He clipped on, backed over the lip and pushed off. The descent 30 feet to the bottom of the canyon was one smooth glide until he alighted on the craggy surface. The car, a late model four-door Chevrolet, metallic blue was sitting on its roof, which had compacted and flattened against the body cavity. The wailing of the baby was drowning out all the other sounds.

As Sergeant Johnson approached the vehicle where the crew of four firemen was gathered, the lead fireman was radioing to the top detailing what equipment needed to be lowered into the canyon. "Bring the emergency truck to the edge and hook up the winch. Lower a body platform with bars. String 50 feet of pneumatic hose and lower the hammer and saw. This car is crushed and we are going to have to cut our way inside."

"Any signs of other life inside?" Sergeant Johnson asked, after the fireman had finished his call.

"You mean other than the baby?"

"Yes, I mean any sounds from any other occupants of the vehicle?"

"No, but they could be unconscious. We need to get a good look inside to see what injuries they might have sustained. Landing on the roof like that is a pretty good indication of neck injuries, though."

"Yes, that seems a good bet. So how long before we can get a look inside?"

"I suspect about 10 minutes once we get the equipment down. We are going to have to cut partially through one of the doors and pry back the metal manually. Without knowing where how the people are situated on the inside, we dare not cut all the way through lest we cause further injury."

"Well, do what you have to do, and keep your fingers crossed that everyone survived."

"Yes, a prayer might be in order."

During the conversation, the equipment had been lowered and the firemen began to execute their duties. Over the next few minutes, the cut, pried, cut some more, and pried again, and finally got the rear passenger's side door opened. The very young baby was just one the other side of the portal they created and one of the firemen gently picked it up, supporting its neck in his gloved hand and turned to hand it off to another of the firemen. The leader barked, "Get that baby up to the ambulance, stat." The fireman with the baby lay on the body board, clutching the baby to his chest and tugged on the cable." The body board was slowly winched up the canyon wall.

The fireman who had retrieved the baby and entered the vehicle on his hands and knees to check out the remaining passengers. He emerged and shook his head. "Three dead," he said, "One young adult male, one young adult female and one middle-aged adult female."

"OK," said the rescue leader, "Nothing more we can do. Smitty, you say down and hook the cable for the wrecker company. The rest of us are going back up." The remaining firemen began to ascend the canyon wall utilizing the ropes.

Sergeant Johnson took the pad and pen from his breast pocket and jotted down the make, model and license number of the vehicle. He approached the ropes and began his ascent and found the climb a bit more strenuous than he had imagined. He struggled but did finally reach the lip of the canyon, where the leader of the rescue group grabbed him and assisted him over the edge. "The baby checks out, unharmed," he said as Sergeant Johnson regained his feet.

"At least that is some good news," Sergeant Johnson said as he motioned for one of several officers now at the scene to approach. When the officer arrived, he tore off the page from his pad and handed it to the officer. "Run this through DMV and see if we cannot locate a next of kin." He then walked off toward the ambulance.

"I hear the baby is unharmed," he stated to the ambulance driver.

"Yes, but the hospital advises transport. They want to do a series of tests to make sure there are not any internal injuries. We are advised to move with due haste."

"Go! I will be right behind you." As he walked over to his unmarked car, the ambulance engaged its light and sirens and sped off toward the hospital. Sergeant Johnson yelled to one of the other officers, "If anything comes back on that plate, I will be with the baby at Mercy." After receiving the officer's acknowledgment of having received his I information, he climbed into his nondescript Ford and drove off after the ambulance.

Mercy Hospital was only a short drive from the accident location and the ambulance had already arrived its precious cargo transported into the emergency room by the time Sergeant Johnson arrived. He had just parked when his radio cracked, "Unit 14, this is Base."

"Base, this is Unit 14."

"I was informed you wanted information on a plate called in through DMV?"

"That is correct."

"Information returned shows the car was registered to Colonel Paul Acosta, El Toro."

"Thanks Base. Can someone attempt to contact El Toro and locate Colonel Acosta or his next of kin. I have not received identification of the other passengers of the vehicle, but we have a very young infant that has lost her mother, and, I assume father. The baby is at Mercy, and I am currently on location."

"Will do."

"Also, have someone at the scene report to me as soon as they get through with the rest of the investigation. I am going to go check on the baby's condition. Unit 14 out."

Sergeant Johnson entered the emergency room and approached the intake desk. "A baby was just brought in from an MVA. I am the investigating officer."

"Treatment Room 6," said the nurse without even looking up, pointing to her left.

"Thanks," Johnson muttered as he moved off down the long tiled hall to his right. He found Treatment Room 6 and peered in seeing an ER doctor moving a stethoscope over portions of the baby's torso listening intently to sounds. Upon completing his examination, the doctor turned to the attending nurse and Sergeant Johnson heard him state, "Totally unharmed, but only a few days old. Crying is like due to its being hungry. Transport to the Maternity Ward until a relative comes to claim the child."

The nurse picked the child up from the bed upon which it had been laid and as she walked past Sergeant Johnson, he got his first really good look at the baby, a small cherub face with a tuft of blonde hair and two vivid blue eyes. "Nurse," he said before she had walked very far. She stopped and turned. "What is the sex of the child? I will need that for my report."

"It is a girl."

"Thanks." The nurse nodded and proceeded toward the elevator.

"Sergeant Johnson," a police officer walking quickly in this direction said.


"We have gotten in contact with Colonel Acosta's commander. He says Colonel Acosta is out to sea, but Officer Levi explained the situation to the General, who said they would chopper the Colonel back to base ASAP. He said expected ETA is five hours."

"Good. The baby is fine and they have it in Maternity. Call in and have them pass along the news to Colonel Acosta. You did make them aware that all of the other people in the vehicle had died?"

"Yes, and according to the General, it is likely that the other passengers were Colonel Acosta's wife, daughter and son-in-law."

"What about the driver of the other vehicle? What information did we get about the cause of the accident?"

"The other driver was a 16-year-old, just out hot-rodding. He said he ‘just went over the line a bit, but the old woman who was driving the other car panicked.' His words, according to the report. He doesn't have any insurance."

"Is he still at the scene?"


"Well, have them write him a ticket for no insurance, traveling too fast for conditions, failure to maintain a lane and cut him loose. From what I could see of the skid marks, his story does check out. It is more likely the old woman did take faulty evasive action, so it is unlikely any other charges would stick. However, forward the report to the District Attorney. Leave it up to them to see if they see any other charges are merited."

"You want me to hang around and await the Colonel's arrival?"

Before Sergeant Johnson could answer, the nurse tapped him on the shoulder, "Sorry to bother you officer, but I got some information I thought you would like to have for your report."

"OK, what is it?"

"Well, it seems that Maternity recognized the child. She was born here three days ago and she and her mother were released just a couple hours ago. Maternity says the child's name is Alura Allen, and her mother was Susan Allen and her father's name is Stuart Allen."

"Thanks for that information." The nurse nodded and went off to seek her next duty.

"Sarge, you didn't answer. Didn't you want to get back out on the streets? I can sit here and await next of kin."

"No, I think as the investigating officer, I had better await the Colonel's arrival."

The officer left and Sergeant Johnson went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and a couple of donuts. He then went back to his car and moved it out of the emergency area to clear up essential parking space. He found a shady spot out near the edge of the parking lot. He just remained in the vehicle, drank his coffee, ate his donuts and scribbled a few more notes about the accident in his notebook. "MVA, Canyon Drive, 7/26/86 appx. 2:30 pm. No collision between vehicles, accident due to faulty evasive action. Car flipped upon collision with rock, skidded across road on roof, over retaining wall, and came to rest at bottom of canyon appx.. 30 feet down on roof. Roof caved. Rescue used pneumatics to cut into vehicle. Three dead, one survivor, small infant girl. Survivor identified as Alura Allen by Mercy Hospital personnel, suspected victims are child's mother, Susan Allen, child's father, Stuart Allen, and maternal grandmother, only known information is Mrs. Colonel Paul Acosta, USMC." He hastily scribbled a diagram of the accident scene below his notes.

Sergeant Johnson laid back in his seat and listened to the traffic on the police radio while attempting to compose what he would say to Colonel Acosta upon his arrival. He could imagine who devastating the news would be when he discovered that the cause of the accident was an over reaction by his own wife, which cost the lives of his wife, daughter and son-in-law. It was a hot day in La and Sergeant Johnson laid back and closed his eyes, dreading having to give his report to the Colonel. This was one of the worst parts of his jobs, he thought, having to deliver the bad news to relatives of people who tragically died in motor vehicle accidents.

A helicopter fluttered in for a landing, and Sergeant Johnson opened his eyes at the sound. He immediately recognized the Navy insignia on the chopper's side and exited his vehicle to and began to walk toward the helipad, some forty feet away. As he drew near, a tall dark complected man in fatigues departed the aircraft, walking from beneath the blades hunched over as the chopper again rose into the skies. "Colonel Acosta?" Sergeant Johnson called over the roar of the chopper's engines.

"Yes, I am Colonel Acosta."

"I am Sergeant Johnson, LAPD. I am the investigating officer in the accident that took place earlier today."

"Yes, thank you. I understand that my wife, daughter and son-in-law perished, but my granddaughter escaped unharmed?"

"That is correct, sir."

"Who was driving?"

"According to the other driver, we believe it was your wife. The vehicle was wenched out of the canyon and I have not received a report as to where the bodies were positioned inside."


"It does appear that your wife may have taken faulty evasive action to avoid an accident, collided with a rock on the side of the road, and ended up upside down in the bottom of the canyon. From what I saw of the car, it is a miracle anyone was found alive."

"The other driver?"

"Kid, 16, took the curve too fast and jumped the line a couple of inches. We cited him, and I will refer to the DA for additional charges."

"No, I think he will have nightmares about the incident. My wife was a poor driver, and likely argued with my son-in-law about who was going to drive. There has been enough trauma associated with this accident, so tell the DA I agreed to no further charges on the kid."

"Colonel Acosta, this has gone much more smoothly than I imagined."

"Sergeant Johnson, I have been a Navy Seal for over 20 years. I have seen both my share of tragedy and death. I lost both my parents to a drunk driver when I was 16. My son-in-law's father was my best friend who died in my arms in Viet Nam. Except for one sister I have living in a mental institution because of a brain tumor, I am the only relative of that baby in there. We are going to have a hard enough time of it without regretting the events of today or pointing blame at anyone."

"Well, you have one beautiful healthy granddaughter just waiting for you inside, sir."

"Thanks," Colonel Acosta said as he started toward the hospital.

"Colonel Acosta, if I may ask, what are you going to do now?"

"Well, I am on emergency leave, but I have already informed headquarters to start on my retirement paperwork. I am going to take that little girl back to the old home place in New Mexico and do my best to raise her."

"The very best of luck to you, Colonel Acosta. The best of luck to you and little Alura."

"Alura? I wasn't sure what they had finally decided to name that child. Thanks, Sergeant. Thanks for being here and briefing me on the event."

Posted by Tiger at July 27, 2003 06:41 PM | TrackBack


It's good writing, so don't take this the wrong way, but the dialogue is waaay off. These are cops and firemen. They use slang. they use contractions. They never say That is when they can say That's. They don't speak in complete sentences with proper structure. They aren't overly verbose at an accident scene. In fact, they probably leave out most of the little words like "the" and just spit out the basic idea. Here's a few examples:

"From the information I have received, that man over there," the driver said pointing to man sitting on a rock on the other side of the road," came around that curve a bit fast and crossed over into the other lane. There was a car approaching which veered to avoid the accident, hit a rock, flipped, slid across the road on its roof, went over the retaining wall, and ended up at the bottom of the canyon."

I had a bunch of friends in the ambulance core at college, and they just don't talk like that. It's more like this:

"Looks like this guy" the driver said pointing to man sitting on a rock on the other side of the road,"took the turn too hard and crossed the line. The oncoming car hit a rock trying to avoid him and rolled it. They slid through the barricade and over the edge, down into the canyon."

Or here, you gotta think that they're in the middle of trying to rescue someone from a terrible crash. You have them talking like this:

I suspect about 10 minutes once we get the equipment down. We are going to have to cut partially through one of the doors and pry back the metal manually. Without knowing where how the people are situated on the inside, we dare not cut all the way through lest we cause further injury."

But cops and firemen don't talk like that. I think it would sound more like this:

"It's gonna be about 10 minutes, after we get all our gear down there. We gotta cut the door and pull the roof back by hand, but it's tricky cuz we don't know where they are inside. We don't wanna get 'em with the saw on the way in."

Just stuff like that. Also, they are gonna have slang terms for their equipment. I don't know many of them off hand, but the "emergency truck" is usually called the rig, "a body platform with bars" is a "board" and "pneumatic hose" would probably just be the hose or some other made up word. If you know a cop or a fireman you should probably talk to them about slang and stuff. Give's it more realism and all. And never forget that these are blue collar guys talking, they are gonna say "gonna" and "ain't" and probably curse. Proper grammar isn't a real concern to these people. Your descriptive stuff is great actually, its just the dialogue you need to work on.

You gotta make me beleive that these are cops and fireman, and not just words tiger made up. Sell me on that.

Posted by: Collins at July 28, 2003 04:11 PM

I agree with Collins. A little less of, "It is" or, "They have" and more, "It's" and "They've". A little less, "Yes" and a lot more "Yah" or "Yep" or "Ayuh" or whatever.

Also, towards the very top, right after the guy explained what happened, Sgt Johnson only asked, "How do we get down there?" but said nothing about the story he just heard. No reaction, just the question.
Oh, and one tiny little thing for me, when you were describing the car, it sounds better to say, "The car, a metallic blue late model four-door..." instead of, "The car, a late model four-door Chevrolet, metallic blue.."

Other than that, just some small typos here and there, (extra added words for example).

Good story...although it ticks me off the 16 year old who caused the accident is getting off so lightly.

Posted by: serenity at July 28, 2003 06:20 PM

Tiger, I have to agree with John and serenity that the conversations seem rather stilted--have you been reading too much Jane Austin?

Compelling opener, tho--I do want to know what happens next!

Posted by: Susie at July 29, 2003 01:15 AM