Butch needed a cigarette and help from above

In the early 1990s, I worked two jobs…library director at Darlington from 11am to 6pm…and then Deputy Sheriff for Montgomery County from 7pm to 4am. Yes, it was a very long work day!

One afternoon at the library, just before I was about to leave, a woman rushed through the door and ran up to the circulation desk. She was very distraught and crying, pleading for help, “I told my husband I was going to divorce him. We got in a big argument. He took a bottle of whiskey and a shotgun and left in his truck…He said he was going to kill himself!” I knew her husband. I had been his teacher in middle school. He had been a nice and mild-mannered boy. She then stated, “He may have driven to a pond where he goes fishing at times…please help me!”

I accompanied the lady back to her house and told her to grab the kids and go somewhere safe where her husband could not find them…just in case he might double back. She told me where the pond was located…down a long lane off of State Road 47. I radioed the dispatcher about the situation, and requested assistance as I drove down the lane to the fishing pond. There was the pickup. I could see her husband sitting behind the steering wheel as I parked my patrol car some distance away. When I walked slowly up to the passenger side of the truck, what I saw next gave me a little bit of a shock. The man was facing forward. He had a bottle of Jack Daniels and a 12ga shotgun between his legs. He had placed the muzzle of the shotgun in his mouth. The hammer was cocked, and his thumb was on the trigger. I knew that only slight pressure on the trigger would fire it off. At that moment I recalled a similar situation that the city police had been involved in a few years earlier. In that instance, the man had pulled the trigger. Now…what am I going to do?

Four county officers and the Sheriff soon showed up, and I radioed for them to stay back. I spoke to the man by name and told him who I was. He turned toward me, removed the muzzle from his mouth, and placed it under his chin, “Stay away, Mr. Dale, my wife is leaving me and taking our kids. I’m gonna kill myself. I’m just gettin’ up the courage.” I replied, “No, you’re not. I am getting inside the truck with you. We are going to talk about this.” He looked at me with glazed bloodshot eyes, “You can sit in here, but put your gun on the hood of my truck.” I said a silent prayer, touched the cross on the necklace under my uniform shirt, and placed my Smith and Wesson .357 revolver on the hood. I lit up a Marlboro Light as I opened the passenger side door and sat down beside him.

For the next half hour, I pleaded with this former student of mine, trying to convince him not to end his life…that he had many reasons to live. As he kept the muzzle under his chin and took swigs from the whiskey bottle, I talked and smoked and talked and smoked…lighting the next cigarette with the one before. Another half hour passed, and it grew dark outside. I could see that he was starting to mumble his words, and was getting more intoxicated. A couple of times I thought about grabbing the shotgun, but it was too risky. Then his thumb slipped from the trigger, he leaned sideways towards me…and vomited all over my pants. When he then swayed back in the opposite direction and grabbed the door handle, I snatched the shotgun, lowered the hammer, and threw it out the window…as he opened his door and fell to the ground…passed out.

I took a deep breath. It was over. An ambulance had arrived and was waiting nearby. The EMTs loaded the fellow up and carted him off to Culver Hospital to be treated for alcohol poisoning. I followed the ambulance, waited outside, and reached for a cigarette. I had none. I had smoked an entire pack inside that pickup. As I sat there, it dawned on me what I had just gone through. I was thankful that everything had turned out OK. I truly believe that God had been watching out over the both of us that summer evening.

My former student survived. His wife did divorce him, but he was granted joint custody of his kids, and he went on with his life. His parents wrote me a letter thanking me for what I had done, but I never saw him or heard from him again. Sadly, a few years after I left the Sheriff’s Department, he died in a motorcycle accident. Did a similar situation ever occur again when I was a police officer? Yes…two more times I sat next to men who had guns to their heads…and each time it took over an hour to talk them out of it. And in both instances I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes…and each time God saved me and those men. When I left the Sheriff’s Department twenty-four years ago, my stress level went back to that of a normal human being. I wanted to live a long life…I gave up cigarettes for good. And today, each night when I go to bed, I thank God for watching over me and my family. Folks, for the most part, you control your life and what happens, but sometimes you need a little help from above.