During my career in law enforcement, I was involved in several car pursuits. I discovered early on that there is an inverse correlation between the desire to catch the fleeing felon . . . and using common sense. Many police officers are so determined to catch the suspect that they throw hazard to the wind. If I thought that the pursuit could likely endanger others, then I would end it.
But once I did not . . .
In 1996, I was the Montgomery County Sheriff. I worked an average of 78 hours a week. I did the administrative paperwork in the afternoons and I patrolled the county roads at night, because that is when most crimes occur. I made all officers work the road and investigate their cases, and I did the same.
One night, after midnight, I was dispatched to a call at Northridge Middle School where an employee reported a truck stuck in the grass behind the school. As it turned out, the truck was earlier reported stolen. As I called for a wrecker to have it removed, the dispatcher reported that a North Montgomery School van was overturned in a field off of State Road 47 about 3 miles north of Crawfordsville. Yes, the person who stole the truck and got it stuck . . . had then stolen the school van and wrecked it!
I rushed to the van accident on 47 north, thinking someone might he hurt. No one was around, so I called for another wrecker. When the wrecker driver arrived, he asked me to block off 47 so he could remove the van from the field. As I stood there watching him work, a little black BMW pulled up. I knew who it was . . . Ngoc Tran, who delivered the Lafayette Journal-Courier to various places in Montgomery County every night. I liked Ngoc, who had come to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1976. He was just as crazy as me. He worked full-time as an auto repairman in Lafayette in the daytime, and delivered papers at night to earn extra money . . . yes, a workaholic . . . like me. He knew many of the local police officers, and was always talkative and friendly.
As we watched the wrecker driver hooking up the cable to the wrecked van, a car sped around us.
"Sheriff Butch, someone stole my car!"
Poor Ngoc had parked several feet back and, unfortunately, left his car running. The van thief had evidently been hiding in a tree line along the old railroad tracks that ran parallel to 47, hopped in Ngoc's BMW, and took off . . . three stolen vehicles in one night . . . that really ticked me off!
"Don't worry, I'll catch him," I assured my friend. I jumped in my police car, a black 1995 Chevy Impala SS, took a swig of Diet Pepsi, lit a cigarette, and started to pull around the wrecker.
"Sheriff Butch, I go with you!"
"You can't go, it might be dangerous," I replied.
“No, No, I go with you. That is MY CAR!" Ngoc pleaded.
Well, against my better judgement and against all common sense, I yelled, "Well, get in the back seat, buckle up, and hold on tight!"
My Impala was fast, and in a matter of seconds I was over 100 MPH and on the tail of the stolen BMW as we approached Darlington. I looked in my rear-view mirror, and Ngoc's eyes were about the size of silver dollars . . .
"Don't wreck, Sheriff Butch!"
I followed the BMW around Darlington, through town, and then down County Road 625E, past Rocky Ridge golf course. I knew those roads, and this guy was not going to elude me. The Crawfordsville city police were listening to my radio traffic, and a couple of their officers headed to the Mace area where 625E intersected with US136, to possibly set up a blockade. As the BMW approached US136, it traveled down into the ditch to avoid the blockade and then headed east toward New Ross, and I was still on its bumper.
Well, the driver lost control as he turned right onto the Walnut Township school road, and the BMW came to rest in the muddy ditch. His fun ride was over.
"You caught him, Sheriff Butch!" The driver looked to be a juvenile. He locked the doors and would not exit the car. Lt. Larry McMullen, of the CPD, tried to kick open the passenger side window to no avail.
"No, No, don't hurt my nice car!" Ngoc yelled, so Larry gave in. The young car thief eventually exited the vehicle and was placed under arrest. I called a wrecker to remove Ngoc's little BMW. It was a little overheated, but otherwise in great shape. Ngoc drove it to the Sheriff's Department to write out a statement, and then continued to deliver his newspapers.
As I wrote out the report, I started thinking about how stupid it was to have Ngoc ride in my patrol car. If I were him, I would have wanted to go along, too. Everything turned out OK, but the situation could have taken a nasty twist.
Several years after I retired from the Sheriff's Department, my wife and I were eating at a restaurant in Lafayette, when someone yelled out "Sheriff Butch!" Yes, it was Ngoc. "How you doing, Sheriff Butch? You remember me, don't you? I will never forget the night you saved my BMW. That was the MOST EXCITING AND AWESOME night I ever had in my life! You are THE BEST, Sheriff Butch!"
"Thanks, Ngoc . . . You're the best, too . . . and I'll never forget our little ride!"

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.