Submitted by Chief Mike Zaro, Lakewood Police.
One of my goals after becoming Chief here in Lakewood was to highlight the good work our officers do for the Lakewood community. Good police work quite often goes unnoticed and doesn’t always involve solving crimes or making arrests but is still worth sharing. One such example occurred here in Lakewood over the summer and demonstrates perfectly the best our profession and community have to offer.
As with most police stories, this one doesn’t start out “on a dark and stormy night”. It was actually a quiet Sunday morning in the hottest June on record. The roads were mostly empty save a handful of cars. One of those cars was a 20 year old SUV being driven by an elderly couple we will call Jim and Sue. They would end up being the focus of extensive efforts by multiple organizations over the ensuing months to give them help they didn’t necessarily know they needed.
Jim was driving with Sue in the passenger seat. The car was riddled with damage and paint transfer from what would turn out to be a series of collisions that also left the driver’s door unable to close. The back cargo area was filled to the top with toilet paper, clothes, and garbage. Literally the only room inside were the seats for Jim and Sue. Driving well under the speed limit on one of our main arterials, the car drifted slowly from lane to lane. This was the reason for the initial traffic stop. After the emergency lights went on Jim continued slowly down the road, briefly slowing at times but never really stopping. This went on for the next mile until he finally rolled to a stop in front of the police station.
It was clear as officers approached the car that Jim was confused about what was happening but agreed to shut the car off. The conversations with Jim and Sue revealed they were living in the car and had been for some time. They were all the other had with no family in the area and no place to go. Here the officers were faced with a dilemma. Sue did not have a license and clearly Jim should not be driving, but their car was their home and their only possession. They literally had no place to go and were in need of support. Here’s where Sgt. John Fraser comes in. A military veteran, experienced officer, and all around good person, Sgt. Fraser went to work finding a better situation for Jim and Sue.
The first step was to get the car out of the road. Maybe Jim’s last time behind the wheel involved pulling the car from the road into the parking lot of the neighboring industrial park. This was no easy task given Jim’s poor eyesight and confusion. Once parked, Jim and Sue wanted to just stay in their car for the day. Knowing the temperature was going to be into the 100s, and knowing they would likely try to drive off, Sgt. Fraser convinced them to let him take them to the cooling center set up at Lakewood City Hall.
Sgt. Fraser’s efforts to help Jim and Sue did not end with the ride to the cooling center. After dropping them off, he enlisted the help of our in-house mental health professional, Carolyn Cyr, and a homeless Outreach Manager from Greater Lakes Mental Health, Trisha Munson. Their goal was to try and find more permanent appropriate housing for the couple. As with most efforts involving the homeless and mentally ill, this did not happen quickly. When, by the end of the day, no progress had been made, Sgt. Fraser paid for a motel room for Jim and Sue and made sure they had a ride there. That same scene played out the next day with Sgt. Fraser picking them up from the motel and taking them to the cooling center and back again. In between, efforts were ongoing to find housing. We also saw one of our newer officers, Kasey Bentz, step in to check in on Jim and Sue when Sgt. Fraser wasn’t available.
After the second night at the motel, Sgt. Fraser arrived to once again drive Jim and Sue to the cooling center. This time, though, he found Jim in even worse condition than the days before. He was struggling to breath and had a very low heart rate. Now it was time for West Pierce Fire and Rescue to get involved. They arrived and shared Sgt. Fraser’s concerns and took Jim to the hospital. While this was a turn for the worse, medically, it at least gave Jim and Sue a more comfortable place to be where they could both receive the treatment they needed.
Over the next couple of months, Trisha worked to find housing and located Sue’s daughter in Colorado. She was happy to hear Jim and Sue were being taken care of and readily agreed to bring them to Colorado to be near her. The efforts then began to get Sue’s daughter power of attorney and locate a care facility in Colorado that would take them. I’m happy to report all that hard work paid off and as of this week Jim and Sue are in a facility in Colorado, near loved ones, and getting the support and treatment they need.
Here we had an elderly couple who was homeless, malnourished, and endangering themselves and others out on the road. Thanks to the tremendous team effort and caring attitudes by Sgt. Fraser, Officer Bentz, Carolyn Cyr, Trisha Munson, West Pierce Fire and Rescue, the people working the cooling center, and the hospital staff where Jim and Sue spent several weeks, I can say with confidence that they are in a better, healthier place.
This is just one story, of many stories, that would typically go unnoticed but really highlights the best our department and community have to offer. Helping Jim and Sue didn’t come easy, but the team involved were relentless in their efforts and in the end it paid off. Not because it was their job, but because they cared enough to go the extra mile.