Ride-along exposes thrills of a deputy's shifts

October 13, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. - Five minutes into an afternoon ride-along, Cpl. Ron Gardner is heading down Interstate 81 at more than 120 mph, making his way to the spot where another deputy is involved in a pursuit.

Less than four hours later, as night fell, Gardner wound his way through Berkeley County's back roads, heading to a convenience store that was being robbed at knifepoint.

This Sunday drive was scenic at times, heart-pounding at others, but never boring.

That's how Gardner, who has been a deputy with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department since 1995, likes it. No call should be treated as mundane, he said, and when his adrenaline ceases to pump, he said that's when he knows it's time to quit.


Gardner, 41, served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent 13 years in the Army National Guard. He joined the sheriff's department as a reserve deputy more than a decade ago and worked as a dispatcher before donning the black and gray uniform.

A few minutes after the start of his 3 p.m. shift, Gardner starts to pull onto Interstate 81 to handle a fraud call. Almost immediately, Deputy Matt Rephann uses his radio to indicate he's involved in a vehicle pursuit.

Gardner, several miles away, flips on his lights and siren and heads south. Some drivers pull over immediately, while others seem oblivious to his cruiser.

As Gardner's speedometer creeps past 120 mph, Rephann indicates the driver has turned onto Goldmiller Road. Gardner is trying to figure out where he may turn next, where he might come out.

"Decisions, decisions," he said.

Rephann then indicates the pursuit is over.

"He got him," Gardner said.

Gardner keeps going, but hits his brakes when he spots Rephann and the man's wrecked Chevrolet Cavalier Z-24. Within moments, three more deputies arrive.

As the man sits in the back seat of Rephann's car, the deputies begin to inventory his Chevrolet. They find beer bottles and cans, a bottle of laundry detergent, a pack of hot dogs and a can of baked beans.

A magistrate later would arraign the man on several felony and misdemeanor charges.

Each night, Gardner works with the same deputies.

"We're all we have. We gotta cover each other," he said. "We gotta take care of each other."

After leaving the scene of the pursuit, Gardner stops to refuel his cruiser and himself. The car gets unleaded gasoline; Gardner orders a cheeseburger, fries and soda at a Dairy Queen.

Fear, and rewards

Encased in protective plastic and attached to the inside roof of Gardner's police cruiser is a picture of a boy in a basketball uniform. It's Gardner's 14-year-old son, Keith.

Looking up at the photograph keeps Gardner grounded.

"It gives me a reason to keep my head on straight, I guess," he said. "Stay focused. Don't make any stupid mistakes and get yourself hurt or killed."

For the same reasons, Gardner keeps a yellow shotgun shell on a shelf beside his television.

A couple of years ago he went to a housing development where neighbors reported seeing a man with a shotgun. After a report that the man had gone inside a mobile home, Gardner followed. The trailer's owner told Gardner the man was in a bedroom.

When Gardner opened the bedroom door, the man was curled up in a fetal position, underneath a blanket. Sticking out from the blanket was the barrel of what turned out to be a loaded shotgun, pointed straight at Gardner.

He kept a shell from it.

"It kind of made muscles tense that you didn't even know you had," he said.

On the flip side, Gardner said he has had a lot of gratifying moments in his career. One that stood out was sending to the penitentiary a man who had sexually assaulted a female nursing home patient.

Through the good and the bad, Berkeley County deputies are paid a salary far below what police officers in surrounding areas and in other departments earn.

Some Berkeley County deputies work a second job to make ends meet.

"We'll get the money eventually. I'll be here when we get the pay raise," he said.

Later, after driving along back roads lined with autumn colors, Gardner stops at a house where a man's antique dinner bell and antique car motor have been stolen.

Gardner steps out of his car and stands amid the trees. Silence, save for a Canada goose honking in the distance, surround him.

"Smell that?" he asks, referring to the pure, country air.

If he could afford it, Gardner said he'd love to live in such a place. In the meantime, he said he'll remain patient. Quitting for a higher-paying job elsewhere is not in his future.

"I love my job," he said. "You gotta want this job because you love this job. There's no money in it."

A hero, clad in a suit and tie

While sitting at the dining room table of the man whose bell and engine have been stolen, 911 dispatchers indicate a burglary in progress is happening at the Eagle Mart in Hedgesville, W.Va.

Gardner stands up, his clipboard tucked under his arm.

"We have to go," he said.

Dispatchers then upgrade the call to an armed robbery in progress.

The Herald-Mail Articles