I had finally escaped the office for 3 days of hiking in the Okanogan National Forest in my home state of Washington. Just me, my sleeping bag, and a 50-pound backpack filled with all the comforts of, well, maybe not home, but close enough. Half way up the side of the ridge I decided to take the path least traveled, picking my way between loose gravel and broken rocks, I was sure going to give my new hiking boots a good workout.
Once up over the ridge, and down into a hollow I saw a beautiful field of wild flowers. I could not resist. I dropped my pack and grabbed my new 7 mega-pixel camera and tripod. I framed the shot in the picture viewer, and set the delay timer for 30 seconds. Like a little girl I bounded to the spot I figured to be center frame and I stood there counting. Once I was sure 30 seconds had passed I bounced happily back to my camera to look at the picture.
Oh Crap, was that dirt on the lens? No the lens is clean. I looked back at the field and sure enough, about 50 feet behind where I had been standing a Turkey Buzzard had landed to feast on some dead rabbit or something. Oh well, no shot of cute little me in my field of flowers, but maybe some nice nature shots of a feasting buzzard.
I took the camera off the tripod and snapped, and walked, ever so slowly and cautiously doing my best impersonation of a nature photographer. I was about 10 feet away when I could see that the buzzard was perched on a rock … Oh my God, it was looking down on an injured hiker, and getting ready to bite him! I reached down and grabbed a rock and hit the buzzard square in the side, causing it to take off with a loud squawk. I ran over to the hiker, he was still alive, but bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his neck.
Instinctively I called 911. I was told that a Park Ranger helicopter was in the immediate vicinity and I should apply pressure to the neck wound to slow the flow of blood, but to be careful not to cut off the victim’s airway. No sooner had I pushed my clean-enough bandana against the wound, that I heard the unmistakable sound of the helicopter. Mere seconds later the dust and dry grass storm of the landing chopper washed over me, and my unknown friend.
“Miss, I’m EMS, let me get to him.” I pulled back and the EMS tech took over. I caught myself nervously talking a mile a minute about what had happened, but the EMS guy only said, “Get your gear together, we have to move quickly.” So I scurried back for my pack and tri-pod while the Rangers loaded the poor guy into the chopper.
The Park Ranger Pilot was on the radio with the police as I was put into the front seat next to him, and the EMS trained Ranger got into the back to care for the injured hiker. Just 10 minutes by air and we were at the Hospital landing pad where the chopper was met by a pack of scurrying medical professionals, and I was met by the Police.
“Miss, please come with us, we need you to make a statement.” It was creepy as all Hell to be in the back seat of a police cruiser for the first time, and I almost wet myself when they put me into an interrogation room complete with that one-way mirror you always see on TV. My mind was blank and numb at the same time when Sergeant Perci asked me if he could look at the pictures in my camera.
“Yes, go right ahead.” I had nothing to hide, but still should I be asking for a lawyer or should I just be cooperative? Sergeant Perci left the room and returned a few minutes later.
“So, Miss Cooper, correct?”
“What happened out there?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but a buzzer sounded and a voice on an intercom said, “Sergeant, one moment, right now.” Sgt. Perci left the room for an eternity, or so it seemed. When he returned, he was still wearing the same medium gray suit, but he was not wearing the friendly expression on his face that he had left with.
“Miss Cooper … our John Doe Hiker … didn’t make it. Do you care to tell me for the record what happened out there?”
“Do I need a Lawyer?”
“Depends on what you have to say.”
I put my faith in the power of truth, and I told Sgt. Perci my entire story. Then the damn buzzer went off again. “Sergeant, we have something you better look at on the camera.”
Not long after leaving for a second time, Sgt. Perci came back and escorted me to a viewing room where the picture of me in the flower field was blown up on a large movie screen. With a series of mouse clicks the police technician zoomed in on the corner of the picture. There in the tree line on the far side of the flower field, was a man dressed in camouflage, with a big knife in his hand, watching me.
“Miss Cooper, you are one lucky lady. That man is an escaped murderer. Here’s my card. If you plan to leave the state you must contact me. You may also be contacted by a police officer or an officer of the court in a few days. This Patrolman will take you back to your vehicle, and escort you home. Goodnight Miss Cooper.” That was it. My bizarre adventure was over.
I got to ride in the front seat of the police cruiser
on the way back to my car. The
Patrolman was kind of cute, and single.
He gave me his number and said “If there’s anything I can do, or if you
just need to talk…” Maybe I’ll give him
a call and we’ll chat over coffee in a few days.