It is downright disrespectful to steal another man’s boots, especially in Orange County. It’s only fair to mention that my Jeep was stolen as well; reckon I should start at the beginning. It was cold that night. Twenty-five degrees or so. The moon was less than a quarter full and with overcast it was dark. Country dark. I live in a part of the county that’s hospitable during the day, but at night may give just about anyone pause to go knocking on a front door. It was Thursday, a school night, whatever that means nowadays. The kids were down and shortly after 11:00 my wife had just gone to bed. The house was quiet, and as I had for the last 19 years, settled down to watch TV and decompress in the solitude and safety of my home.
Exhaustion won me over and at 11:30 I decided to hit the hay. Power down the TV, turn off the lights, and lock the door. That’s when I noticed the keys were missing. All the keys. After 19 years of being in the same place their absence stuck out. Subconsciously I already knew what happened, but my brain forced me to search the counters, the floor, and on top of the fridge. I went outside and the Jeep was gone. I knew, but again my brain forced me to put eyes on each child. They are teenagers and who knows? If you have or ever have had teenagers, you know what I mean. They were in bed. It was time to face reality. My home had been broken into while we were at home and my Jeep was stolen. Making the 911 call felt like accepting defeat. I don’t know why. Perhaps that I failed to stop the intruder or even register their presence hit that protective dad nerve. The illusion of ‘safety of the country’ and its special kind of darkness dissipated. We’re vulnerable, just like everyone else.
Everyone was awake by then. They were scared. It wasn’t only the Jeep that was on our minds. The keys to our home were taken and with them any sense of being secure for the foreseeable future. The man who robbed our home had taken much more than a Jeep and my favorite boots. He had robbed us of the very comfort of knowing we were safe within the walls of our home. That’s about when the Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived, a mere 10 minutes later.
The circumstances of this particular theft were peculiar. The deputies, much like myself, had a difficult time wrapping their head around what type of person would choose a house in this part of the county, in this type of darkness, and be brazen enough to break in while it was occupied. At that point I just wanted my family to feel safe.
That’s what the deputies did for us. One of them was Michelle Ray. I knew her from when I used to teach many years ago. She was comforting, listened, and took us seriously, even when I reported — with no small amount of disdain — that while my Jeep was gone, he had stolen my favorite boots. What must have seemed like an irrational tirade didn’t make these deputies flinch. My family didn’t feel like just another case on a never-ending crime blotter. We were a priority to them. No guaranties, but they were going to do their best and I believed them. I was proud of Deputy Ray, her colleagues, and very thankful. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, but my family slept soundly. They knew the deputies were out there keeping us safe.
The next morning, I received a call from an investigator. He had a suspect and was filing warrants. “So soon,” I thought. It had been barely 10 hours. I knew the chance of recovering my Jeep was probably slim, but this seemed like a sliver of hope. Now things got really interesting. This is where two cases converge much like the plot of an HBO Original Series.
Break in the case
In an unrelated case, a suspect was brought in for questioning. After what I assumed to be expert interrogation, the suspect revealed they were with another man and dropped him off in close proximity of my home. A piece of abstract information that had absolutely nothing to do with the case of my stolen Jeep.
Looking at the evidence and information now it seems so clear; however, in the moment with no realtime information it takes a professional to synthesize data.
Investigator Dylan Hendricks happened to read the report on my Jeep. He wasn’t assigned to it, but he read it anyway. This shows a diligence that goes beyond the call in my experience. A missing persons and a... colleague, and a stolen vehicle. Hendricks did a little digging and unraveled a history that seemed more than probable. He rolled the dice and decided to take a look. A short drive from the Sheriff’s office and there it was. My Jeep. And the suspect. And, of course, he bolted.
I suppose it would be silly to explain in retrospect that a Jeep will not — in any universe — outrun a Charger. That clearly was not on mind of this alleged thief of Jeeps and boots. He swerved, hit a Stop sign, another person’s van, and flipped over. Luckily no one was hurt. Investigator Hendricks had his man, who stole the Jeep, the boots, and the keys – allegedly.
The Jeep was a total loss, but we we got our keys back and with it a modicum of peace. Hendricks was most happy to inform me that he had also recovered my boots. To some this may seem ridiculous, but a man’s favorite boots… “Thank the Heavens!” Fifteen hours from the commission of the crime until I was staring at what was left of my Jeep. Being a layman I couldn’t say with any confidence if this was a fast solve, but common sense being what it is, I tend to think this was pretty damn impressive.
This situation got me thinking about what type of people put their life in danger for the sake of a stupid Jeep owned by a complete stranger? The answer is our men and women in blue. In this case the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. A dedicated group of civil servants working for nominal pay, meeting the citizens they serve (on what may be their worse day), often investigating no-win scenarios, and knowing that a “thank you” may never come. I decided to put aside for the moment the criticism of accountability and abuse of power. Today, I wanted to focus on my family’s personal first-hand experience. We were afraid and they gave us comfort. We were insecure and they provided protection. We had our property stolen and they returned it. While it is completely necessary that we demand of our law enforcement officers engagement of community and commitment to high standards, it is also necessary that we show our appreciation of the high standards they exhibit.
On a cold and country-dark night in the midst of a pandemic and unbridled national criticism, deputies of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office were there for us. What I witnessed during my family’s time of need was duty, honor, pride, and professionalism. What else could the citizens of Orange County ask for? This kind of professionalism doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor does it happen by accident. Leaders behind the scenes are in a constant state of increasing standards, improving results, and training individual deputies for the betterment of our county. Leaders like Chief Deputy Jamie Sykes, Captain Josh Wood, right down the line to Investigator Dylan Hendricks and Deputy Michelle Ray, all of whom have a part in protecting our community. Sheriff Charles Blackwood has chosen his leaders well. They in turn have trained their people well, and have served our community well. My family and I are thankful.
I leave you with two things that I learned through this ordeal. First, the place I live may not be as insulated as I had thought. “The times they are a changin’,” as Dylan says. While we need to make some changes to keep up with the ever transforming world, I am confident in the efficiency, competence, and compassion of our law enforcement officers.
Take a moment to say thank you. Kindness costs nothing. Last, if you know what’s good for you, I wouldn’t steal any boots from an Orange County man.