Here’s to You 17E23

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I saw on my Facebook tonight that a few friends have posted regarding the upcoming execution of Edgar Tamayo on 01/22/14. This is 20 years after he killed my friend Guy Gaddis. Dave Bush and I were riding the unit 17E14 that night. I later went on to ride with Craig Hensarling on 17E10 for a little over a year but I stayed in that beat because I loved the officers I worked with. 17 district was broken up into 4 beats; 10’s, 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s….hence 17 E (identifying Beechnut substation) and whatever beat, early side or late side. Early side units were even numbers and odd numbers were late side.

Guy Gaddis was one of the hardest working officers I ever knew. Just like the rest of us, at the end of every shift, his boots had mud on them and his uniform that had been clean at 11pm looked like he’d rolled around on the ground a couple times. I haven’t been a police officer since 1998 and even though it’s been 15 years, I have the fondest memories of my fellow officers from the time I spent chasing crooks in 17 district with Dave Bush, Craig Hensarling, Mike Flores, Garri Solano, Sid Veliz, Eddie Parodi, Chris Slyman, and Guy Gaddis. There were a ton of other officers I looked up to also, guys that had been on the street a while longer than the rest of us, Rayne, Rypien, Falhaber, Overstreet, May, Manriquez, Hubbard, Harbison, and all of Rico Garcia’s tac team guys that we wanted to be like and the list goes on and on. All of us worked in 10’s beat except for Guy and I remember always telling him that he was poaching in 10’s beat because he knew all the hard working officers were there and that’s where he belonged. Of course, we were all rookies and between running calls, we were walking through apartment complexes, sitting up on stolen cars, hoping and praying for a herd of bald headed little gangsters would pull out onto the street in one of them.

The night we lost Guy, I remember Dave Bush and I had pulled out of The Topaz parking lot right after we told Guy we’d meet up with him at Denny’s on 59 later that night. We knew it was going to take him a while to process these two turds that he had just picked up. There were several of us in that parking lot and every one of the officers there were close. We pulled a drunk over as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot. He was headed North on Chimneyrock and didn’t have his headlights on. As we were filling out the tow slip, we heard Bellaire PD come on the air to let us know that one of our units had just crashed into a  home in Bellaire on Chimneyrock. We jumped in our shop and headed that way immediately. Our gut feeling told us it was Guy. We all thought we were tough….. I thought I was tough. That feeling changed in that front yard looking at my friend. We were all in our early 20’s and in every situation, we were in control. It was a different feeling that night. It felt like no one was in control and the chaos that was in the air was permeated with the overwhelming sadness of about 20 or more officers that were on that scene.

We were blocking off Chimneyrock and making room for the helicopter that was going to come take Guy (although we had already lost him) and at one point, I stopped and couldn’t bare my emotions any longer and I went to the back seat of a patrol car that had the back door open. I sat down and without permission, the tears just started flowing. I don’t remember his first name but I think he was a 16 district officer. His last name was Poe. We always called each other by our last names. Poe pulled up close to the car I was sitting in and rolled his window down and said, “You alright Barrera?” It was a simple question. I said, “yeah, i’m alright.” I pulled myself together and stepped out of the back seat. I wasn’t alright but I appreciated him at that brief moment.

The following week, Dave Bush and I went to inquire about a headstone for a monument that we wanted to put on Chimneyrock where the tragedy happened. The owner of the headstone business only charged us for the stone and he put the wording on it for free. We put the cross in the Beechnut substation with an envelope and within a couple days, the officers of the station had paid for the cross. The upsetting part about it was that there was a group of us from 17 district that wanted to put the cross out on Chimneyrock but the chief at the time, Sam Nuchia took it upon himself to take a moment to shine with the media and made a big “to do” on TV. After coming back to Houston from a visit to Corpus Christi, Dave and I noticed that the cross was gone and we realized that the time and energy we spent to get this thing together for our close friend, had been done without us. Regardless, I’m glad the cross is still there.

My hat goes off to the men and women working in law enforcement. In that line of work, you develop relationships that are closer than the regular co-worker relationships and when something tragic happens, it cuts just a little deeper than normal. Guy was definitely one of the good guys. I’m sure there are some people, family, friends, that can describe him better than I can in the brief time that I knew him. He was kind. He knew how to talk to kids on different scenes. He was funny. He got an alarm call at the Toys-R-Us on 59 and he put a foot chase out on the air and he was chasing a 9 foot subject named Geoffrey. He was professional. He was brave. I remember the night he saved a girl from getting raped by two guys (and probably worse) behind a empty building on Bissonnet. Everyone that knew him, instantly liked him. As they say…he was “good people” and we were all fortunate for knowing him and working with him.  You’ll never be forgotten 17E23.

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Morgan’s Purse

I lost my dog Morgan about a month and a half ago. He was a homeless puppy when I first found him at the parking lot of the hospital where I work. He was dirty and afraid and I couldn’t believe that someone had left him to fend for himself. I took him home and he immediately became a part of the family. He woke me up every morning, wanting to play. When I got home from work, he wanted to play. He was awesome. I loved him. He had Parvo and I refused to let him suffer so I took him to the vet and put him to sleep. As I petted him and kissed his head and said my goodbye to him, I thought to myself how I would like to hospitalize him, hook him up to IV fluids, and pay whoever – however much it cost to make sure he came out of this but that just wasn’t reality.

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morgan

Not too long after Morgan’s passing, I went to see a client in a pretty crappy part of town. I went to the front door and knocked and no one answered. I knocked several more times and decided to wait 10 or 15 minutes. I was there to do a substance abuse assessment and I figured the client needed about 15 minutes to stir from her heroin induced slumber or possibly she had been doing meth for 3 days and was really, really, really sleepy now and had crashed and needed a few more minutes than the average person to put herself together. Either way, I waited. As I waited, I looked down at the end of the street and I noticed a medium sized, black, mangy dog. Normally, I would have not paid much attention to this dog but at that moment, I found myself just watching this dog. I noticed that it must have just had puppies and it was walking around all of the trash bins. When it came to a trash bin that was slightly open, it jumped up and using her nose, she pushed the lid the rest of the way open and started dragging trash out of this bin. She’d pull some trash out and start using her paws and nose to go through the trash and a couple times, she’d lick at a paper plate or a food wrapper. She kept going up and pulling out trash and going through these motions.

The other thing I noticed was that cars were just driving by, much like what I would have done. They weren’t paying attention to this animal and I thought to myself, “If the owner of this house comes out, they’re gonna really be pissed that there’s trash all over the front of their house and who knows what he’ll do to this poor starving dog.” I knew the dog had puppies somewhere and needed nourishment to continue feeding her pups. I found myself upset at this neighborhood. I decided to not wait on the drug addict that I had planned on seeing and drove closer to this dog. The closer I got, the more I could see her ribs. She really was starving and I decided at that moment that I wasn’t going to watch this dog starve and scrounge for something to eat. I drove to the dollar store about 3 blocks away and purchased a bag of dog food. I went back and on one of the paper plates that the dog had been licking on, I poured a massive helping of dog food. I wished at that moment that I had a bowl for water but I didn’t. The dog watched me intently from a distance and as I drove away slowly, I noticed her walking up to the food and then starting to eat. I couldn’t take her home but I felt confident that she would have what she needed for the day.

I now keep a bag of dog food in both of my vehicles and over the last two weeks, I’ve fed 4 hungry dogs. I encourage everyone who reads this to stop at your local dollar store, spend a few bucks and throw some dog food into your trunk. If you’re like me, you can’t take that dog home but when you see a hungry dog, searching for food, you’ll remember that the food is there and you’ll stop and take care of that dog, at that moment. This is Morgan’s legacy.

dog at HEB kostoryz

dog at memorial

Andrews, TX – You Can Always Come Home

I got in last night from a trip to my hometown of Andrews, TX.  I hadn’t been there in about 20 years.  I was able to visit with some old friends and friends of the family and it was a great time.  As I expected, it was an emotional trip too.  Last Friday I walked around my old neighborhood.  No one was outside, it was a quiet neighborhood…just like I remember when I was growing up.  I walked down 12th street, past Jaime Swift’s old house on my left and remembered playing in his backyard, digging ditches with his mother’s good spoons, I’m sure she always appreciated wondering where her silverware was and his dad surely enjoyed finding all their stemware in the back yard every time he mowed the grass.

I walked past the Jones house on the right at the end of the 1000 block and remembered the giant cave they dug in their back yard and the time Lance Jones pushed my sister Martha off the trampoline, smack into one of the big mulberry trees they still have.  I cross the street onto my old block to the Moore house on the corner just across the street from the Jones’.  The pigeon cage they used to have in the back yard was gone.  From what I heard, Dr. Moore, the town veterinarian, has passed away.  He helped us get a blow dart out of our dog Sylvester’s head once.  Some mean kid experienced some bad Karma over that I’m sure.  Mrs. Clark’s house is on the corner on the left.  The front yard is surrounded by 2 foot high cinder block fence.  They used to grow little green onions on the side of the house and we used to cook them over fires that we’d start in the alley.  One time, me and Erik Wilson almost burned down the whole alley way and if Mr. Clark hadn’t jumped his fence with the water hose, I’m sure we’d have burned down the whole block of back yard fences.  Mr. Clark’s gone now too.  From what I heard, he passed away one day after mowing the grass.  He sat down on his recliner, fell asleep, and never woke up.

Then came my house.  It was a sad moment.  There used to be three trees out in front of the house that my dad planted for each one of us.  It was a red brick house with a big planter out front.  If you looked at the front of the house you could see the giant mulberry tree in the back yard.  There was a big tree house in that tree and underneath it was a sign that my mom had brought home from the dentist office where she used to work “The Bad Breath Club.”  All that’s gone now.  Whoever lives there painted the red brick and tore the planter down.  I didn’t look into the back yard.  It would have been too upsetting.  It wasn’t run down, it just wasn’t the house I grew up in.

I crossed the street and continued walking down the block that I remembered as such a big place.  The block was five houses long and everything was so small.   As I walked up the block, a little girl on a scooter pulled up behind me.  “Am I in your way?” I asked her and she pointed to the old Gregory house and said, “That’s my house.”  Bud Gregory and his wife died in that house and the Guzman’s moved in when I was in 5th grade.  No matter who you were, you were always welcome in the Guzman home.  I wanted to take a picture of the house but didn’t feel comfortable with two kids and a family being out in front of it.  I circled the block, walked by the Wilson’s old house.  Next door to them was Mr. Criswell’s house.  I looked up the street and the emotion flowed over me again as I saw Jack Horner Kindergarten on the left.  I remembered the time me and my sister, Martha, planned on spending the night on the covered patio to teach my mother a lesson for making us walk home 8 blocks after fighting with each other in the car.  We had our plan laid out when our big brother, Robert, pulled up on his little blue bicycle and said, “Mom knows ya’ll are here and she says, Come Home!”  Our plan had been foiled.   I sat on the same little bench that I had been on 35 years ago and thought of how good life had been for the kids in that neighborhood.  I remember sitting in a circle with a dozen other 5 year olds and reading Dick and Jane readers.  The building is used for storage now.  How good I had it and I didn’t have a clue how fortunate I was to grow up in a neighborhood where there were no worries and no concerns.

We played tackle football around the fastest merry-go-round in the world.  The field we played on behind the Jack Horner was huge at one time.  Now it looked as small as my back yard.  I picked up a few pine cones for my daughter to put together in her own little artistic way for the desk in my office.

I walked around the Fetner’s old house and kept walking down 11th street and walked under a Mulberry tree, grabbing a leaf as I walked under.  I took a picture and sent it to my sister with the message, “Remember when we used to put these under paper and color them?” She sent me a message back telling me how she got emotional when I sent her that message and it’s funny how what seems to be the most insignificant thing can bring on a flood of memories.

I drove by James Coffman’s old house and remembered the time he had a big birthday party and as we played cops and robbers, I got clotheslined across the mouth (literally by a clothesline).  I fell backward on top of a water spigot and I still have the dent in my back.

Later in the day I went to the Commercial State Bank with John Kraft.  I looked across the street and noticed what used to be the La Hacienda Mexican restaurant that my parents opened.  La Hacienda is a booming restaurant now.  Back then, it was a place for me to play in the back underneath the big tree using the roots as bridges for my hot wheels.

Afterwards, we drove around town for a bit.  I had to drive by my Aunt Rose’s old house.  It looks completely different too.  Me and my sister spent countless hours laying around on her floor, going through her records and listening to Barry Manilow, The Pointer Sisters, Captain and Tenille, Doobie Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more.  Many of these records I have found over the years and now my children laugh when I tell them we used to listen to this music all the time.

We met Gilbert Peters in front of the Middle School.  Our friendships started when we were small and they just got stronger as the years passed.  When we got to Middle School and our personalities took shape, we didn’t grow apart as some kids do, we just got closer. From what I hear, this part of the middle school is used for storage too.  My dad’s orchestra class took place in this building.  Mr. Rose’s art class was the most fun I ever had in middle school and there’s still a wood sculpture of a tennis player that I did hanging in my son’s bedroom.

We met up with Patty Guzman, Gilbert, and two of his workers at Buddy’s Drive Inn.  We ran into Johnny Delgado there.  We ate the famous Buddy’s steakfingers and they tasted just like I remembered.  We talked and laughed and started our weekend of sitting around together and telling old stories. You can see on the sign that this place has been around since 1969…..that’s right around the time me and my friends were born so this place was part of our worlds for as long as we can remember.

Everyone went their separate ways until later in the evening when we would get together again at Gilbert’s house.  It was funny because Gilbert asked, “What are ya’ll doin’ tonight?”  and I said, “Coming to your house for dinner.”  It was me, Gilbert, John, Brian Jeffcoats, Patty Guzman, and Mark Bairrington joined us.  He brought his two kids and we sat around again for hours joking and laughing.  It was 2am before we decided to end the conversation and turn in for the night. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the desire to stay out that late.  The next day, we met up at Cassidy’s sub shop.  This place wasn’t around when I was growing up in Andrews.  I visited with Stephanie Tonroy on the front porch and Steve Smith and his family walked up. Steve got upset that Brian didn’t call him the night before but he quickly forgave him and we picked up where we left off the night before…poking fun at folks, remembering things and trying to forget some of the things we did.  Thanks for reminding us of all those things Gilbert 🙂  Stephanie made the astute observation that when we were all in middle school we walked around the lockers like a bunch of psychiatric patients and again we laughed until our bellies ached.  After lunch, Stephanie took off and us guys piled into one car and drove around town talked about all the things we remembered that happened in different parts of town.  Everyone had a little story for every other block that we drove by.  I laughed so hard a couple times that I got light headed.  We went to the high school and walked around, took a picture together in the Dome and the laughs continued.  This was the dome where we spent a majority of our time between classes.  It was the social meeting ground and everyone milled around up until the very last second before the bell rang.  I took pictures of the new sports facility and thought to myself, “these kids have no idea how good they have it.”

We parted ways again with the plan of getting together again at Victor Guzman’s mother’s house.  I went back to my hotel room, showered, and ran by the Tucker’s house.  Mrs. Tucker opened the front door and looked at me, not knowing who I was.  I said, “Mrs. Tucker…I’m David Barrera.”  Her eyes widened, her hands went up and she said, “David Barrera! Get over here and let me hug your neck!”  She hugged me and said, “Get in this house!”  We sat down on the bar in their kitchen and caught up.  Mr. Tucker went to his room and came out with a metal sculpture that my dad made for him years ago.  “You have to tell your Daddy that I still have this.” I think I heard them say “We just love your family” or “We just love your parents to death” about a dozen times while I sat in that kitchen.  They got upset with me for staying at a hotel and invited me and my family to come back and stay with them.  I hugged them both and it felt like hugs from another set of parents.

Victor was flying in from Tennessee and Patty and his mother had been cooking all day in preparation for everyone coming over.  As usual, we sat around, told stories, and joked and laughed.  It was great to see Patrick, Victor, and Patty again after all these years.  Mrs. Guzman is still one of the sweetest ladies I know.  Mr. Guzman already passed away and I missed him….I can only imagine how much his family misses him.  I sat with Victor and he told me, “You have no idea how hard I looked for you in Houston one time.” It meant a lot to me knowing that an old friend went to a city of three and a half million people and looked for me.

We drove a few blocks to a block party close to the middle school and walked around.  The city was having a celebration and we walked around, gave the kids time to run around and we visited some more.  Everyone decided to take off for the night and we said our goodbyes to Victor, Patty, and Patrick. We made sure we had each other’s phone numbers and we promised to stay in touch. Patrick and Patty hugged me at the same time and it was just like I was talking to my own brother and sister when I said, “I love you guys.”

The next day I slept late and met Gilbert and John for lunch at La Hacienda.  It’s grown over the years but the quality of the food is nothing compared to when Jess and Halya Barrera (my wonderful parents) ran the place.  We spent another hour and a half of joking and laughing and we knew our time was short.  I was going to meet up with Troy Yarbrough after lunch, run around town and visit some folks and then head back to Corpus Christi.  It was a weekend filled with hugs and folks telling each other “I love you” and “I’ve missed you.” My parting with John and Gilbert was no different.  Gilbert said, “I never really knew how much I missed people until this weekend.”

I drove out to Troy’s shop and Stephanie Tonroy came out and visited with us for a little bit.  Troy’s wife Kim showed up and when I wanted to take pictures they both refused because neither had make-up on.  Stephanie took off and me, Troy and his son, Taylor headed out to see folks.  We started off at the Gilliam’s house.  We pulled up and Mr. Gilliam walked out the front door.  “Hey Troy….who you got with ya?”  I said, “Hello Mr. Gilliam, I’m David Barrera.” Again…just like at the Tucker’s house, his arms went up around my neck and he hugged me and said, “Get inside this house.” Mrs. Gilliam walked out of the back room and I walked over to her and she looked at me not quite knowing who I was.  I said, “I’m David Barrera.” She hugged me and said, “Oh My Goodness.” We sat in the living room and visited for about 40 minutes.  Mr. Gilliam said, “I’ve missed you kids.  There’s never been a group like you and there’ll never be a group like you in the future.”  We all played tennis together and just like most parents at sporting events, the Gilliams were a permanent fixture at the tennis tournaments.  Mr. Gilliam would stand behind the windscreens and cheer you on whether you were his kid or not. Shanna Gilliam and my sister were State champions and I’d like to say what drove them was not only their hard work but the people cheering them on behind the wind screens, folks like Mr. and Mrs. Gilliam.

From there we went to Mrs. Clark’s house.  I’d already walked by there two days earlier and now I was knocking on the front door.  Mrs. Clark opened the front door and said, “Can I help you?” “Mrs. Clark, I’m David Barrera.” Same response, a hug and an invite into the front living room.  Mrs. Clark took care of me when I was in kindergarten.  Her and my mother were back and forth comparing crafts and I still remember the macrame baskets hanging around her house.  Mrs. Clark said, “your mom told me that you liked coming over here because I would let you crumble crackers in your soup.”

We crossed the street and we went to the Jones’ house.  Billie Jones answered the door and invited me and Troy in without knowing who we were.  There’s things that people do in a small town that you would never imagine doing in a big city.  Even then, it’s dangerous.  I introduced myself again and Mrs. Jones said, “I was inviting you in and I had no idea who you were” as she gave me a big hug.  We visited and talked about all the good times all of us kids had running around the neighborhood.  She talked about the big cave her boys dug in the back yard and I reminded her about the warped tree house we all put together and about the concrete bike ramp we built behind her house.  As I was leaving, she told me to tell my parents that she’s at the same address and she wants to send them a Christmas card.  She was showing me her fish pond as her two grandsons (Lance’s boys) climbed out the window into the back yard.

We went back to Troy’s and he showed me his work of art kitchen and then I drove him and his boy back to his shop.  I got out of the car and gave him a hug and we talked about a future vacation together and the possibility of him and his family coming to visit us in Corpus Christi.  As I drove toward Odessa, I looked and saw Andrews in my rear view mirror.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that little town when I was 18 and after 22 years of being gone part of me wanted to stay.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see but I’m sure i’ll be back.  The people are special in that little town.  The friends I made there as a child will be my friends forever.  We’re doctors, lawyers, supervisors, electricians, soldiers, business owners, nurses, police officers, and school teachers.  We’ve been to war. We’ve crossed oceans and continents.  We’ve lost close friends and family members.  We’ve made a good living and lost everything…just to climb back up and do it all again.

We’ve survived cancer and illness and some have lost those battles.  As police officers and soldiers we’ve taken lives and we’ve saved lives and we’ve survived the trauma that comes with the realities of life.  We’ve raised family’s and some of us even have grandchildren already but when we come back to Andrews, Texas we walk through the neighborhoods where we grew up and we go back in time to a place where we had the best childhood anyone could have asked for.  We sit down across the table from each other and as my good friend John Kraft said, “we pick up our conversations like we just saw each other yesterday.”   We look different, some more than others but (from the words of Gilbert Peters), “They can look in your eyes and you’re the same person everyone remembers.”