Every once in awhile in law enforcement you come across a call that sticks with you. Usually its something tragic. Often it’s hilarious. This one starts in a land far far away with, “No shit…there I was…trapped in the forest with 10 drunken sorority girls…”
Okay so maybe not exactly. In reality it was one of those sweltering summer nights on a graveyard shift. You know the kind? Where you feel sticky and irritable and everyone around you is acting like animals wearing people costumes. It was incredibly busy with disturbances and domestics, suicidal subjects and the usual gamut of drunks and mental people. So when the call came out that an RP (reporting party) was calling to report she and her friends were lost in the local forest, I was not pleased. I was doubly irritated when the Lieutenant told me to handle the call and to let him know if Search and Rescue needed to respond. This left us one short for however long it took me to deal with this call while “real” problems were going on.
Dispatch advised the phone was a phase 1 cellphone that was only pinging off one cell tower, so they couldn’t pin the location to any closer than a general zone of a few miles. That’s a lot of area to cover in the woods! I was also extremely irritated, because I had just gotten a brand new Dodge Charger for my patrol car. Normally a car gets me from point A to B, but I loved the Charger. The deep throaty roar of the engine and low sleek profile was like a shark cruising the dark looking for bad guys. Too much? Yeah, I thought so too, but it’s still true! I did not want to bring my shiny new patrol car into the woods to look for drunk girls.
I called the reporting party. She advised she and her 9 sorority sisters had gone to the forest to meet with a bunch of fraternity boys for a “pledge week” bonfire. She said they followed a car into the forest thinking it was the boys from the sorority, but after an hour or so of driving around the woods they decided they were following a random stranger and turned around. The woman (lets call her Beth since I don’t remember her name) claimed they had been driving around the forest for 3-4 hours and were lost and stuck. Beth spoke in a weird combination of breathy panic and annoying nasal drawl. I asked Beth how she was stuck and she told me she and her friends were in two cars and that the first car ran out of gas and the second car got a flat tire. Seriously? Both cars?? How does that even happen?
I responded to the location while trying to talk to Beth about where she was and what she saw around her. Beth’s reply was to shrilly scream that she didn’t know where she was, what was around her or if she had passed any landmarks. At that time she hiccuped…yeah she actually hiccuped then snorted. She admitted that she and her friends had gotten hungry so they started drinking. As in alcohol. And they were now all drunk. Irritated, I asked to speak to someone else, while I drove towards the general location their cell showed them. The phone started getting passed around a group of college age girls who were in varying degrees of inebriation.
The oh so helpful comments varied from a valley girl twang of, “Oh. My. God. Like we are so lost and stuff.” Then giggling and, “I hope he’s a cute cop!” to a breathy whisper of, “There are so many trees. So many trees…And what if there’s bears out here!?” to, “Yeah…I think we saw a road or something…and now it just…ends. Oh and there’s trees!” I tried over and over to get better information, but it was like trying to get info from a bunch of intoxicated…well college age girls with no sense of direction or anything resembling an awareness of their surroundings. They weren’t able to tell me if they had driven on dirt or asphalt and when asked to describe how the road ended the best I could get out of them was, “Uh…it just. Like. Ends. And there’s trees and stuff.” I was not happy thinking of all the logging roads that just end in the sprawling forest.
I drove around for over an hour with my emergency lights on and occasionally chirping my siren while asking the various young women on the phone whether they could hear my sirens or not. One of the girls would squeal, “I hear it! Wait…never mind, I don’t.” This went on for awhile. Meanwhile while I was diligently scouring the woods for the wayward drunken college girls, I was getting increasingly irritated. My brand new super bad ass Dodge Charger (which I had just washed) was bouncing along on pitted forest roads, sending out a massive plume of dust that was completely encasing my beloved car. The bottom would also occasionally scrape on the rough roads with a heart wrenching grinding sound.
The fraternity members the girl’s were supposed to meet with had called in at this point and advised they had been looking for the missing girls as well, but were unable to locate them. I was about to tell the girls to just stay in place and wait for their friends to find them when one of them cried out and I could hear all sorts of chattering and hysterics over the phone. I was told one of the girls had an eating disorder and was feeling faint. This girl had apparently suffered some sort of serious medical issues due to said eating disorder and now she was sick and couldn’t move.
With a sigh I notified fire to stage due to a possible medical emergency and be ready for when I located their patient. I had checked miles rugged forest roads and had seen no sign of them. Earlier that winter there had been significant flooding that had completely washed out a large section of the main arterial forest road. I was well familiar with this washout since I had previously been involved in a pursuit into the forest following a stolen vehicle and said stolen vehicle had launched across the washed out road into the large ravine left by the flooding. I had driven up to the signs indicating the road was closed, ran my sirens and then turned around when I was told nobody heard anything. Deciding I had better just check anyway, I drove around the sign and all the way up to the washout. And what do you know!? Across the ravine were two cars with a gaggle of women milling around them. Their headlights clearly illuminated the paved road and you could also clearly see the washout, including the water happily bubbling along. If I had been told that in the beginning I would’ve been able to locate them within 10 minutes!
I told the women to stay put because I had to drive back to the highway and several miles up the road to enter the forest from another entrance in order to get to their side of the washout. I advised Fire I had located the females and would be out with them shortly. Fire relayed that they were staged and were waiting with the fraternity members who had several vehicles to come pick up the women once I was able to relay where they were at. Deciding to let the fraternity guys get the rest of the women, I told dispatch, I was going to pick up the patient with the medical issue and take her to fire. I would then explain how to get to where the rest of them were at and let their friends take them home, so I could go back into service.
All the arrangements were made and I went back into the forest and drove to where the stranded females were located. I winced each time my undercarriage scraped and muttered halfhearted curses to myself about what I would do if my car broke down. I had every light on my patrol car blazing for visibility and was pointing the spotlight down the road as I drove. I started to slow as I got nearer their location. It wouldn’t do to run over some poor intoxicated college student.
I came around the last corner before their vehicles and slowed as I saw some strange misshapen form in the middle of the road. I squinted and pointed my light at the object trying to figure out what I was seeing. In the road was some massive hulking shape bent over another shape in the middle of the road. I thought for a second it was a bear possibly eating one of the sorority girls. As I got closer, I saw it WAS a sorority girl sitting in the middle of the road, hunched over another form. I came to a stop and saw the girl sitting in the road was cradling the head of a fellow student who couldn’t have been more than 5 foot and MAYBE 85 pounds soaking wet. The contrast between the two was startling, with the healthy girl weighing well into the high 300’s and the smaller patient looking like she had been starved. I took that to mean she was the poor girl with the eating disorder.
I got out of my car and approached the duo. There were happy cries from all ten of the sorority girls out there and they suddenly rushed me from all directions. There was all sorts of inappropriate comments about me and exclamations of happiness that they were “saved” and one very husky voice said, “Thank god, I’m STARVING.” Each and every one of the drunken sorority girls were easily over 250 pounds, with the sole exception being the eating disorder girl. The scene was so surreal that I could only stare for a second and as I was surrounded by chatting, giggling and even sobbing women, I had a brief flash of panic as I felt like a Twinkie that was going to be gobbled up. I could hear one one the women actually smacking her lips and go, “Mmm Hmm…I would BREAK that one honey!” and choruses of agreement. I felt myself break out into a sweat and had a vivid mental picture of throwing my lunch down the road away from me and sprinting away into the forest. I almost shakily asked for a second unit just to keep me from being violated by these women (or false allegations if nothing else), but I knew from monitoring radio traffic that everyone was busy.
I confirmed that the girl on the ground was the one having the medical emergency. I explained to everyone that I would be taking her to meet the fire department and that their friends would come get them. It was at this point my careful plans hit a snag. The eating disorder girl couldn’t get herself in the backseat because she was “Too weak” and she wanted her friend to come with her. The friend wanted to go with her to the hospital, so unless I wanted to come back a third person was needed to be able to guide their friends back. I had a moment of panic as I considered how I was going to fit these three women in the backseat of my Charger. It is a tight fit normally under optimal conditions.
With a shrug I told all three to get in. I watched in morbid fascination as they heaved and shifted and squeezed until all three were more or less inside. I had to push parts of the third girl back inside the vehicle as I shoved the door several times before it finally clicked shut. I expected it to spring open at any moment. I stared morosely at my dusty and filthy patrol car. The back of the car was visibly sagging. As I drove out of the forest the bottom of my car kept up a steady grinding sound the entire way and I winced and ground my teeth every time it sounded like something was permanently damaged. As I arrived at the location the fire department had staged at, I reminded myself for about the thousandth time, how important it is not to make assumptions.
In this case my assumptions led to a call that I found hilarious because of the sheer dichotomy from what one would imagine when you tell them you once “rescued” 10 drunken sorority girls who are lost in the forest, to what the situation really was. Often however, assumptions can kill. Is this story insensitive? Hell yeah…and so is most things law enforcement, and other emergency responders find funny. I’m just glad to have an array of humorous (if inappropriate) stories to go along with the sad and horrifying ones.
Also published on Medium.