Dying Before My Eyes

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]T WAS ABOUT 0200 hours on a crisp fall night in the City of Orange, California in the early 1970’s. I was working the graveyard shift as a rookie patrol officer in the east end of the city that was designated the number 14 area.

You have to know that in police work; newly hired officers who are released from their training officers are normally assigned to the graveyard shift simply because the late nighttime shift is a good way for them to get acquainted with the established protocols of working a one-officer patrol unit and getting to learn their assigned beat. Additionally, after midnight, the calls for service are few and far between, unless it is a Friday or Saturday, in which case the calls for 415 parties (disturbing the peace, loud music and drunken individuals) by irate neighbors seem to dominate the dispatched radio calls.

The evening was a Tuesday as I cruised in my marked police unit – a Chevy Nova that sported an orange stripe – along the main streets of the east end looking for drunk drivers or for anything suspicious that would keep me busy and awake and my patrol sergeant happy about my logged activity.

Okay, where was I? Yeah, it was about 0200 hours when I received an emergency dispatch call that was preceded by a very loud and somewhat annoying alert tone beep which destroyed my quiet reverie. “Unknown trouble, possible 415 family, screams heard in the background and the caller hung-up!”

The dispatcher advised me of the location which turned out to be a very nice single-story ranch style family residence with Mexican palm trees gracing the front yard. I was further advised by the dispatcher that I was the only patrol unit available and that a back-up unit would be dispatched to assist me when one became available. This made me really feel better, NOT!

I “darked out” my unit (turned off my headlights and hit the switch to kill my brake lights) as I coasted to the curb about two residences south of the nice Mexican palm tree planted yard. My plan was to walk quietly up to the residence; stop, look and listen and wait for my back-up office. I could see the main living room or dining room lights were on and I heard the unmistakable screams of various people emitting from the residence. Well, there went my “stop, look, listen and wait for back-up plan” out the window!

I knocked at the front door and shouted “Orange Police!” but before I finished this brief announcement, a very frantic middle-aged woman clothed in a nightgown with her hair in large curlers opened the door and grabbed my shoulder. She was almost hyper-ventilating as she said that her 16-year old son was down the hallway inside of his room. She then, in a very loud and hesitating and stuttering voice, told me in a pause-go fashion that he (her son) had awoken all of them by his screams. Once they all emerged from their respective bedrooms, the son, who was clad only in his white Fruit –of-the-Looms, began chasing the family with a butcher knife down the hallway and around the living and adjoining dining rooms as he made undecipherable guttural sounds while brandishing and swinging the knife from side-to-side at them.

I then saw huddled in the dimly lit dining room corner, her husband who was leaning against the wall, holding one of his arms that appeared to have been slashed. It was bleeding as he had his red stained tee-shirt wrapped around part of his wound. He wore striped pajama bottoms and he appeared to be in a state of shock. A younger girl, wearing a full length pink terry cloth nightgown, was holding the blood-drenched tee-shirt in place and she was sobbing and crying and shaking.

I quickly ushered all of them outside the residence to the vicinity of my patrol unit and told them to wait there as I radioed for a fire department paramedic unit to respond to the location. I also learned that only the son was now inside the residence. His mother told me that he (the son) just went crazy for some unknown reason and that he slashed at his father when the father tried to wrestle the knife away from him.

I went back inside to the front entry way of the residence that bordered the bedroom hallway and the foyer to the living room. The hallway was completely dark but for some ambient light coming from the near-by dining room chandelier.

I reverted back to my original plan to “stop, look, listen and wait for my back-up unit” and to make sure this knife-wielding “Fruit-of-the-Loom” suspect stayed put for the time being.

Okay now I thought, “Stay in the room and settle down and go nite-nite”. Well, that thought also went out the window when suddenly he emerged from his bedroom into the hallway and faced me from about twelve feet away. He still held the butcher knife in his right hand with a blade that appeared to be pretty large.

I clicked-on my 3-cell flashlight as I removed my .9mm Smith and Wesson Model 59 semiautomatic pistol, crossed my right gun hand over my left wrist that held my flashlight, and pointed it directly at the suspect’s face. I noted that he had a “blank stare that seemed to look through me” as I shouted in a very loud and commanding voice: “Police, drop the knife!” His eyes appeared glossy and he was sweating profusely with sort of a sour-metallic odor coming from his body.

I guess in his mind (I will never really know for sure), my verbal command seemed like a signal for him to slowly walk towards me in a zombie-like lock step with the knife firmly gripped in his right hand with the blade pointing forward in his very rigid arm.

Now most people would make the rational decision to back away, but police officers are not most people, and we learn very early on to stand your ground and take control. Besides the fact, if this Fruit-of-the-Loom got past me, there was no one outside to stop him from his rampage. Okay, maybe I did not really consider this at the time, but all I knew was that I was committed and that the “ball was in his court” to obey my repeated commands to stop and drop the knife!

I could see my front gun sight was aimed right at his on-coming forehead and I actually started a slow and steady squeeze of my gun’s trigger as he slowly and methodically approached me without comment or response to my command pleas. I told myself that when he got within six feet of me, I would complete my trigger squeeze. I could actually see the rear pistol hammer slowly pull back into firing mode.

Suddenly, and without any warning or hesitation, Fruit-of-the-Loom rose up his right hand, with his white fist tightly clutching the butcher knife’s handle, and swung it in one very fast and strong motion at a 90 degree angle directly into his own chest. He took one more step and collapsed onto his back.

I could not believe what I just saw and for a few seconds I just stood there frozen. I saw his body supine on the hallway carpet; his arms outstretched to either side; his feet spread apart and the butcher knife protruding from his ruptured chest cavity like the hand thermometer you stick inside a Thanksgiving turkey. The things you think of when you just can’t contemplate the reality of the situation, or what you could never imagine to ever witness!

I immediately holstered by weapon and shouted for the paramedics who rushed to me as I knelt down at the suspect’s side. We all joined in – holding the suspect’s arms and legs down – as he attempted to rise-up with almost superhuman strength and with no cries of pain. It took five of us (three firemen, my back-up officer and me) to hold him down and slide him onto a backboard. After which a paramedic put several layers of adhesive tape around the handle of the butcher knife and to the sides of the backboard to keep the knife in its upright position.

We also used cloth safety harnesses for the suspect’s hands and feet that were securely fastened to the backboard before we loaded him into the fire department paramedic unit.   The suspect continued to struggle against his restraints as I sat beside him in the ambulance on a lights and siren ride to the near-by Chapman General Hospital.

He was then off-loaded onto a gurney and wheeled into the emergency treatment room. I watched as the knife handle went up and down as the suspect’s chest inhaled and exhaled and I was surprised that there was very little blood coming from this horrendous wound. It had to be within ten minutes of the doctor trying to sedate this very combative suspect that he made one last gasp and died right then and there before they could even remove the impaled knife from his chest.

I still remember the strong metallic odor that emitted from the suspect’s body along with his sweat and I can still recall the metallic taste in my mouth.

I later learned that the suspect was under the influence of PCP (Angel Dust) which is a surgical anesthetic (phencyclidine) that causes trance-like side effects that include hallucinations, delirium, and mania which can result in people doing horrible things to themselves or others.

This was my very first experience with a subject under the influence of PCP but sadly, it was not my last. In the following years, PCP was the recreational drug of choice for folks looking for an escape.

I am thankful that I did not have to fire my duty weapon that night and take the life of this 16-year old troubled boy in the presence of his family. All I know is that he took his life before my eyes in a manner that was unbelievable and devastating.

Who says that recreational drugs are harmless and non-violent? Not me, not ever!

Until next time, this is Gumshoe signing off for now my kind folks. Be well, be safe, people love you!


Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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  1. WOW! Danny, that is one horror story you had to go through as a young officer. Every time I hear someone say drugs are harmless I want to kick them into the next county. I don’t get why anyone would want to take anything that chemically alters their brain to begin with. Makes me think there’s something already wrong with their brain.