A City of Rehoboth Beach Road Officer Responds to a Suicide-By-Cop Call
911: Suicidal subject. A Rehoboth cop faces a man with a death wish.
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I know that responding to any complaint where a subject is contemplating suicide moves up the danger scale a couple steps. And with all potentially violent encounters that I respond to, I try to take the time to get into the right frame of mind. I’ll take some deep breaths and try to slow my breathing. I clear my thoughts of the mundane stresses from work or family. I try to arrive at the scene with as clear a mind and as calm a demeanor as I can muster. I started this ritual as I headed down Bayard Avenue onto the Silver Lake Bridge to Dewey Beach.
Dewey has a distinctly different look from Rehoboth. Just past Silver Lake the town begins with a residential area filled mostly with upgraded ’60s-style beach shacks. This area is heavily wooded and shaded. By mid-December most of the homes are vacant. There are no pedestrians and only an occasional living room light or parked car.
This day was overcast, so the late afternoon light felt gray and chilly. To the right and left of me a blur of shadowy properties raced by as I gathered my thoughts and concentrated on driving.
Bayard Avenue intersects Coastal Highway at a traffic light—the start of the Dewey Beach commercial district. In the summer pedestrians are packed tight on either side of this part of the highway, spilling over onto the road and causing endless traffic interruptions. There is a New Orleans French Quarter type of madness during the summer. Youthful excesses are on display with drunkenness, noise and sexual tension, so much so that as we drive through Dewey Beach in the summer, my children and I play a game called “Count the Drunk Chicks” with a whole set of rules and a scoring system that allots points for levels of intoxication.
Today this strip is barren and cold. If we had tumbleweeds, they would be blowing down the highway. Unlike Rehoboth, Dewey Beach is almost a ghost town in the winter. Rarely do you see people walking around and the stores are dark—closed for the season. From Bayard Avenue to the end of its town limits, Dewey has water on both its east and west sides, with just two blocks between the ocean and the bay. So Dewey always feels colder than Rehoboth in the winter.
Van Dyke Street is almost at the southernmost end of Dewey Beach. The street has a block east off the highway that ends at the ocean, and a block west that ends at Rehoboth Bay. It was to the west-side block that I responded.
“7314 Rehoboth. I’m going 10-2 Van Dyke Street.”
As I pulled onto the block I noticed a row of empty-looking condos that ran down most of one side of the street. Across from these was the parking lot of the Rudder Complex—a group of buildings with a convention center, restaurants and stores. At the end of the street, the bay looked cold and gray with a little chop from a light wind. The street was empty of parked vehicles except for the Dewey Beach police vehicle which was about halfway down the street, facing the bay. At the westernmost end of the street a small, dark, older-model pickup truck was parked in the middle of the road, facing the highway. I didn’t pay much attention to it. The Dewey police car didn’t have the emergency lights on, and there didn’t appear to be any urgency to this complaint.
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