It was a fall afternoon and I was standing above the dead body of a 12-year-old boy.
He was lying on the side of the road with his blood oozing into the gravel shoulder of the two-lane highway that ran through the community where I worked as a police officer at the time. My partners were spraying orange paint marking the final resting position of the tires of the car that struck this child.
The boy's bicycle wasn't too badly mangled, from my recollection, but it, too, had to be marked on the roadway so we could later reconstruct the accident.
This wouldn't be a hard one to reconstruct, from the initial look of things. There was an ample amount of evidence to determine how it happened, but not why it had to happen.
We did have one problem, though. The young boy didn't have any identification on him. No school identification. No books with his name in them. Not even a bicycle registration sticker, which our police department offered for free. There was only the realization that, sooner or later, a parent would call us saying that their son hadn't returned home yet.
We did have one long-shot lead to follow up on. The bicycle was a Schwinn brand, and there was only one Schwinn dealer in the vicinity. Putting the damaged bicycle in the trunk of my squad car, I went to the dealership and explained our dilemma.
More problems. The bicycle might have been sold there, but the store didn't have a way to look up the serial number other than to physically leaf through hundreds of sales and service slips. Having no other choice, that's what the store manager and I did. It took well over an hour, but our efforts paid off. The family that bought the bicycle lived just a few blocks from the accident site.
The following memory will stay with me forever.
I was pulling up to the house, bicycle extending out of my trunk, just as the boy's parents were walking out of their front door, car keys in hand, to go out and look for their son. They literally ran to the back of my cruiser, only to exclaim that the bicycle was their son's, and they desperately pleaded with me to tell them where he was and whether he was hurt.
I don't remember my exact words to them when our eyes locked, but I can still see the blood drain from the father's face and the boy's mother raising both her trembling hands to cover her mouth.
The 20-minute ride to the hospital so they could view the body of their dead son was filled with the sound of gasps for air between sobs coming from my rear seat.
Police officers lock eyes with other parents and loved ones in a similar manner far too often. It happens time after time each and every year throughout Pinellas County. One of the latest ones for me was watching the father of two young brothers who were run over in the dark near Largo High School. His fists balled up under his chin as he screamed out in the worst kind of pain.
We live in one of the most congested counties in Florida. We also have more than our fair share of blatantly inconsiderate drivers who ignore the rules of the road. So whenever I receive phone calls from motorists telling me how unsympathetic I am that one of my officers gave them or their family member a traffic ticket — they're right.
Parents, please take an extra few minutes to make sure that your children's bikes are well-equipped with reflectors and lights.
We've also recently had a young lad saved by his bicycle helmet. As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention …"
Lester Aradi is chief of police in Largo.