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A how-not-to crash course

I have some experience with car crashes.

I did not specifically disclose this to the Sheriff's Office before it let me behind the wheel of one of its training vehicles Tuesday. But deputies are law enforcement. They can look that kind of thing up.

I was attending a powwow of public information officers from various law enforcement agencies in Tampa Bay. The media were invited to sit in and get a better understanding of law enforcement, with the added draw of participating in some training exercises.

We got to play cop.

First, I drove a skid car - a cruiser outfitted with training wheels and a computer that allows the instructor to disengage the wheels and brakes. The lesson was to come out of a skid safely, without careening across the blacktop.

I really could have used this driving lesson a couple of years ago. While commuting home during a nasty summer rainstorm in 2003, I hydroplaned at 70 mph on the interstate and slammed into the guardrail. My Volkswagen was totaled but I remained intact, so maybe I didn't handle it so badly. Still, my fault.

About a year later, again on the interstate, an impatient hothead rear-ended me so hard the collision bent the frame of my new Toyota. Not my fault.

(These followed a wreck in which I was a passenger in my sister's car, and a guy running from the cops greeted us head-on. A few years earlier, my very first car got smashed while it was parked outside my office. I consider those events bad luck, and ancient history.)

So I had a little chuckle Tuesday when Pasco sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin caught wind that my driving record is somewhat, uh, spotted and said, "So how many cars have you wrecked?"

I ignored him and got in the driver's seat.

Apparently, my hard-won experience served me well. I negotiated those skids with the dexterity of a professional. Cpl. Julie Satre deemed my driving excellent.

Riding in the back seat, Tasha Tully of the Coast Guard said, "Let me out of here."

Phooey on her.

Next was a simulated shooting exercise. A video screen depicted a bad-guy scenario, and I had to handle it like a real cop, yelling orders at the offenders and using force when necessary.

The characters in the interactive video reacted when shots were fired, with a computer recording time and accuracy.

It was nifty, even to a puny pacifist who had never fired a gun before.

Deputy Stephen Klapka, from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, handled the verbal side for me. The bad dudes on the screen weren't cooperating during a traffic stop. He told them what's up.

And to no one's greater surprise than my own, I fired a 9mm Glock handgun right where I was supposed to, into some vital organs of a woman who had pulled a shotgun. She was down in 3.17 seconds.

Klapka asked if I wanted to fill out an application to be a deputy.

But I bet he says that to everybody. Phooey again.

Carry on then, good officers. Your training program has my seal of approval, particularly that skid car.

And I ought to know.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com.

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