Things were getting confrontational fast; I felt like I was one smart-alec comment away from being arrested. Why had I become the focus of these two officers? As I approached a bike crash with my cellphone camera, they were immediately in my face, “May I help you?!”
Some sirens seem to convey great peril, more urgency than others. We saw the police race down MacArthur Blvd then patiently wait at the light before turning east on Coast Hwy. By the time we had a crosswalk light we could see the fire engine approaching from the east; we jogged across the street. Something had happened in Corona del Mar or beyond — I had no idea what. Last came the ambulance and here we had a better view of the challenge it had navigating the choked Coast Hwy; like you sometimes see, it moved into the opposite lane and proceeded slowly, sirens blaring, lights flashing.
My wife and I were walking home from Corona del Mar Plaza yesterday. Like many weekend afternoons, traffic was heavy. As we crested the hill at Heliotrope and Coast Hwy I could see quite a distance, no accident, just lots of traffic — then I saw the fire truck; it was in the westbound lane, angled out into traffic, shielding the accident scene.
There were two NBPD motorcycles, a patrol car and ambulance all tucked inside the fire truck at Coast Hwy and Iris. I couldn’t see much else. On my side of the street two 10-year old boys hugged their skateboards; they looked rattled. Did you see it? “A car hit a bike.” Hearing that my eyes now picked out the bike.
Traffic was stopped, blocked in both directions; I walked across the street just as the ambulance backed up and sped away. I could see a bloody t-shirt, two bikes, both blue, both carbon fiber road bikes, one in the street near the curb on Iris, the other up on the sidewalk. I was 15′ away as I started taking photos with my iPhone; I kept my distance as I walked in an arc to shoot the scene from a different angle. Two officers sprang off the sidewalk, “May I help you?” A rhetorical question, a taunt.
“You’ll have to remove those photos from your phone,” said the one in my face. Right behind him, “Or we’ll take your phone away from you.”
“I’m on the Bike Safety Committee,” I mumbled, defensively.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” one shouted right back at me.
I know enough about photography and the law to know he had no right to this demand. Judge and jury, I’m thinking.
I’m feeling bullied. I quickly consider my options; I decide to erase the photos. The one officer stands over me as my fingers stumble to pull up the images and delete each one. “If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, you can call the station.”
Humiliated, I say it again, “I’m on the Bike Safety Committee.”
“I know who you are; I was there the night you were elected.”
Thanks for the professional courtesy, I say to myself. I step away and the officers move to the crushed bike; one picks it up and I half expect it to be broken in two. He holds it vertical, at arms length, like I would do if showing a fish I had just caught.
Retreating down the sidewalk, I see the two boys again; they crossed the street at the light. “Did you see what happened?” They mention a car, a woman driver. Now it was my turn to be rattled; I walk past them as they move towards the scene.