2011 Elite Series - Diamond Drive Arkansas River - Little Rock, AR, Jun 9 - 12, 2011

Cajun clouds

Don Barone
As an 18-year-old deputy sherif, Cliff Crochet had to get his mother, Martha, buy him bullets.

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

 

"Oh, a storm is threatening … "

Dateline:  Storms, within.

Where is the line in your mind.

Your cliff.

Your abyss.

Your own personal darkness.

Where do the fingers in your nightmare reach out and grab you.

You have one, you know it, the unthinkable you think about, the horizon where hell lives.

Where the demons are.

I have one, the edge so sharp, the abyss so deep, the darkness so consuming that if I ever cross that line, pushed over the line …

… I will never come back.

Couldn't come back because there would be nothing left of me.  Except the shell of what I used to be.

Knock, knock … no one home.  Yep you see the body standing there, but the soul has flown away.

Check the whisky bottle over there.

Swirl the melting ice, lick the bottle cap.

Escape down the drain.  Glug, glug, glug.  Wake up then struggle to make the day go away.

Every day.

The line in my mind is death.  Of those close to me.  I am a mosaic of love, take love out and none of my parts will still stick.  Look on the floor and there will only be a broken pile of me.

So when Elite angler Cliff Crochet stopped smiling during our interview, stopped having fun, stopped looking at me, and just turned his head away, and stared, I knew what he was about to say before he said it.

Not the exact quote.

Not the exact circumstance.

But I didn't need to follow his gaze to know where he was looking.

I knew.

We had come up to the line in his mind.

And he was staring into the abyss.

"At that point db, at that point … I was … almost …(big breath)… almost (and he turns his head back to look at me, the smile is gone, the laughter is gone, Cliff is gone)… almost damn near … near … done!"

I would have been too.

" … my very life today … "

Humor has a side B

Tragedy.

Fear and Laughing.

So here you will laugh, later on you will fear.

I could have easily made this a Barney Fife story, very easy, all I have to write is this:  Cliff Crochet has been a Deputy Sheriff for about 9 years.

Nice, but no big deal until I add this one point:  He became a Deputy Sheriff on Halloween, October 31, 2001.

And he was just 18.

The Barney part:  He was too young to buy bullets in Assumption Parrish in Pierre Port, La., so when he needed ammo for his department issued service revolver, his mother had to go into the store to buy it for him.

The Fife Part:  The Sheriff who hired him had to write a letter on his official Sheriff letterhead that stated to the gun shop owner that it was alright to sell him a weapon because he needed it for his job … as a COP.

It gets, ah, weirder, as he was leaving for his first day on the police force, all dressed up in his uniform his young niece saw him and said to his mother, "Cliff is going to be a cop for Halloween."

"I went 17 weeks to the police academy, I passed everything, my mother thought there was no way they would hire me, but they did, Trick or Treat night I went 10-8 (cop speak for "in-service")

"Truthfully, it was kind of intimidating (ya think), I didn't want to mess up, wasn't really worried about scrapping with the public, I was just worried how my fellow officers would feel about me."

Can't imagine why, Cliff could pull you over and arrest you for a DUI even though he himself was too young to be in a bar or buy alcohol.

"At first some of the other officers were hesitant with me not knowing if I was an idiot or not, so they just stood back and evaluated me from a distance."

Cliff rode with more experienced officers for 3 months, and then, "I was on my own."

"Were you 19 then?"

"No."

I'm sort of speechless.

" … but I felt obligated to help my community, you know all cops what they really want to do, why we joined up, is to help out community, to help people, even the bad people, down deep you always feel that even the worst alcoholic or bad guy, that maybe, maybe you could even help them."

I'll take an 18-year-old cop like that any day.

But then, five years down the road, came hell week.

Came the line in his mind.

Came the abyss.

And as he spoke of it, his big smile slowly went away.  The words came slower.  His foot started tapping, his hands started fidgeting, eyes darted all over the place, minutes between blinks.

"On Monday that week I was in a knockdown, drawn-out fight … a fight for my life.  A guy tried to take my gun away, db it was as real as it gets, it was a struggle, bad db, real bad."

Cliff did manage to subdue the suspect and place him under arrest.

Two days later, on Wednesday March 1st, 2006, with the fight still heavy on his mind … the line came.

And he crossed it.

"There were 6 of us in an undercover van; we were out looking for drug deals.  We stopped this car suspected of doing a street deal, had two guys in it, passenger, driver, and the driver put the car in reverse and took off."

Cliff pauses, watching the car speed up to the line in his mind.

"Eventually it crashed into a ditch, so we ran up to it, two guys went to the drivers side to pull the driver out, two went to the passenger side to do the same, and I jumped on the hood of the car … "

… comes the abyss.

"During the struggle on the passenger side, one of the officer’s guns went off and … "

… comes the darkness.

"… and hits … hits … a cop on the drivers side of the car."

Not just a cop.

The bullet struck 31-year-old Sgt. Jeremy Paul Newchurch.

Cliff's partner.

They rode together for five years.

"He was a personal friend, we did almost everything together."

Within moments Cliff and the other officers had the two suspects under arrest and Cliff took off and ran around to the other side of the car where his partner, his friend laid on the ground.

" … but … but … he was already gone.  When he got shot he stood up and said 'I got hit,' then he fell to the ground … he was … gone."

And so was the line in Cliff's mind.

"db, I fell apart, I drank for a month, drank real hard … I tell you, it turned me upside down … upside down."

" … if I don't get some shelter … "

"Fishing saved my life though.  To be a professional angler was always my dream.  Fishing brought me back, brought me back to life."

Cliff went on to win the Louisiana Bass Federation Nation Championship and became the Louisiana Angler of the Year.

"If not for fishing, I would have struggled mightily."

And as he talked, talked of tournaments back home, talked of being an Elite angler, the smile started to come back.

"I can go back to the department when the season is over, once you become a cop, how can you not want to be a cop, I couldn't quit and do anything else, I still want to help people, still feel an obligation to my community out there in the swamp … "

And then he stopped chewing the gum, stopped tapping his foot, and the huge smile was suddenly back.

" … but db, I sure do like to fish … "

And there went the line in his mind.

And there went the abyss.

And there went the darkness.

" … but db … I sure do love it here … these Elites."

" … oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away."

Gimme Shelter

The Rolling Stones

 

This story is dedicated to:

Sgt. Jeremy Newchurch

Assumption Parish Sheriff's Department,

Louisiana

Badge: AU 15

End of Watch: March 1, 2006

And to all of America's fallen Law Enforcement Officers

Thank you.

May you Rest In Peace. 

-- db

 

 

 

 

 

 

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