Moral of the story: Always trust your reporter instincts - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Moral of the story: Always trust your reporter instincts

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Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2012 9:12 am

I noticed the woman sitting in the light-colored nondescript sedan across the street.

The motor was running. The car was oddly two or three feet away from the curb. And the woman was on a cell phone.

I had just pulled into the garage Thursday afternoon after a late lunch-time interview for a future column. I left the garage door up as I set about doing some front-of-the house stuff.

I put the garbage bin behind the gate.

The car was still there when I came out to fetch a hummingbird feeder to be cleaned and filled.

The car was still there when I came back out to put feed into a goldfinch sack and get the mail.

Boy, I thought, she must think I’m checking up on her.

How many times had I as a journalist on assignment pulled a car to the curb on a strange street and felt the discomfort of eyes watching me as I invaded someone else’s turf?

I could be making her uncomfortable, I thought, and felt mildly guilty.

I knew her car was not one I had seen on the street before, but I figured she was A) early to our neighbor’s house where New Age friends occasionally gather to seek answers to age old questions, or B) she was lost and was calling someone for directions.

I didn’t want to stare; so I didn’t take a good look at the driver, but I did notice one peculiar thing: There were no hubcaps on the two tires facing me, and that made the car look unkempt. That must be what people think of me when I drive my 15-year-old SUV with the missing hubcap I’m too cheap to replace, I thought, again feeling a tinge of guilt.

The siren seemed unusually close and loud. It was a rare sound for our quiet neighborhood. I wondered what had happened. An ambulance maybe.

Abruptly, the siren stopped. I looked up to see the woman and light-colored sedan speed around the block out of sight. A police car with lights flashing zoomed past.

The lights were flickering in my brain when I saw my neighbor across the street come out of his house, talking on his cell phone.

Out of nowhere, a police officer materialized, his hand on his gun. He told my neighbor to stop talking on his cell and move away from the house.

My neighbor said something about a burglar being in his house.

The officer had positioned himself off to the side of the house. It struck me that it would have been very difficult to target from the neighbor’s picture window.

Again, the officer ordered my neighbor to a different position “until back-up gets here” where the officer could watch him and the house.

I heard the word gun and saw my neighbor and the officer look toward the house. There was a gun in the house, but what did that mean? A burglar had been in the house, but where had he gone?

I knew from the moment the first police car came speeding down our street that I had blown it.

I should have taken a mental snapshot of the woman’s face. I should have tried to figure out the model of car. I should have glanced at the license plate.

Thirty-six years in the news business — aren’t I supposed to be a trained observer?

A flock of police cars had descended on our street.

They’re taking this burglary seriously, I thought.

But why is the fire truck rumbling down the street?

I knew they accompany ambulances, but I didn’t see any … There it came.

The dots were connecting.

I hadn’t seen my neighbor’s wife, but my neighbor’s reaction would have been different had she been in the house.

Even so, a silent prayer seemed appropriate.

My wife called to my neighbor across the street asking if he needed anything.

But police would not let her cross the street with the cup of water he asked for.

A uniformed officer walked up and offered to take it to him. We also learned from an officer that no one who lived in the house had been hurt, but the burglar had been shot.

As the afternoon limped by, the crime tape went up on the house across the street and then on the entire street.

My house was in a crime scene. Twenty years on the street and all this was a first.

The paramedics were in the neighbor’s house a long time before they brought the burglar out on a gurney. I could see a tattoo on his arm, but couldn’t make out any details.

In the late afternoon a detective knocked at our door.

He politely took note of what I had seen and didn’t see, but my conscience eased as I learned the police had apprehended a woman. That night all doubt was erased as I saw a picture on the evening news of the car without the hubcaps.

One news program brought a woman before the camera and she said there had been a lot of problems in the neighborhood.

I didn’t recognize her and don’t share her assessment. OK, so we did have a cheap piece of pottery stolen out of our front yard about a year ago.

So what are my take-aways? Mesa police are amazingly efficient, well-trained and considerate. When you are in the news business, you are kept outside the yellow tape. For once, I was inside the yellow tape and got a close-up view as the police swarmed the scene, then organized an investigation that lasted late into the night.

I was also impressed that a detective came by and calmly shared information with us.

My wife and I talked about what we would do if confronted by a burglar.

Her dad was a railroad cop and she’s Scots-Irish. That should be a hint.

A couple of decades ago, two thugs tried to hold me up in dark parking lot in Dayton, Ohio, where I worked as a city editor.

If you ever watched the Lou Grant Show, you know city editors can be cranky and unreasonable.

I didn’t see any gun; so I told them to get lost and positioned my briefcase to use as a weapon.

They ran off. But as I rode around with a police officer looking for them, I saw their next victim and what they had done to him.

Will our quiet Mesa street ever be the same?

I don’t know about forever, but it won’t be for awhile.

I know this much. My days as the street’s Pollyanna are over. Next time I’m taking notes.

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