Monday, August 22, 2005

 

More Bad Craziness at Lake Hootchiecootchie; Combating the Spanish Connection

NOTE - I wrote this back in 2001 after reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about a guy who killed a deer with his bare hands. I tried to picture how a beatnikesque Joe Friday would have tackled the case.

The story you are about to read is based partly on actual events, partly on conjecture, and partly on bullshit that I heard around the watercooler. All names have been changed on advice of our attorney, Rod Fitzwell.

Among the many units of the U S Department of Agriculture is the Animal and Plant Health Services. It safeguards the health and quality of animals and plants and protects the consumer by means of federal and state meat and poultry inspection. Through the efforts of their hard-working men and women, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or, as it is more commonly referred to, “Mad Cow Disease” has not been a problem here in these United States. More recently, the Animal and Plant Health Services has banned the importation of Spanish Clementine oranges. It took these steps to prevent an infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly after Medfly larvae were discovered in crates of the fruit in four states.

But this didn’t stop the laws of supply and demand. Desperate “juicers” still needed their orange fix. And there were plenty in the Spanish underworld willing to start a black market for the contraband Clementines.

All Souls Day. Seven forty-five AM. My partner Phil Mateleven and I were assisting the Interagency Major Crimes Unit with their War on Citrus. We were setting up a buy for some of the forbidden fruit with two guys from Barcelona when a call came to my desk.

“IMCU,” I answered.

“Yes. I’m looking for Lieutenant Mack Donald.”

“Speaking.”

“This is Nancy in Commissioner Selig’s office. The Commissioner would like to see you right away.”

“Why? Is someone rebroadcasting baseball games without his express written consent?”

“No, I’m with the police commissioner’s office. He says it’s urgent.”

Eight thirty-eight. Mateleven and I are waiting in the commissioner’s office at the Wierdsville Hall of Justice. He takes his coffee black. I prefer iced tea.

“Mack!” Commissioner Selig boomed in his basso profundo voice, “I need you and Phil to take care of something important for me.”

“Sure, commish. What’s shaking?”

“I want you guys to look into a killing that took place over by Lake Hootchiecootchie.”

“A homicide at Lake Hootchiecootchie. How come I haven’t heard anything about it?”

“Because it wasn’t a homicide. The victim was a young buck-“

“Was it an accident?”

“No! The victim was a buck. Buck! A deer, a male deer!”

“Isn’t it hunting season right now?”

“It’s rifle season, but this deer was beaten to death.”

The commissioner filled us in on the rest of the details. The suspect, a housepainter named Slats Jablonski, was being held over at the county lockup. Under the state’s Uniform Wildlife Code, Section 5682985-0X, he was looking at a $2,000 fine, five days in jail, and loss of hunting privileges.

“Lieutenant,” Selig continued, “you have to help me on this one. Jablonski’s attorney called Congressman Gladhandler and he’s putting the screws on the department.”

“I’ll do what I can, Bud.”

Nine forty-seven. Phil and I question Jablonski in one of the county lockup’s institutional-gray interrogation rooms. A burly man in his early forties, he claimed that the killing was in self-defense.

“I swear, lieutenant, I tried to scare the deer away but it came charging at me? What would you do in my situation?”

“Mmm-hmm,” I mumbled, “this buck was small. It only weighed 150 pounds. You’re over 200. It wouldn’t have harmed you.”

“You’re not much of an outdoorsman. Are you, copper?”

“No sir.”

Jablonski recounted the incident. Around noon on Tuesday, he was looking for stray fishing lures along the shore of Lake Hootchiecootchie. After hearing stirring in the brush along the bank, he turned around to see a deer staring at him. He tried to scare it away, but the buck charged him.

Catching it by the antlers, Jablonski drove the young six-pointer into they lake. He hung on and eventually the deer fell. He applied a scissors hold and whacked it with chunks of driftwood, gouging an eye in the process.

Then, after putting a headlock on the deer, he garroted it with his belt. “You’re Slats’ bitch now!” He screamed.

The battle apparently over, Jablonski walked back to his stepside parked a quarter of a mile away. He hadn’t gone far when he heard something behind him. Wheeling around, Jablonski saw the deer, belt flapping at his throat, drawing a bead on him. He snatched the belt and pinned the deer. There was a two-by-four lying nearby. Slats used it like a hammer beating the deer’s head repeatedly until it finally expired. Then he loaded it into the bed of his truck.

There were no eyewitnesses.

One fifteen PM. Mateleven and I went to the Medical Examiner’s office over by Mercy Hospital. The coroner was Doctor Wendy Churchill. Since she had no knowledge of veterinary forensics, Harry Dobbs DVM was called in.

“Lieutenant, Sergeant. It’s good to see you. I spend most of my time investigating infectious diseases in wild animals. However, the Fish and Game Department will occasionally request a necropsy when poaching is suspected.”

“This isn’t a poaching.”

“Indeed, it isn’t. I read Sergeant Mateleven’s preliminary report. The necropsy corroborates Mister Jablonski’s story. But there’s more.” Dobb’s motioned at a set of X-rays. “Look here. This is the left hind leg. The bone is shattered so badly that it tore through muscle. And over here, on the right side of the pelvis, more broken bone. This suggests that this deer was the victim of an automobile accident.”

“So?” I asked.

“Lieutenant Donald,” the vet explained, “Deer in the wild usually flee when humans come near. The main exception to this rule is when bucks are in rut. That’s their mating season. But judging by this buck’s baby teeth, it’s eighteen months old and too young to rut. That rules this theory out. However, injured and sick deer have been known to defend themselves if they feel threatened.”

Geez! Ask a guy what time it is and he gives you the history of watch making. Dobbs continued.

“The significance of the lower body traumas is that this deer was injured prior to his fatal encounter with Jablonski and, therefore, more prone to attacking humans.”

I looked over at Mateleven. “Phil, call all the departments in the Lake Hootchiecootchie area. See if there were any car versus deer incidents recently.”

“If there were, it might clear Jablonski.”

“Exactly.”

Three twelve. Phil and I hit paydirt with a call to the Hootchiecootchie Shores PD. On Monday, a motorist named Kevin Semft had been driving to work on Lakeshore Road. About a half mile from the spot where Jablonski had his wrestling match with the buck, Semft heard something slam into his minivan. He stopped and saw a deer with antlers shuffling off the road, dragging its hindquarters. The damage to the minivan was in the ballpark of two large.

Slats Jablonski was cleared of all wrongdoing. The Fish and Game Department issued him a “highway kill” permit under Uniform Wildlife Code Section 5632975-0W. This permitted Jablonski to keep the animal. Because of the necropsy the only extant portion of the deer that remained were the antlers. Jablonski mounted the antlers on a plaque along with the belt used to kill the young buck.

Cristobal Pizzarro and Hernando Guevara y Martinez were arrested for smuggling banned agricultural products into the United States; a federal offense. Tried and convicted in US District Court, the case was later thrown out on appeal.

I’m Lieutenant Mack Donald and this has been Wierdsville, man!


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