A Veteran Cop Recalls A Tough Night On The Job

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This holiday weekend, state troopers across the country will be stepping up their patrols. Much of their work will be routine traffic stops, but some calls they will respond to will be accidents, some of them tragic.

Retired police officer Mark Edens, 61, spent half of his career investigating fatal car accidents for the Michigan State Police.

"Most of my interaction with people was the worst moment of their life," he told his daughter Jessie at StoryCorps in Atlanta. At least two to three times a year, he says, he had to tell families that their loved one had died in a car crash.

Edens was still new to the job in 1974, when one night he was given the task of delivering terrible news.

"We came upon a head-on accident," he says. "There was a man in a Volkswagen that had been hit by a pickup truck going the wrong way."

As it turned out, Edens knew the man. "He had just moved from someplace in Wisconsin," Edens recalled. "He had three little kids — very little, I think the oldest was probably 6 or 7."

When Edens went to the man's house, it was near midnight. The house was dark. "His wife thought he was bowling and she had gone to sleep," he says. "I had to wake her up, tell her what happened.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry to tell you, but your husband was in an accident and he was killed," he recalls telling her.

"The best thing you can do is to tell somebody right away," he says. "A lot of guys would just say it and run — they never left the porch. But I took her in the house and said, 'Is there someone we can call?' "

The woman called her parents. And while she was on the phone with them, her son came out of the bedroom and asked Edens what was wrong.

Edens says that he couldn't simply tell the boy, " 'Well, go ask your mom' — I mean, that was just the wrong thing to do. So I remember sitting in that living room with that little boy, telling him what happened. I couldn't lie to him. And, I always felt that it was better me telling them than somebody else.

"Delivering a death message is not an easy thing. But that was one of the harder ones," he says." I always felt that it was something that I was born to do, because I could do it."

Edens retired in 1997, after 25 years on the force.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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