Case 1: Rhythms of the Road Chapter 2: Road Rage

Chapter 2: Road Rage

The Fitzsimmons carefully navigated the spaghetti-bowl like intersection of Interstates 25 and 40 near downtown Albuquerque, known locally as The Big I.  The highway climbed west toward the West Mesa and past the Petroglyph National Monument and the Double Eagle Airport before descending into open road. They had not travelled far and were approaching the Route 66 Casino when traffic came to a standstill.  “Looks like some sort of construction.  Traffic in both directions is down to one lane and just crawling along.”

“I’m glad you’re driving, Bob.  I can handle the RV under most circumstances, but I always expect some jerk to do something stupid in these situations and that throws me.“

“Well, this can be frustrating and it pays to be patient and keep your eyes peeled for that one person who doesn’t want to be bothered with common courtesy.”

“Look over there in the on-coming lanes!  Speak of the Devil.  See that pick-up driving on the shoulder and going around everyone.  And, look at his speed and the gravel he’s throwing up.”

“I see him. I’m glad he’s going in the other direction.”

“Look! It looks like a woman leaning out the passenger window and shouting at the other cars as they zoom past.  She’s waving her arms and I doubt she’s asking politely to get ahead.  Now they’ve crossed into the center lane and are forcing their way back into traffic from that side.  Jeez!  I hope nobody decides to challenge them.  It could escalate quickly.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those folks are armed.  C’mon Bob, let’s get away from this as quickly as possible.”

Fortunately, the west-bound lanes opened up and they were able to move forward.  Navigating a safe path between the convoys of tractor-trailers was much less stressful than even watching the chaos developing in the east-bound lanes.  The drive west remained uneventful.

After a few miles, they saw signs indicating that Acoma Pueblo was to the south.  “You know, Elaine, I read about Acoma years ago and I really wish we had time to stop today. If I remember correctly, Acoma is an ancient site and there is a terrible story about its conquest by the Spanish.  Acoma sits atop a large mesa which prevented the Spanish from an easy assault.  After trying for months, they actually built a dirt ramp up one side and brought a canon to the summit where they slaughtered most of the village. The survivors were mutilated and forced into a long period of slavery. It is a terrible example in the Spanish quest to convert the native peoples to Catholicism. Typically, the Spanish were brutal and destroyed much of the civilizations that had existed for centuries.”

As they continued west, they passed the town of Grants, site of intense uranium mining in the early days of America’s pursuit of atomic energy and nuclear weapons. Next came Thoreau a town the locals pronounce “Thru” unlike the poet Henry David Thoreau. There is no proof the poet actually ever visited here.  It is more likely the town was named after a local person who worked on the railroad.  Then it was over the Continental Divide and past Fort Wingate, an abandoned Army munitions site.  The road signs indicated Gallup was only a short distance ahead.

Bob slowed down when he passed the first Gallup City Limits sign.  Just then, he noticed a bright light reflection in his side mirror, indicating a rapidly approaching vehicle.  He assumed it was a police or emergency vehicle of some sort because of the speed and he slowed further and eased to the right of his lane.  Suddenly, the vehicle was upon him and Bob realized it was a large Dodge Ram pick-up. The Ram accelerated past the RV and headed toward a smaller pick-up a hundred feet ahead in the right-hand lane.  Bob watched in horror as the Ram slammed into the rear of the smaller truck and forced it off the Interstate onto the shoulder.  The smaller truck nose-dived down the embankment and flipped over several times before landing upside down on the feeder road. To his total amazement, Bob watched as a woman leaned out the passenger window of the Ram, shook her fist and yelled something at the overturned vehicle and sped away.

Bob noticed his knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel.  Elaine had a look of total astonishment on her face and was reaching for her cell phone. “I don’t know and don’t care if that driver was drunk or not, I’m calling the New Mexico DUI Hotline.”

Elaine’s call to the #DUI number was quickly answered.  “New Mexico DUI; what’s your emergency?’

“My name is Elaine Fitzsimmons and we’re driving west on I-40 in an RV motor home. A large silver or grey Dodge Ram pick-up just ran another smaller pick-up off the road.  It rolled down the embankment and is resting on the feeder road.  I can’t see whether it’s on its side or upside down and I don’t know the condition of the driver.”

“OK, can you give me your exact location on I-40?”

“I believe we’re less than ten miles east of Gallup.  I think we just passed the first City Limits sign.”

“Got it.  Thanks.”

“Do you want us to do anything?  I assume you’ll send some emergency vehicles to the scene.”

“Nah. It’s probably just a couple of Drunk Indians playing Chicken on the highway. This happens all the time out here.  There’s really not much we can do about it.” And with that the line went dead.

“I don’t believe that.  That Dispatcher didn’t seem the least bit concerned about what we just saw.  She basically said those people deserved what happened. Bob, that just isn’t right“

“Elaine, things happened so fast and I’m not sure about this, but I believe that was the very same Dodge Ram we saw earlier today acting crazy just outside of Albuquerque.  We were never in any real danger, but that kind of behavior on the highway is upsetting to say the least.”

“You may be right.  I know you were focused on driving, but I know I saw a woman leaning out the passenger side widow and yelling, just like we witnessed this morning.  That is really scary.  I just hope the Dispatcher was correct and these are local people.  I want to get as far away from here as possible.”

They were now on the western side of Gallup and Bob was eager to get out of New Mexico.  He had a lingering concern, however, that the Dodge Ram might not be local since they most likely had seen them in Albuquerque.  He just hoped their antics did not extend out of state.

Things remained quiet for the next several hours along I-40 into Arizona.  “I know we haven’t come too far today, but I’d like to stop for the night.  I am still a bit unsettled and would like to get a fresh start in the morning.   I noticed a State Park this side of Winslow and we might be able to get a spot there for one night. What do you say?”

“I agree, Bob.  I saw Homolovi State Park on the map when I was looking a while ago.  Let’s stop there and have a quiet evening.”

Homolovi State Park is an archeological site containing seven ancient ruins, two of which are open to the public.  There is a pathway through these ruins with interpretive signs along the way. Although it is not a large State Park, they were able to find an open spot and parked the RV for the evening.  Despite being windy, the walk through the ruins was a welcome respite for the Fitzsimmons after the harrowing experience on the highway.

Just before sunset, Bob left the RV for a leisurely walk around the campground. Homolovi is relatively small in comparison to other Arizona State Parks, but Bob knew the night sky would be a rewarding experience.  He had only walked a short distance when he abruptly stopped.  A few spaces ahead Bob recognized the Dodge Ram parked without a camper trailer.  He moved quietly behind the large trash container to avoid being seen and watched.  He saw a man and woman standing in the truck bed and they were rummaging through several large duffle bags.  The man stood up and was holding what appeared to be a large hunting rifle.  The woman reached into one of the duffle bags and was holding a hand gun of some sort.  They were each waving their respective weapons around and laughing. They aimed the weapons off toward the distance and pretended to fire off multiple rounds.  After a few minutes, they put the weapons down and unrolled two sleeping bags and settled down into the truck’s bed.

Bob quietly withdrew from his hiding place and walked slowly back toward his RV.   He was deeply troubled to see this couple in Arizona and hoped they would head back toward New Mexico in the morning.  He decided to not mention any of this to Elaine but would encourage her to get an early start and continue west toward Flagstaff.

It was a beautiful sunrise and the Fitzsimmons were pleased to have the sun behind them as they continued west.  The next hundred miles were relatively uneventful and it gave Elaine an opportunity to take a turn at driving.  They would switch drivers when they stopped for gas in Flagstaff before turning south toward Phoenix on I-17.

After a brief stop for gas and a restroom break, Bob resumed driving.  He was approaching the Verde Valley as they drove south and had begun to relax and enjoy the scenery. He hoped that the Dangerous Dodge Duo had headed west, back to New Mexico. Suddenly, Bob noticed the Dodge Ram rapidly approaching off to his left. Bob instinctively slowed and moved as far to the right in his lane as possible.  Elaine noticed the change and was about to ask if anything was wrong.  She looked up to see the Ram speed past and continue in the inside lane. About fifty yards ahead, Elaine saw the woman lean out the passenger side window and point a hand gun at the driver in the adjacent lane.  The woman fired several shots directly at the driver and several more at the front tire. The sedan veered out of control toward the embankment, rolled over and burst into flames.  The Ram accelerated and was quickly out of sight.

“Oh my God”, exclaimed Elaine.  “Did you see that?  It’s the same truck we noticed yesterday.  That woman just shot the driver and then drove off.  I’ve got to call 911 and report this. Hopefully, the Arizona Highway Patrol is a bit more responsible than New Mexico’s”. Elaine dialed 911.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

“I want to report a shooting along Interstate 17.”

Alright, can you give me some additional information, staring with your name?”

“My name is Elaine Fitzsimmons and we are driving south on I-17, at approximately the 260 mile marker.  A Dodge Ram pick-up just passed us and the woman on the passenger side shot the driver of a sedan.  The sedan careened off the road onto the shoulder where it rolled over and burst into flames.”

“OK, Ms. Fitzsimmons, please describe your vehicle.”

“We’re in a thirty foot RV motor home, painted tan with dark green accents. We’re towing a red Kia Soul.  The license plate on the RV is a Missouri vanity plate F4-PHXR and the Soul’s plate is also Missouri FITZ.”

“Thank you. Can you provide any additional information about the pick-up?”

“It is a large Dodge Ram, a 2500 model, I think.  It has one of those extended cabs. It is metallic grey or silver with New Mexico plates.  I didn’t catch the license plate number; it was moving much too fast, but I did notice it was bright yellow in color.”

“Thank you, Ms. Fitzsimmons.  I’ll alert Arizona Highway Patrol immediately.  Are you in any danger?”

“No. We are a bit shaken, but unharmed.”

Can you think of anything else?”

“Oh, yes.  I believe this same truck and the couple driving it that were driving recklessly and causing several accidents.  We first noticed them yesterday when we were driving west on I-40 from Albuquerque.  We never saw anything like this shooting incident, however.”

“Thank you for calling, Ms. Fitzsimmons.  We’ll handle it from here.  Drive safely and do not hesitate to call if you see that truck again.”

Elaine put her phone down and sat back in her seat.  “That was awful, Bob.  I hope the other driver is OK, but that looked like a pretty serious crash. Hopefully the Emergency Services can get to him quickly.  At least this 911 service was interested in the incident and didn’t totally dismiss me.  Are you OK to drive?  Should we take a break before we attempt to drive through the entire Phoenix area?”

“I think I’m OK, but we can pull into one of those truck stops on the north end of town and just get out and walk around for a few minutes.”

After taking a short break, the Fitzsimmons continued their journey, navigating the traffic and somewhat confusing road signs.  When they picked up the Tucson signs, they knew they were out of the Phoenix Metro Area.  “I really wanted to stop at Luke Air Force Base while we were in Phoenix, but maybe another day.”

“It’s OK, Bob.  At least we’re safe.  I’m sure there will be other opportunities to come back and visit the Base.”

“You’re right, Elaine.  Let’s just focus on driving south.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a suitable place around Tucson to stop and relax for a few days.”

The drive south on the Interstate was uneventful; traffic wasn’t too heavy and there were no dust storms.  As they neared the intersection with Interstate 8 near Casa Grande, however, things became chaotic.  Bob heard the sirens first, before he saw the rapidly approaching vehicles.  It appeared that the Dodge Ram was travelling at a very high rate of speed followed by several police vehicles.  Bob couldn’t tell how many, but there were at least four. Then he noticed there were several more police vehicles up ahead blocking the Interstate. The pick-up veered onto the ramp leading to Interstate-8 west with the police close behind.  Bob was forced to stop as the road block had shut down all traffic heading south.  When he stopped, he rolled down his window and it was then he heard a loud noise off to his right. It sounded like a crash.  Almost immediately, there was a large column of black smoke and Bob saw the fire engines and emergency vehicles turn onto I-8.

After about a forty minute delay, the police barricade was removed and traffic resumed south.  “I’m sure we will be able to learn more about what just happened when we stop for the night, but I have to assume that the police were able to catch up with the Dodge.  That noise and the smoke were most likely from a crash and I hope it was the Dodge and not one of the police.  The Officer who waved us through was not going to answer any questions.”

“I hope this will put an end to the vicious road rage.   Let’s just keep going and try to stay calm.  Look, I think that’s Picacho Peak in the distance”

As they approached Picacho, Bob saw a police vehicle approaching in his side mirror.  The vehicle turned on his flashing lights and pulled up next to Bob’s window.  It was an Arizona State Trooper and he motioned for Bob to pull over.  Bob was able to exit toward Picacho State Park and pulled into the Shell station on the other side of the highway.  He waited nervously as the Trooper parked and walked up to the RV.

“Could I see your license and registration, please Sir.”

“Certainly, Officer.  Is there something wrong?”

“Fitzsimmons?  I thought so.  Would you both please step out of you vehicle?”

Bob and got out and Elaine walked around to where Bob and the State Trooper were standing.  As they approached, the Officer took off his hat and extended his hand.  “I presume you are the Fitzsimmons who called 911 a few hours ago.  I thought I recognized your rig, but wanted to be certain. I’m Officer Brian Melrose of the Arizona Highway Patrol. Your call was instrumental in our tracking that crazy couple in the Dodge Ram.  We’ve apprehended them a short while ago thanks to your quick thinking and actions.  On behalf of the Arizona Highway Patrol, I want to personally thank you both.”

With those words, Elaine relaxed considerably.  “You are most welcome, Officer.  We first noticed them yesterday and things seemed to be escalating after we witnessed the shooting this morning.”

“Because of your contribution, I’ve been authorized to provide you folks with a few details of the situation, which is something we don’t normally do. I trust you’ll keep this in confidence.   We were able to capture the couple and have them in custody even though our pursuit ended in a rather large-scale crash. We recovered a number of firearms, including high-powered rifles and handguns.  But the most important thing we recovered from the glove compartment was an extensive diary or log-book detailing the couple’s exploits.  There have been a series of unsolved drive-by shootings over the past few months and I believe their diary answers a lot of questions.  Apparently, this couple has been driving a circuit through Arizona and New Mexico, along the Interstates and generally wreaking havoc.  They drove from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, south to Tucson, then east to Las Cruces and back north to Albuquerque.   They would often reverse their route, but still drive the same highways.  We are trying to put together all of the reported incidents, but are confident we can connect most of them to these guys.  Your call this morning gave us the first real-time siting of their whereabouts.  Thank you again.”

All Bob could say was, “Wow! At first we thought they were just out joy-riding and being reckless.  But we quickly realized there was something much more serious going on.”

Elaine added, “I have to admit we were apprehensive about having anything to do with them, but after the shooting, we knew we had to call.”

“Well, thanks again, folks.  I’ll let you be on your way.  Where are you headed?”

“We hope to get to Tucson, but haven’t located a place to stop for the night.  I’m sure we’ll be able to find something.”

“If I could make a suggestion, Catalina State Park is one of Arizona’s best and it’s not far from here. My cousin is the Ranger there and I’m sure he could find you a very nice space to park and relax for a couple of days.  You’ve had an exciting time for people who are probably on vacation!”

“That would be very thoughtful, Officer.  I was reading last night when we were at Homolovi, that Catalina is one of the most popular Parks.”

“Yes, Ma’am. A few miles ahead, take the Tangerine Road exit and drive east until it dead-ends at Oracle Road.  Turn south and the entrance to the Park is about a mile ahead on your left.  I’ll make sure the Ranger meets you at the gate. Drive safely.”

Bob ad Elaine Fitzsimmons got back in their RV and just sat there for a few minutes until the Trooper drove away.  “You didn’t mention your call to the New Mexico folks when Officer Melrose was describing the extent of the Dodge Duo’s multi-state activities.”

“No.  I didn’t think it would serve any purpose.  Hopefully, there are senior-level people in New Mexico who are more responsible than the woman I spoke to.  I suspect it will take a while to put all the pieces together, but that log-book should provide sufficient evidence of what’s been happening.”

“Fair enough.  Let’s be on our way.  Catalina sounds like exactly what we’ve been looking for.”

“I agree, Bob, but, before we drive off, you could buy me a large sundae at the Dairy Queen since we’re right next door!”